Change is not always welcomed, however. When I've made decisions that depart from business-as-usual, I've upset my competitors, been told by my friends that I'm crazy, and had many moments when I wondered if I'd been naïve or foolish. I've been viewed with suspicion and worse by people in the very communities I hoped to uplift. I've found myself at the center of media storms and highly contentious national debates. I've watched as decades of hard work were undone by those who didn't share my values, and I've been forced to reflect on how fragile even the best company can be. But I've learned invaluable lessons from every one of these challenging moments, and again and again I've had successes and breakthroughs that inspire and motivate me to continue.
More and more companies are discovering the power of doing well by doing good, and I hope and expect to see many more follow suit in the decades to come—because it's good citizenship 'and' good business. It's time we get beyond the idea that profit and purpose are at odds and embrace the more empowering truth that when a good company does well, it benefits everyone. This truth was at the heart of The Home Depot's approach and fueled its extraordinary accomplishments, from the opening of the first handful of stores in 1979 through the twenty-plus-year run of 40 percent annual growth led by cofounders Bernie Marcus and myself, to its continued success today. It's that very same philosophy—the marriage of purpose and profit—that informs my "family of businesses" today, which includes two professional sports teams (the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and MLS's Atlanta United), a seventy-one-thousand-seat sports and entertainment venue (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), the largest golf specialty retail chain in the world (PGA TOUR Superstore), the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, and three Montana ranches (Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, West Creek Ranch, and Paradise Valley Ranch). Each of these very different enterprises is guided by the same principles and core values. And each of them, like my uncle's pharmacy, is a community.
CIRCLES OF IMPACT
Community, for a good company, does not just mean the people within its own walls or on its block. In fact, its influence ripples out like a series of concentric circles. The innermost circle includes the company's associates (a term we use for everyone who works in our businesses), as well as the people they are serving—customers, fans, or guests. The middle circle is the local community in which the company is situated—the street, neighborhood, or city that it calls home. And the largest circle encompasses the entire industry within which the business is situated, and perhaps even broader sectors of society. Of course, these are not always separate, distinct constituencies. In reality, they overlap and build on one another, amplifying impact in the process. The beauty of these widening circles of impact is that there's a constant interaction between them. For example, a company that hires from its local community turns neighbors into associates. Associates who get involved in initiatives in the local community and beyond find themselves making an impact that further inspires and engages them with their company. And companies that do well by doing right by their customers will sooner or later catch the attention of their competitors and begin to influence their industries. In the chapters ahead, you'll find stories and examples that show how truly integrated all of these efforts to do good can be. But before we get there, let's take a closer look at the opportunity for impact in each of these circles.
ASSOCIATES AND CUSTOMERS: CREATING CONNECTION
What makes a good company, regardless of the industry in which it operates, is its ability to facilitate human connection. Now that I'm in my eighth decade of life, I am firmly convinced that the simple act of connecting to other human beings is the key to personal happiness and health as well as to a thriving business. But even though I couldn't have named it at the time, it's the exact thing I felt as a young boy, sitting at the counter in Oes Pharmacy, watching my father minister to the neighborhood. It's what drew me to play and watch sports as a child, and to invest in the business of sports as an adult. It's what I felt when I walked the floors of any Home Depot store, greeted by smiling associates and loyal customers. It's what matters most to me in any of my business or philanthropic endeavors: the deepening and widening of our circles of human connection.
A good company has the opportunity to do something that is often overlooked in business plans or MBA programs: it can make people happier. Not just through providing goods or services that improve the quality of lives (although that's important too) but in the very act of doing business. There's a magic that can happen every single day in the interactions within its closest circle of community: the associates and the customers. A company can touch customers' hearts, minds, and spirits with great service and, in the process, give associates the feeling that there's a purpose to what they're doing. They're not just engaging in a transaction; they're building a relationship, and relationships are the most important things in life, as both ancient wisdom and modern science tell us. For this reason, I've never really thought of myself as being in the business of home improvement, professional sports, stadium management, guest ranching, or sports retail. I'm in the business of human happiness. I consider it part of my purpose in life to increase the happiness of others, and all of my many business ventures are outlets for this purpose. Our associates know it too, and that's why they love to work with us. And our customers, our guests, and our fans let us know that we're doing a good job in the best way possible: they come back.
Initially, they may have come to us for something specific—the spectacular architecture and innovative technology of our stadium, the selection of products at our stores, the stunning scenery at our ranches, the entertaining talents of our sports teams. They may have come to see a great game and enjoy a beer and a hot dog; to buy a new set of golf clubs; to learn to ride a horse. But after a few visits, those things inevitably lose a little of their shine. What keeps people coming back is the experience they have and the connections they make as they interact with our associates. They stay for the company.
***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****
1. Family Business
2. Everything Changes but the Values
3. You're Only as Good as Your People
4. The Best Think Tank Any Company Could Ask For
5. Going the Extra Two Inches
6. Good Companies Make Good Neighbors
7. You Always Get More Than You Give
8. We Want the Wheels to Wobble (a Little)
9. Walk in Their Shoes
10. From Protest to Progress