ARTHUR BLANK … OWNER, ATLANTA FALCONS … FOUNDER, HOME DEPOT One day of practice is like one day of clean living. Doesn’t do you any good. ABE LEMONS, longtime basketball coach, Oklahoma City University and University of Texas 160 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME Iplayed baseball as a kid in Flushing, New York, and loved being the catcher, because I was in every play and I was directing the game. I still like directing things, being in control, which worked out well at Home Depot. THE MOMENT I was seventeen and this kid was coming around third base and I caught the throw to the plate and he just barreled over me, flipping me backward. I popped up and threw the runner out trying to go from first to third. I’m sixty-three, and I still remember that play today. I can still see his face as he came around third. This guy wanted to kill me. I don’t remember what the crowd did, but I do remember my team went nuts after I made the play. That was an amazing feeling.
I loved being there for my teammates. It was probably the first time I got up out of the dirt, but as it happens, I would need that quality later in my career. I didn’t always have Home Depot. I got fired from a home improvement retailer called Handy Dan, and had to come up with something else to do. Maybe I wasn’t in the dirt at the time, but my career certainly was. ANOTHER SPORT, ANOTHER MOMENT One argument in which my dad took my side over my mom’s was whether I could play football. My mom thought I was too small and my dad was all for letting me give it a try. He knew I was fast and perhaps tough, and he knew that’s what you really need in that game. So I did play, and I’m so grateful that they gave me the green light. I played three years at Stuyvesant High School as a defensive back and wide receiver. Junior year, we had a great team. Thirteen guys got full rides to college. I couldn’t crack the starting lineup until the biggest game of the year, when the starting defensive back got hurt. I knew I should play, but I wasn’t sure if my coach thought I could do it because the matchup was pretty ominous.
The kid I would be covering was the number-one receiver in the city and I was virtually untested. I will never forget what happened next. Joe Almonte, the ARTHUR BLANK 161 captain of the team, went up to my coach and said, Start Arthur Blank, he’ll do fine, and that meant so much to me. It gave me the confidence I needed to step up, and I guess you could say I did, because this guy had fifteen passes thrown his way and caught only two the whole game. MY APPROACH TO PLAYING BALL AND BUSINESS I want people who work for me to feel like they matter and feel free to make mistakes. ARTHUR BL ANK If you’re going to play any sport at any level, you have to be willing to fail. If you don’t fail, you’ll never grow. If you’re willing to fail, you’ll always put yourself in situations where you’ll excel. Teams that do well are willing to make mistakes and ultimately fail. This is my philosophy in business as it was in sports. As an example, I give you Tiger Woods of a couple of years ago. After all his early success, he took his game apart and rebuilt it. While he was doing it, almost everyone thought he was nuts. He took a risk by deconstructing his swing, but now he’s better then ever. FINAL THOUGHTS I love being part of a team that wins.
I realized as a high school kid how much it means to have a coach, and now a boss, express faith in his employees. It lifts people up and makes them feel like they matter and, invariably, they perform better. It’s a lesson I will never let go of. I’m always looking for someone who can do a job and do it well but who has not yet had the opportunity to show it. I love to give people a chance to step up. That comes from my days playing ball. MY WRAP Mr. Blank pushed to be a catcher and a defensive back to show that he is fearless. Somehow, he learned there is nothing wrong with failure. Amazing how much the sixtysomething business titan is like the kid growing up in Queens decades ago.
It’s probably why he gets along so well with his Falcon players as well as his employees at Home Depot. In Blank’s world you’ll never be criticized for trying something new, only for not trying at all.
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