Saturday, February 24, 2024

CEO Insider


Bernie Marcus

Kick Up Some Dust: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing It YourselfA central part of the Home Depot culture was the desire to help the communities we served, especially during natural disasters or national emergencies. Our proudest moments are when our people stepped up. When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida on August 24, 1992, we lost a number of stores but still set up tents and temporary buildings to serve as command centers for first responders and relief agencies.

I called the governor’s office and told them that we would send supplies if they could provide state patrol escorts to keep our trucks from getting highjacked. I actually went on television to tell manufacturers not to raise their prices. If they did, I threatened, Home Depot would no longer sell their products. We were serious and stopped working with a handful of companies over this very issue. People were desperate, and the last thing they needed was price gouging. 

Home Depot First Store

On the morning of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, we saw the same thing everybody else did—the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in a pile of rubble. I called the manager of one of the stores close by to see if any of our employees were affected and to find out what we could do to help. He wasn’t there. So I called the other store, same problem.

Nobody was there. I was furious and told the operator to have them call me as soon as they got in. Not thirty minutes later, the first manager called to explain what was happening. The moment they heard about the blast, they loaded all their trucks with shovels, wheelbarrows, tarps, plywood—anything they thought would be helpful.

They didn’t call the corporate office. They didn’t ask for permission. They just made sure that generators were available and that the first responders had axes and search lights. Nobody asked them to come. They just showed up. That is the heart of our do-it-yourself culture. We gave our managers that kind of autonomy—it was up to them to find out what their community needed and when. 

After 9/11, the only trucks allowed into New York City and close to the Pentagon were from Home Depot, delivering supplies. They needed lumber, and we were in the best position to help. I also remember hearing a story from Virginia Beach after a hurricane. A customer called our store to say that they drove by Home Depot and the associates were giving out free water, while the competition was selling it for $5 a bottle. We didn’t send a company-wide mandate to do that—the managers just decided on their own. Since then, we have offered our stores storm preparedness supply checklists and disaster preparedness workshops that include guides and videos.

We don’t wait for storms to hit. Days before, we set up an emergency management and distribution center with pre-loaded trucks and moved essential supplies to danger zones. After each disaster, we review our procedures to see what we can do better next time. It still makes me proud that you can engender that kind of culture in a company and have it endure years after you have gone. We formalized our giving through the Home Depot Foundation and commit millions to hundreds of non-profits.

Today, associates regularly volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours each year. Nobody told them to do that. It is not required. It is just part of our culture. The foundation also supports job training, and gave $50 million in 2018 to train 20,000 veterans, high school students, and disadvantaged youths in the construction trades.

We do much of this under the radar because we don’t care who gets the credit, but we try to encourage our competitors to do the same. If we can leverage our support and encourage others to join, then we have doubled or tripled the impact. We know that shoppers care about how companies spend their money—and supporting good causes builds lifelong customers.


Arthur Blank and I had a series of core values that were part of the company from the beginning. We believed in taking care of our people, empowering our customers to feel confident that they had the tools and skills to “do it yourself,” and helping our community.

These shared beliefs helped us to protect the environment, source responsibly, dedicate resources to emergency relief efforts around the country, honor veterans, promote training in the building trades, and serve the communities in which we operate. In 2001, the year before I retired, Home Depot was named the nation’s most socially responsible company. What could be better than that?

Excerpted from KICK UP SOME DUST: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing It Yourself by Bernie Marcus and Catherine Lewis.

Written by Bernie Marcus.

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Bernie Marcus
Bernie Marcus cofounded Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, and served as its inaugural CEO and chairman until his retirement in 2002. Over the last several decades, he has redirected his entrepreneurial spirit toward hundreds of charitable endeavors to solve big problems. He has given away more than $2 billion and is a signatory of the Giving Pledge. His new book is Kick Up Some Dust: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing it Yourself.

Bernie Marcus is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.