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In visit to Fox, The Home Depot’s co-founder discusses the art of conducting business ethically

Paul Silberberg, right, an adjunct faculty member of the Fox School of Business, introduces Bernie Marcus, co-founder and former CEO of The Home Depot, before Marcus’ Feb. 9 lecture at Alter Hall. Photo credit Jim Roese Photography.

Paul Silberberg, right, an adjunct faculty member of the Fox School of Business, introduces Bernie Marcus, co-founder and former CEO of The Home Depot, before Marcus’ Feb. 9 lecture at Alter Hall. Photo credit Jim Roese Photography.

Do ethical entrepreneurs earn more?

“Yes,” said Bernard “Bernie” Marcus, answering the question that also served as the title of his lecture.

The co-founder and former CEO of The Home Depot, Marcus visited Temple University’s Fox School of Business Feb. 9 as the inaugural Warren V. “Pete” Musser Visiting Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Established in 2015, the Musser Professorship is an endowed term professorship filled by experienced and well-known practitioners who are interested in spending a term at the Fox School to mentor students in the early stages of their ventures.

A businessman and philanthropist, Marcus co-founded The Home Depot after he and coworker Arthur Blank lost their jobs with a California hardware store. The Home Depot went public in 1981 and has since become a billion-dollar, home-improvement empire. Marcus retired in 2001 to focus on philanthropy.

“Ethics are critically important,” Marcus told the standing-room only crowd at Alter Hall. “Everyone has that desperate moment in business when someone tries to break your conscience.”

Marcus’ “desperate moment” came when, at age 49 and unemployed, he decided to open The Home Depot. The former medical student hadn’t encountered the sometimes-unprincipled and amoral dealings that one can encounter with owning a business. Undaunted, Marcus refused to work with those who were dishonest and resolved that his business wouldn’t be about cutting corners or taking bribes.

Bernie Marcus speaks to audience.

Photo credit Jim Roese Photography.

“The Home Depot is the fastest-growing retail company in history, and it’s ethical in every way,” Marcus said.

Marcus elaborated. When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012, The Home Depot opened its doors to all customers who had been located in the hurricane’s path, offering supplies to them free of charge. A year later, when a tornado ravaged Moore, Okla., Marcus said The Home Depot took note of the area’s numerous displaced pets and set up cages in its stores.

“We became a pet store,” Marcus said, of the nearly three weeks during which The Home Depot housed the lost animals. “We did that then, and we’ll do it today. That’s ethics. That’s how you treat people and get the culture at The Home Depot.”

Leveraging his wealth, Marcus supports autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, and supports veterans employed by The Home Depot and their families employed. For Marcus, the purpose of the company’s good deeds is not to garner media attention. Running a business with an end game of fame or fortune, he said, simply is not ethical.

In addition to its support of veterans, The Home Depot seeks to instill in each of its employees — from store managers to new hires — a sense of pride, charity and professional drive. After all, Marcus said, he wouldn’t be in the position he is today without the men and women who worked nights and weekends for the company he founded.

“People don’t have to be recognized for doing their jobs, but when they do something exceptional, you congratulate them,” Marcus said.

Benrie Marcus speaks to audience.

Photo credit Jim Roese Photography.

Similar to Marcus, entrepreneurship is a pillar at the Fox School of Business. Its undergraduate- and graduate-level Entrepreneurship programs are nationally ranked Nos. 8 and 10, respectively, by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine. Fox is also one of only five schools nationally to attain two top-10 rankings. And Fox’s Master of Science in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship degree program offers a course in Ethical Entrepreneurship.

For the students in attendance, Marcus discouraged them against compromising their values or giving up.

“Creative philanthropy is about hanging onto an idea, pursuing it, and not letting it get you down,” Marcus said. “You will win.”