Bernie Marcus is the co-founder of Home Depot and chairman of the Marcus Foundation, a philanthropy based in Atlanta. Here, he answer's an entrepreneur's question about employee training at fast-growing companies.
Q. I own a fast-growing business with more than 350 employees. We're constantly improving and updating our training for new hires. How did you handle training as Home Depot grew?
Ken Oaks President and CEO Total Quality Logistics Cincinnati
Bernie Marcus responds:
The most important thing to remember is that you must be actively involved in all of the training that goes on in your company. The fire of the entrepreneur is very difficult to translate down the line. Too often, CEOs hand over responsibility to people who may seem to represent them well on the surface but rarely do. By keeping a hand in the training process, you expose everybody, including your trainers, to your philosophies. In order to keep a company culture alive, you have to make sure it emanates from the leader.
Home Depot (NYSE:HD) co-founder Arthur Blank and I devoted 10 percent of our time to training. We started doing that when we founded the company, and we kept on doing it. For years, we flew to various locations around the country to conduct training. When that became impossible later on, we started holding classes in Atlanta. We spent between a half-day and a full day personally training every single manager. Those managers, in turn, trained store employees. The main point of the classes was to impart our philosophy to executives. That's when we imbued them with the notion that, at Home Depot, we lived and died by our customers. We kept the subject matter fairly flexible and were always open to new techniques and ideas. We also made the classes very interactive, usually spending half of the session fielding questions.
Over the years, I've been told by plenty of people that this was a bad use of our time. But we felt that it was more important than many other meetings we attended. As history has shown, the training worked. We built a great relationship with our people and with our customers. A lot of that had to do with training. We knew that when employees left the classroom, they had the Home Depot culture secure between their ears and in their hearts.