Home Depot is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Quite the milestone for one of Fortune 500’s youngest and most successful companies ever – that is not in technology. Home Depot started in 1978, opened its first four stores in 1979, and went public in September 1981 for $12 a share. Today, after splits, one share has grown to 342 shares, each valued at $200 this week (1 share at $12 is now valued at $68,000; a $1,000 investment is now worth over $5 million merely 40 years later).
An interesting piece of trivia: The first name considered before settling on Home Depot was Bad Bernie’s Buildall, with a yellow motif. I wonder how that would have affected its growth? Anyway, I am not sure if Home Depot had any formal celebrations, but the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation had a dinner, and it was a marvelous look back at Home Depot’s founding, growth and moral compass.
The event took place in New York City, which is why many people in Atlanta didn’t hear about it. Before I get to the event itself, let me give you a brief description of the Siller Foundation. Stephen Siller was a firefighter in New York City and had gotten off the late shift early in the morning on Sept. 11, 2001. Before he made it all the way home to Brooklyn, he heard over his scanner about a plane and a fire at the Twin Towers. He knew this was going to be a big situation and immediately attempted to turn his truck around, but the traffic going back into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was already at a standstill. He didn’t receive a formal call from his precinct; he did what almost every firefighter and police officer would do; answer the public’s call to duty without hesitation. He got out of his truck, strapped on 60 pounds of gear, ran through gridlock in the tunnel, and then across lower Manhattan to the Twin Towers, where he shortly lost his life saving others. Let that snapshot sink in for a moment.
Stephen’s brother, Frank, created the Siller Foundation to honor his brother with the intent of helping first responders. A main focus of the Foundation is building smart homes for catastrophically wounded first responders and service men and women. (A catastrophically wounded veteran is typically considered a person to have lost three or more limbs.) The Siller Foundation has thus far been involved in creating a total of 75 homes. The gala dinner this year used Home Depot’s 40th anniversary as a leverage point to raise money to build more homes; it was also a thank you for the money that Home Depot, Bernie Marcus and others had already donated.
One highlight of the night was bringing the original senior executives together, including Bernie Marcus, Arthur Blank, Pat Farrah, Ron Brill and their investment banker, Ken Langone. Many other notable executives were in attendance: Larry Smith, the first general counsel of Home Depot under Marcus; Rick Mayo, one of the two original buyers for Home Depot in 1978; Mitch Hart, a founding board member; Bryan Fields, head of real estate under Marcus; Craig Menear, the current CEO; and Frank Blake, the immediate past CEO. The camaraderie during the evening was amazing. I don’t think this group has shared a stage together in decades.
The pinnacle of the evening, however, was the successive speeches by Marcus, Blake and Menear. Marcus spoke about how he created a culture of giving back to the communities in which Home Depot thrives. He shared the genesis of how Home Depot employees became first responders in their hometowns during times of hurricanes, floods and other crises. Employees are known for bringing generators, tools, tarps, wood, batteries and most importantly, manpower, in times of need – with no expectations of being paid for material or labor. Blake was given the credit for bringing these same principles used in times of crisis to bear in hiring and support of our military. Home Depot hires veterans and reservists; they support the families of their reservists when they are on active duty; and they support the families of service men and women when they are killed or catastrophically wounded. Home Depot is a model Fortune 500 company in the support and betterment of our military personnel. In Blake’s words, the number one principle at Home Depot is “do the right thing.” Finally, Menear spoke about how Home Depot is building on Blake’s work; enhancing the veteran and military programs to current day needs; shifting the focus of the Home Depot Foundation to major support of our veterans; and announcing an additional $1.5 million grant to the Siller Foundation. This made the company’s total gifts to the Siller Foundation $10 million and brought Home Depot closer to its goal of giving $250 million to veteran causes over 10 years. This gift sparked an additional $3 million in donations that evening.
A good night for Home Depot; a wonderful accolade to Marcus and Blank, who personally support veterans’ causes passionately; a meaningful evening for the Siller Foundation; and a big win for our respected, revered and treasured veterans.