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Marcus, Bernard


MARCUS, BERNARD (1929– ), U.S. entrepreneur, philanthropist. Born to Russian immigrant parents, Marcus grew up in a tenement in Newark, n.j., wanting to be a doctor. After high school, he could not afford medical training. Instead, he worked his way through Rutgers University and earned a degree in pharmacy. After college he worked at a drugstore and a cosmetics company. By the late 1970s he had worked his way up to chairman of Handy Dan, a home-improvement chain in California. He and one of his colleagues there, Arthur M. *Blank, were fired in 1978 over disagreements about the chain's future. Marcus and Blank decided to go into the home-improvement business themselves. After surveying four cities, they settled on Atlanta, Ga., as their home base, believing that it had the right market and real estate conditions to test their theory that consumers would flock to big stores offering a broad selection of home-improvement products, low prices, and friendly, knowledgeable service. In 1979 they opened three Home Depot stores. In their first year, on $7 million in sales, they lost $1 million. But they persevered and in 1981 they went public. By the early years of the 21st century, Home Depot had more than 1,500 stores in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, becoming the world's largest home-improvement retailer. With a familial structure, embracing all employees with stock options and other incentives, plus a harsh sense of competition, Home Depot helped drive Handy Dan, the Blank-Marcus nemesis, out of business. Becoming the do-it-yourself giant, providing everything from screws to electrical wiring to appliances and lawn supplies, Home Depot had more than 150,000 employees and more than $30 billion in sales. Although Marcus, the older of the founders, was chairman for more than 20 years, he and Blank saw eye to eye on almost everything. Marcus was a hands-on visionary, but he also was known for sparring with investment bankers and for telling jokes at company dinners.

Marcus and Blank became philanthropic leaders in Atlanta. While Blank gave to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, youth projects, and many Jewish organizations, Marcus devoted more than 20 years to the City of Hope, a cancer research center. He is also a major supporter of the nation's largest rehabilitation hospital for spinal care patients, the Shepherd Spinal Center, and a new wing of that hospital was named in honor of his wife, Billi. The Marcus Developmental Resource Center provides services and information to disabled individuals and their families. Marcus spent several years in the early years of the 21st century designing and building a $200 million aquarium, known as the Georgia Aquarium. It will have 100,000 fish, including giant groupers, octopuses, and two white beluga whales. The star attraction will be two whale sharks, the world's biggest fish, which can exceed 40 feet in length.

Marcus has given significant sums to Jewish causes. A Jewish community center in Atlanta is named for him and he was one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. In 2000, Marcus and the governor of Georgia led a delegation to major Israeli cities to try to persuade Israeli technology companies to make Georgia their home. Marcus was international chairman of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent political research organization in Jerusalem, and often visited Israel for both business and pleasure. He attends a philanthropic roundtable of the major American Jewish philanthropists that includes Edgar and Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, and Leslie Wexner among others.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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