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Blank, Arthur M.


BLANK, ARTHUR M. (1942– ), U.S. entrepreneur, philanthropist. Born in Queens, n.y., Blank received an accounting degree from Babson College and worked as an accountant before joining a small pharmaceutical company started by his father. When the company was bought by Daylin, Blank became an executive at a Daylin drugstore unit. He then moved to the Handy Dan Improvement Centers, a division of Daylin, where he met Bernard *Marcus. In 1978, Blank and Marcus were fired by Daylin over disagreements about the small chain's future and decided to go into the home-improvement business. After surveying four cities, they settled on Atlanta as the place with the right market and real estate conditions to test their theory that consumers would flock to huge stores offering a broad selection of home improvement products, low prices, and hospitable service. They opened three Home Depot stores in 1979, employing 200 workers, and had $7 million in sales. They lost nearly $1 million. But their fortunes changed and the company went public in 1981. Their goal was to encourage creativity from everyone from sales people to managers, with stock options offered even to the lowest-level employees. Their adversary was the lumberyard down the street, not the boss. This familial structure, plus a ferocious sense of competition, proved a winning combination. Eventually, their muscle helped put Handy Dan out of business. By the end of 1998, Home Depot had grown to almost 800 stores, had 157,000 employees, and recorded more than $30 billion in sales. Home Depot became the do-it-yourself giant, providing everything from screws to electrical wiring for American fixer-uppers. It also opened stores in other countries, in Canada and South America.

Blank served as chief executive from May 1997 until December 2001, when he turned over day-to-day management to an executive from General Electric. During Blank's tenure, Home Depot sales more than doubled and the company's stock price almost tripled. Blank said he planned to devote more time to his family foundation and to his wife, who was expecting twins. In December 2001, Blank also completed a deal to buy the Atlanta Falcons professional football franchise for $545 million. Blank and Marcus became philanthropic leaders in Atlanta and Blank was chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. When he retired, his stock holdings were estimated at $1.6 billion. His foundation gave away $100 million from 1995 through 2002. His philanthropies ranged from a new venue for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to restoring green space in the inner city to helping such nonprofits as Outward Bound and Zoo Atlanta. About 90 percent of the funds the Blank Family Foundation gives away goes to youth projects, but other causes also receive support. The foundation gives to many Jewish organizations. The Home Depot company has spawned as many as 1,000 millionaires. One former executive vice president, Ronald M. Brill, who helped start the company, gave $1 million for an endowment at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center in 1999.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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