Arthur Blank teaches us all a lesson in strength of character
Just about everything Arthur M. Blank touches turns to gold, or rather, orange. He is a man who believes in strong employee-management relations, and that by investing in his people, he is present and accountable for the community. He is a man of strong convictions and morals.
The co-founder of the home improvement chain, Home Depot, created a company where employees matter and where people could be free to make mistakes -- a philosophy he took to all his ventures. He could never anticipate the costly error made by his most famous employee -- the face of his Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick.
Vick was federally indicted in a dog fighting scandal, where the operation was said to be funded by him, housed on his property, and taken across state lines. If only that was the worst of it. The 18-page indictment tells graphic detail of the barbaric operation, which included dates, names of dogs, and manner of execution of some of the losing animals. It's not easy reading and Blank noted in a 90-minute press conference today (July 24, 2007) that Vick's name was listed 50 times amongst the pages.
Arthur Blank is a billionaire with six children from two marriages, his youngest being a 10-year-old boy and twin six-year-old girls. Also note, this is a man who considers his dogs as his seventh and eighth children.
Born in 1932, Blank grew up in New York with his brother Michael, father Max, and mother Molly in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. After his father died (when Arthur was 15), his mother took over the family business: a small mail order pharmaceutical company called Sherry Pharmaceutical. Although she had not worked outside the home, she managed to build the company into a multi-million dollar operation. Her determination and acumen rubbed off on her youngest son.
Blank started up a landscaping company, laundry firm, and babysat at the same time. After a stint with an accounting firm and putting in time at the family business, he took a job as vice-president of finance with Handy Dan, a Daylin division company. He and fellow employee Bernie Marcus helped build the company to over $155 million in sales before they were unexpectedly fired in 1978. As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to them.
Drawing up a business plan on the back of a coffee shop napkin, Blank and Marcus invented Home Depot. They had almost no money to get it off the ground and the company has since grown to $50 billion in sales with over 1,500 stores. He explains it all in his book, "Built From Scratch" (Times Books, 1999).
He bought the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, and in his first year, the team's increase in season ticket sales was an NFL record. He also purchased the arena football team, the Georgia Force, in 2004. That club also set attendance records and won a National Conference Championship.
With all his success, Blank then launched two companies (AMB Group, LLC and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation) dedicated to giving back to the community via money and personal involvement. He has granted over $220 million through his philanthropic efforts.
In 2000, he was named Georgia Philanthropist of the Year by the National Society of Fundraising Executives. In 2006, the Walter Camp Football Foundation named him Distinguished American. He was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2006 and named Ernst & Young's National Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. The list goes on.
So when Arthur M. Blank took the podium during today's press conference, accompanied by team President and General Manager Rich McKay and Head Coach Bobby Petrino, you could see he was a man deep in devastation. It was clear the Falcons were ready to throw the book at Michael Vick, to wipe him from the face of their season. But the maximum suspension a team could impose was four games, hardly enough for such acts so despicable as those laid out in the federal indictment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the team to wait before taking action (so the league could assess its next move), then told Vick to sit out training camp, and you have to know with reading between the lines that Vick is done as a Falcon and perhaps as an NFL football player. (My biggest fear, however, is he will end up in Canada in the Canadian Football League.)
Throughout the 90-minute grilling session by the media, the trio held their composure and exuded class, especially Blank. It was so very clear that this whole mess was very personal to him. He pulled no punches and answered every question uninhibited. While he couldn't say everything he was really thinking, the message was loud and clear. And if you look at his own personal history, his leadership, his integrity, Mike Vick's actions were also a direct betrayal towards the man who made his career.
So with all this drama and distraction of continuous telephone calls between Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association President Gene Upshaw (who admits he owns a dog and loves them), imagine Arthur Blank trying to explain to his 10-year-old the meaning of this indictment, what dog fighting is, why people do it, and why Michael Vick. This is a kid that grew up personally with the star quarterback, who was probably his biggest personal hero. How does a kid relate his own dogs to the accusations in the indictment? Exactly. Nobody can. It's not a position anyone should have to be in, especially Arthur Blank.
© 2007 Debbie Elicksen, All Rights Reserved