A successful businessman and community leader in Atlanta, Arthur Blank is a cofounder of the Home Depot corporation and the owner of two professional sports teams, the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC. He is also well known for his philanthropy, and his Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has donated millions of dollars to community causes since 1995.
Arthur M. Blank was born in the Queens borough of New York City in 1942 to Molly and Max Blank. In 1963 Blank earned a business degree from Babson College in Massachusetts. After working for a few years at an accounting firm, he went to work for his father’s small pharmaceutical company. The family business was bought in 1968 by Daylin, the parent company of a drugstore chain, and Blank stayed on with the new company. Daylin sent him to Griffin to be the controller for their discount drugstore chain, and in 1972 he became president and chief executive officer. Two years later he was promoted to controller of Handy Dan, the largest subsidiary of Daylin, and he relocated to Los Angeles, California.
The Home Depot
At Handy Dan, a home improvement company, Blank met Bernie Marcus, a fellow executive. After the two men were fired from the company in 1978, they decided to merge their assets and create the Home Depot. Blank and Marcus envisioned a chain of home-improvement warehouses, larger than any of their competitors’ facilities, filled with a vast array of products and staffed by customer-service experts. After securing sufficient capital and searching nationwide for a suitable location, they opened two stores on June 22, 1979, in Atlanta, which made the city the official home of the Home Depot.
The Home Depot revolutionized the home-improvement industry and has been enormously successful. The company—which in 2010 was the world’s largest home-improvement retailer and the fourth-largest retailer in the United States—has more than 2,200 stores in North America. In 2017 the Home Depot reported $100.9 billion in sales.
The interests of the Home Depot’s owners are reflected in the company’s forays into the worlds of both sports and philanthropy. In 1991 the company established an Olympic Job Opportunities program and became a major U.S. Olympics Team sponsor the next year. In 2002 eight Home Depot employees earned medals in the winter Olympic Games and the Paralympics. In 1998 the Home Depot formed a partnership with former professional football coach Joe Gibbs’s NASCAR racing team. The next year Tony Stewart—wearing the company’s familiar orange and white colors—was named the Winston Cup rookie of the year.
The Home Depot has donated more than $200 million, including time and labor, to the communities it serves. The Home Depot Foundation, established in 2002, supports a variety of community projects, including Habitat for Humanity; City of Hope, a cancer-treatment center; and KaBOOM!, a playground-construction organization.
Blank retired as cochairman of the Home Depot in 2001. Although he has enjoyed great professional success and acclaim, he has also faced some setbacks. The Home Depot has long been a target for environmental groups that claim the company (and other home-improvement chains) buys and sells wood products obtained from endangered forests; others have complained that the massive size of the company (known in some circles as “Wal-Mart with a hammer”) makes it impossible for smaller retailers to compete in shared markets.
In February 2002 Blank bought the Atlanta Falcons, a National Football League (NFL) team, for $545 million. The Falcons had endured an up-and-down existence for thirty-six years under the ownership of the Rankin Smith family. The highlight of the Smith family’s ownership came in 1999, when Atlanta played in Super Bowl XXXIII; the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos, 34-19.
When Blank bought the Falcons, his twin missions were to upgrade the team’s talent and to bring fans back to the Georgia Dome, then the team’s home stadium. He made the unprecedented move of lowering ticket prices on nearly 25,000 seats in the Dome, which gave the Falcons their first sold-out season in more than two decades. He also purchased land to ensure that Falcons fans had parking spots in downtown Atlanta and helped turn Falcons’ games into exciting events, with pregame and halftime concerts from such entertainers as Georgia native Travis Tritt.
In 2003 Blank settled a federal lawsuit filed by a former Falcons employee who claimed she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment experienced by the organization’s female workers. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
In December 2003 Blank hired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers executive Rich McKay, and less than a month later named former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. as the new Falcons coach. During the 2004-5 season, those decisions paid quick dividends as the Falcons finished the regular season with eleven wins and five losses, coming within one game of Super Bowl XXXIX before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in January 2005.
As owner, Blank committed the Falcons to undertaking more charitable works and playing a larger role in the community. At his direction, the team established the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to community nonprofit organizations.
Despite the team’s success, Blank determined that a new stadium would be necessary if the franchise were to remain competitive on the field and meet the league’s evolving standards for stadium design. Construction on the new venue began in 2014, but repeated delays postponed its opening until August 2017.
A state-of-the-art, 71,000-seat facility, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been described as “iconic” by its admirers, but the venue’s construction was not without difficulty. Its location required the demolition of two sanctuaries, its total cost ballooned from an estimated $700 million to $1.6 billion, and mechanical failures prevented its signature feature, a retractable roof, from operating for a full year after the stadium’s opening. Local critics meanwhile protested the structure’s cost to taxpayers, which could top $750 million dollars—a new record for the NFL.
Its great difficulties notwithstanding, the stadium has been a coup for Blank, whose Falcons franchise was expected to double in value as a result of the stadium’s construction. What is more, it allowed the Home Depot founder the opportunity to purchase a second professional sports team, Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer. The club, which began play at Bobby Dodd Stadium before moving to its new home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, has been an unqualified success. In 2017, just its first year in existence, Atlanta United posted an average home attendance exceeding 48,000, a new record for the league.
In addition to the Falcons and Atlanta United, Blank is a former owner of the Georgia Force, which competed in the Arena Football League until 2009.
Blank has twice been named Georgia Trend magazine’s most respected chief executive officer in the state. He serves on a number of boards, including those of the Carter Center, the Commerce Club, the Cooper Institute, Cox Enterprises, Emory University, and Staples Inc. In 2001 he was named the first Distinguished Executive in Residence for the Roberto C. Goizueta Business School at Emory University. In 2014 the Georiga Historical Society and the Office of the Governor named Blank a Georgia Trustee.
Blank chairs the capital campaign to fund the new Atlanta Symphony Center for performances of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and he was cochair for a similar campaign to construct the Centennial Olympic Games Museum at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead. He is also involved with the philanthropic family foundation that bears his name.