Marcus plans school for autistic children; talks about jobs, GE, Blake and Nardelli

By Maria Saporta

In a luncheon talk to the Atlanta Press Club Wednesday, Bernie Marcus announced plans to build a school to serve children with autism.

Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot and a leading philanthropist, founded the Marcus Institute in 1990 to serve children with developmental disabilities.

Since then, the facility has focused its efforts on children with autism. Also, Marcus then turned the Marcus Center to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to give it greater stability.

“This morning, I had a meeting about actually taking the Marcus Autism Center and taking it to education,” Marcus told the Atlanta Press Club Wednesday. “We are probably going to open a school very shortly for children with autism.”

Marcus said that the school would serve children in second, third and fourth grades. He would like for the school to become a national model on how to teach young students that suffer from autism. Currently, Marcus said that public schools are really unable to properly educate autistic students.

“Every parent is worried about what happens to (their children) when they go,” Marcus said. “The key is to make them independent.”

Later Marcus added about the school: “This is going to happen in the future. It probably is going to start next year.”

Marcus also told members of the Atlanta Press Club that he is starting a new organization called: “Job creators” — aimed at protecting small business leaders from government regulations. Whenever new regulations were to be proposed, then the job creators would spring into action and explain how those new rules would impact their businesses.

“The role of the ‘job creators’ is going to be something of a wake-up call for people in this country,” Marcus said, adding that those small business leaders would need to explain to politicians when those laws were ”job killers.”

Marcus clearly wasn’t impressed with the fact that Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, is serving as head of President Barack Obama’s economic advisory panel. One of the goals is to figure how to create jobs in America.

But Immelt has been creating jobs overseas and didn’t pay any corporate taxes in the United States, Marcus said.

“This is the guy who’s going to tell America how to create jobs,” Marcus said of Immelt. “What a joke.”

Although Marcus created one of the top corporations in the country — Home Depot ranks 30th in the Fortune 500 rank of companies — he still sees himself as a small businessman.

“I can remember when we couldn’t pay bills,” said Marcus, who said that they stocked their first stores with empty cardboard boxes and paint cans so it looked as they had more inventory than they really did. “If we tried to open Home Depot today in today’s environment, there’s no way we could have gotten it off the ground because of all the government regulations.”

When looking at Home Depot today, Marcus said the current CEO — Frank Blake — was someone who had been sent from heaven.

By comparison, Marcus had sharper words for Bob Nardelli, who served as Home Depot’s CEO after co-founder Arthur Blank. Nardelli actually had lost out to Immelt as the successor of Jack Welch as GE’s CEO. That’s when he was picked to run Home Depot.

“He was pretty bad,” Marcus said or Nardelli. “He took our culture and turned it upside down.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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