Listening to learn. Purpose over profitability. These are two of the trademarks that Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98 has followed his entire business career, from founding and scaling The Home Depot, to leading the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United FC.
In a visit to Babson College’s Wellesley campus Thursday morning, Blank was encouraged by what he saw. Babson students are living these same ideals, and, as future entrepreneurial leaders, are positioned to reinforce these ethics through their professional careers.
At a fireside chat streamed virtually to 1,200 viewers from 31 states and 21 countries, Blank, President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD and Student Government Association President Andrea Lindner ’22 discussed Blank’s six core values for personal and professional success.
These indispensable building blocks are at the foundation of The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership, the establishment of which has been accelerated by Blank’s $50 million gift to the institution.
“ ‘Why am I here? What’s life all about?’ Young people are pushing harder on those questions,” Blank said. “That’s the beautiful thing about Babson. Students’ minds are primed in that way. This student body, they are the ambassadors, the believers, the articulators of these core values as we go forward.”
The Customer Is Always Right
In his new book, Good Company, Blank identifies his six core values as:
- Put People First
- Listen and Respond
- Include Everyone
- Innovate Continuously
- Lead by Example
- Give Back to Others
These core values also will be incorporated into the student learner experience, both in and out of the classroom.
“I think it has a crucial message for our students, the entrepreneurial leaders of the future, to hear,” says Spinelli. “Arthur Blank shows how it’s possible to create both economic and social value, and that aligns exactly with what we teach at Babson. We all learn if we learn with purpose. That will drive you to become an entrepreneurial leader.”
In business, those values help make the customer the primary stakeholder, Blank said. Their feedback is the driver to company innovation and success. Listening to them, and incorporating what they have to say, separates the top businesses from the struggling ones.
Blank has followed this philosophy since the early days of his career, and described the story of a customer who came to Home Depot to “return” a set of four tires. Home Depot refunded the customer’s money, despite an objection from a colleague, who reminded them that Home Depot did not sell tires. Spinelli described Home Depot’s and Blank’s response as his favorite excerpt from the book.
“It doesn’t matter; they are a customer for life now,” Blank said. “The customer is never wrong.”
Not only is the customer always right, but the customer also offers the best insight. Later in his Home Depot career, Blank would stand outside his stores and strike up conversations with customers who did not purchase anything. This method, he said, was key to innovation.
“If you really want to learn, you have to be a good listener,” Blank said. “The yellow brick road hasn’t come from us, it’s come from the people we’re serving. They will always tell you the truth. All you have to do is get your ego and filter out of the way.”
Transcending Values, from Blank’s Businesses to The Blank School
A positive company culture, built upon a criteria of core values that employees strive to follow, is what the modern workforce of today desires, Blank says. This mindset has been integral with all of his ventures.
“People go home at night, sitting around the kitchen table, they want to talk about their organization and what they’re doing with a sense of pride,” Blank said. “The essence of how they’re making a difference in the lives of people they’re serving.”
That desire and the need for entrepreneurial leadership is greater than ever in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty with the pandemic and the social unrest facing the world today. That makes The Blank School even more vital as Babson continues to develop the entrepreneurial leaders for the future, and it makes the College’s partnership with Blank all the more rewarding.
“We are working together to advance and amplify values-based leadership on a global scale,” Spinelli said. “At Babson, we are so purpose-filled. Our community continues to make an impact and always aspires to do something special.
“We will emerge from the pandemic even stronger. Babson has a tremendous opportunity to influence higher education.”