At age 84, Bernie Marcus wonders if restaurateurs and other small-business operators will be denied the sort of Cinderella life he earned through sweat and smarts. That's why the co-founder of The Home Depot plans to make an impassioned case during the Restaurant Leadership Conference for standing up to anti-business forces.
"I'm very concerned about the free enterprise system that created me," Marcus barks. "I'm worried about it surviving, and I decided to do something about it."
That "something" is helping employers teach their staffs how the economic interests of the traditional antagonists actually align. Through a group called the Job Creators Network, "we take businesses and help them communicate so their employees know how laws affect their livelihood. Many employees vote with their emotions, not their heads. This gets them to vote with their heads."
Many businesses would never consider such a thing because of amateur lawyering, according to Marcus. "They think, ‘Legally, I can't do that,' that they don't have the legal right,'' he says. "They have a perfect right to do it. It'd only be illegal if they told employees how to vote."
Transparency on that order can add top-line benefits, he says. In the early days of Home Depot, we "had four stores in the Atlanta area, we were under-capitalized and we were working 80 or 90-hour days. It was a struggle," Marcus said. "One of the reasons we had great service was our employees knew exactly what was going on with the company and what was important. They worked with us, not against us."
He's heard the objections that restaurateurs don't have the time or money to get involved with a group like the Network, which also testifies in Congress to defend small businesses and free enterprise.
"They can't afford not to get involved," Marcus stresses.
He notes how "the vast majority of [politicians] have never been in business, they've never had to make a payroll. They're writing laws that affect business without having the experience of what they'll mean."
Restaurateurs "probably feel the way most business people feel, that they're at the mercy of politicians, that they're helpless, that they've lost control," Marcus says. "This is the only way to get it back."
Marcus will deliver the RLC's opening keynote address on Monday, March 31.