Built from Scratch: How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew The Home Depot from Nothing to $30 Billion by Bernie Marcus

The INDISPENSIBLE history of building a business from one store with zero sales to a $100 BILLION company. , January 17, 2007 It never ceases to amaze me in what it takes to satisfy a reader. When I read a book like this, I am basically asking myself several questions. How on earth did these guys do it? How did they come through the funnel and get it done. What was at stake? What were the major premises of the concept? Could it have failed, if so how? How close did it come to failing? Could some one else have done this, or replicated it, or perhaps have done it better.

A lot of life is pure fantasy. You have your own template of how things works, and you look at the world and you see that template everywhere. If you go out and try to apply this system and superimpose it onto the real world, it either fails or it succeeds. Sometimes the template is a good one, but the execution gets screwed up.

When I look at Home Depot, a story that I have an intimacy with, I found this particular book to be fabulous. There is nothing boring about it; in fact I found every page worthwhile. Having spent 35 years in Wall Street running money, and figuring out how does a company make a buck, I found this book even more worthwhile. If you are involved in the investment business, this becomes a particularly worthwhile read.

If you run a company or have aspirations towards a career in management, you better read this book, because there is something in it for everyone. For most of us, there is more than one thing in it. Peter Drucker the ultimate management mind of the 20th century probably said it best when he talked about the corporation as a living, breathing organism that required nourishment on a daily basis. You just can’t assume that corporations will continue to exist simply because they exist now.

Every day a company fights for its corporate life, for its right to continue to exist. Those corporate entities that assume that they will always be around – NEVER LAST. Other entities out there either eat them up, or they suffer the slow final death of arrogance, and go out of business without even knowing why they went out.

Home Depot is the story of two guys that got up in the morning every morning, fighting for the right to keep doing it a better way. They lived by the credo that you have to keep moving or they will throw dirt on you. Some of the lessons and ideas you will learn from this book include the following:

· CUSTOMER SERVICE – You have to take care of good people, and constantly be on the lookout for them. If necessary hire them, even when you don’t have the jobs for them because you may not get a second shot at them.

· DOING THE RIGHT THING ALL THE TIME – It can cost you money doing the right thing, but it comes back in spades. Something else happens when you do the right thing. People realize your efforts, and some will take advantage of you, but that will be more than offset by the multitude of others who will become loyal customers for life.

· NOBODY LOVES A COMPANY- They may love what you do, and what you do for them as customers, but there is no real loyalty to companies, at least in this generation. Home Depot always tried to make as many of their employees stockholders as possible, so that they could align the employee (associates at HD) goals with the corporate goals.

· THIS IS A TOUGH PLACE TO WORK IF YOU ARE INFLEXIBLE – This lesson was lost on the current Chairman, CEO Nardelli who was fired by the Board for his IMPERIAL management style. He also possessed no understanding of the Home Depot culture as he tried to superimpose his General Electric template on the company. He failed miserably but that’s another book.

· IF YOU CAN SAVE THE CUSTOMER MONEY, DO IT – Always do the right thing by the customer, and you will have a customer for life. Go the extra mile for the customer. CULTIVATE the customer.

· THE FOUNDERS WERE LIVING ON THE FUMES OF DREAMS – I loved these stories. These guys Marcus and Blank were honest about what they faced, and several times this company was touching or facing bankruptcy. This is an important lesson. The way around it is to have twice as much capital as you think you need. This by itself was worth reading the entire book. This is priceless knowledge.

· IT’S ABOUT PRICE, SELECTION, AND CUSTOMER SERVICE – Never lose sight of this statement and act on it in your own business goals. Give people the best price you can, and the finest selection of merchandise. If you back it up with the industry’s best customer service you have found for yourself a business model for success. It may sound simple, but try executing on it.

So let me let you in on a secret. I spent years with Bear Stearns well over 20 years ago as a limited partner. When I read the early financial stories of Home Depot on Wall Street, I knew that what the founders in this book were saying was the complete unvarnished truth.

The story of how Ross Perot, one of America’s wealthiest men in the early 1980’s blew having dominant control of this company is now the stuff of myths. Nevertheless it’s a true story. The founders ultimately turned down Ross Perot as a shareholder. They believe Perot to be a control freak. Yes, Perot didn’t want the founders driving around in a Cadillac. Perot was a Chevy man. Well, the Chevy man blew a $60 billion dollar fortune by not investing a couple of million in Home Depot.

Then there’s Ken Langone, the financial guy behind this phenomenal story. Langone may be the only guy in America to be the IPO maven behind two all time American success stories. He successfully brought public both Ross Perot’s EDS, and the Home Depot. Who else can say that? He also made a billion dollars in the process. Langone is a unique, fabulous, walk to the well with you kind of guy. Among Wall Street types, he is unique, and the Street needs many more like him.

There is a story in the book where Langone is involved in a stock sale to a very nasty executive who is very prominent in his own right. Every time the executive refuses to give in to Langone’s price, Langone just keeps upping the ante on him. This goes on for pages. It is uproariously funny, and is deserving of retelling over and over again. You will love this book, and learn an enormous amount about business in the process. It should probably be required reading for all MBA programs in management.

If you have any desire to understand what it takes to dedicate your entire life to building something, especially in the business world than this book is a read for you. There’s one more thing that I must get across that is compelling. Having spent my life involved with companies like Home Depot, and high-powered successful people, I have come to the conclusion that it does not have to work out successfully.

There is no such thing as one must succeed, or it was ordained that this must happen. As an example Home Depot could have gone out of business a half dozen times before becoming so financially solvent that the business model had to work.

Steve Jobs at Apple could have decided 20 years ago, to license that Apple operating system to the PC industry, and Gates and Microsoft would never have happened. GM could have decided to build quality cars 25 years ago, instead of building […]for decades while the Japanese took the market away.

Al Gore could have concentrated just a little bit more on Florida in 2000, and George W. Bush would have never been. John Kerry could have fought off the challenge of the Swift Boat accusations, and Ohio would have gone his way, and with it the election.

In the end, it’s really a question of who comes through the funnel, and that is not always predictable. As I read this wonderful book, I came to the conclusion once again, that yes, you have to go for it, and dedicate all to getting there, but there is no certitude that you are going to make it. Just make sure you follow YOUR PASSION, because no matter where you wind up, a PASSION FILLED LIFE is a life WORTH LIVING. Good luck.