Louis Uchitelle’s article, Home Depot Girds for Continued Weakness, is an interesting look at what the chief executives of the home improvement big box did when the economy tanked. Their first order of business – “Get the cash!”
Carol Tome, the chief financial officer literally ordered all Home Depot managers to send their spare cash to headquarters. The strategy was to avoid having to take any loans from banks for their short-term operating costs. In a sense, Tome and chairman and chief executive Frank Blake “did it themselves” when it came to keeping the company afloat. And like most Americans, they cut back by opening fewer new stores and closing their Expo outlets geared toward wealthier clientele.
Uchitelle writes that Blake “casts himself not as a tycoon and visionary – the proclaimed characteristics of chief executives in the expansion era – but as a well-educated storekeeper.” Blake is now focused on increasing sales in existing stores and getting revenue back to what it was three years ago.
I’m torn between really liking the humble, “aww, shucks” profile of Blake and feeling slightly manipulated by an article that fits perfectly into the Home Depot brand mythology of the capable, no-nonsense, it-might-be-rough but “You can do it. We can help.” Uchitelle writes a good story about a likable company run by a “lean New Englander.” I leave liking Blake, hoping he succeeds. And I keep seeing Jimmy Stewart in my head.
For me, what was missing a bit of the dark side of business. Of course, business articles don’t have to focus on the negatives but there was no talk of layoffs and most surprisingly, no talk of their stock prices. There was most definitely a tension in the sense that it leaves me wondering if they can make it – Will they live or will they die? But I’m left wondering how the employees and stock holders are faring.