Founders of Home Depot Give Back

Home Depot opened as three stores in Atlanta in 1979.  In the first year of operation, founders Arthur Blank and Bernard Marcus lost $1 million.  But their concept was strong, and in 1980 Home Depot turned a profit.  In 1981 the duo took the company public, and in the years since Home Depot has become an American retail phenomenon that today employs 230,000 associates.

The two founders, with help from writer Bob Andelman, recounted their success in Built From Scratch:  How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew the Home Depot from nothing to $30 Billion.  A reviewer for Knight-Ridder News Service described Blank and Marcus as “two brilliant, yet down-to-earth men.”

Arthur Blank was born in Queens, NY, in 1942.  His family was poor, and he grew up in a series of one-bedroom apartments. He became an accountant, and during the 1970’s worked for Handy Dan Improvement Centers.  There he met Bernard Marcus.

Born in 1929 in Newark, NJ, Bernard Marcus was the son of Russian immigrant parents.  He hoped to become a doctor, but he couldn’t afford a medical education.  Instead, he became a pharmacist.  Through a series of mergers, Marcus ended up an employee of Handy Dan.

When the two men lost their jobs in the late 1970’s, they joined forces to found Home Depot.

From the beginning, Blank and Marcus were committed to sharing the wealth.  They made an early decision to pay good wages, and to make employees shareholders.  Home Depot has created 1,000 millionaires to date.  And Blank and Marcus are among the richest men in the country.

Each year Home Depot budgets approximately $15 million for corporate giving.   One of the Home Depot millionaires, former executive vice president Ronald M. Brill – who helped build the company – has given away almost $2 million through a direct endowment and a charitable trust.

Both Blank and Marcus have now retired from active participation in Home Depot.  Today, they devote their creative energies to spending their vast fortunes in ways that make a difference.   Using the vehicle of family foundations, they make grants to organizations throughout the country.

The Blank Family Foundation doesn’t operate from an endowment.  Instead, Arthur Blank provides the funds for the foundation each year.  In 2001, the foundation distributed over $29 million in 303 grants. The foundation is truly a family affair.  Blank’s brother, his wife, and his three oldest children are all active in foundation decisions.  Blank strongly encourages their participation, as he plans for the work of the foundation to continue long after his own death.

Although the foundation gives to a variety of recipient organizations, Arthur Blank particularly hopes to make a difference in the lives of children.  He himself overcame a serious stutter earlier in life, and he believes children should have every opportunity for health and self-confidence.

The Blank Foundation is among the minority of foundations that provide operating funds, and they like giving to fairly new, small organizations.  Although they have made grants to organizations throughout the country, this year the foundation is accepting proposals from Georgia; New York City; coastal South Carolina; Maricopa County, Arizona; and Park and Gallatin Counties in Montana.  Family members have homes in those areas.

The Marcus Foundation has concentrated its efforts on large grants with big impact.  The foundation recently gave $3.9 million to the CDC Foundation to establish a state-of-the-art Emergency Anthrax Response Center at the Centers for Disease Control.  $45 million was contributed to fund a national network of centers to treat children with brain disorders.  And Marcus has committed $200 million to build the new Georgia Aquarium.  By Jillian Coleman Wheeler

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *