Battle of the big boxes

  • Associated Press
  • Thursday, June 10, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

ATLANTA – Home Depot Inc. CEO Bob Nardelli doesn’t like to talk about his company’s chief rival, but that doesn’t mean he’s ignoring it. He tours Lowe’s stores when he travels around the country.

He doesn’t go incognito, so he’s sometimes asked to leave.

“For the record, they were not personal visits,” Nardelli said, laughing.

Nardelli is checking out the competition as he leads Home Depot’s efforts to give its stores a new look and revamp customer service, a move that began amid a charge into its turf by North Carolina-based Lowe’s Cos.

Still, he’d rather not link Home Depot’s makeover to its rival.

“He has suffered with the comparison with Lowe’s,” said former General Electric Co. chairman and CEO Jack Welch, who used to be Nardelli’s boss. “Lowe’s has a fraction of the stores he has. His stores are older. It’s the law of size and age, but he’s fixing that.”

Nardelli, who headed GE Power Systems, was a candidate to replace Welch at GE, but didn’t get the job, instead landing the top position at Atlanta-based Home Depot in 2000. Welch said it wasn’t a consolation prize for Nardelli, but rather a perfect fit. Nardelli gave the mostly decentralized Home Depot some direction.

“He’s got an engine inside him,” Welch said.

Analysts agree that Nardelli is putting Home Depot on a better path.

Colin McGranahan, an analyst with Bernstein &Co. in New York, said the company has made its stores cleaner and brighter and is trying to appeal to a wider base of customers.

“If there is a negative, it’s that their strategy needs to be flexible,” he said.

Those who know the 56-year-old Nardelli describe him as determined.

“He’s always been very sure of the course that needs to be taken,” said Larry Mortier, who played football with Nardelli at Western Illinois University. “I see a lot of the intensity Bob had as a player in the way he approaches his professional life.”

By all accounts, Nardelli is a workaholic. He has moved 13 times and worked in numerous fields, particularly during his years at GE, from medical systems to locomotives to lighting to power plants.

Working seven days a week and staying late each night, Nardelli said he developed his strong work ethic from his father, a longtime General Electric employee. At Home Depot, Nardelli tours 300 stores a year.

“I don’t try to manage an 8-to-5,” Nardelli said. “You measure yourself in accomplishments, not time.”

That includes record financial results for Home Depot under his watch. However, the company’s stock price has fallen during his 31/2 years as CEO. Now trading in the $35 range, it’s down $16 from its early 2001 level.

Associated Press

Home Depot Inc. CEO Bob Nardelli plans to revamp his stores with a new look and a renewed emphasis on customer service.

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