Until The Home Depot opened its 500th store, co-founder and then-CEO Bernie Marcus personally trained every manager. “I don’t mean I spent a few hours with them and gave them a speech,” says Marcus, now age 84. “I spent days with them.”
This one-on-one orientation was intended to foster an employee-employer trust that Marcus believes is missing today at many businesses, including restaurants. Without it, he says, small businesses are vulnerable to commerce-killing laws and regulations, because their lone voices aren’t heard in state houses or Congress.
He contends that employees would speak loudly in defense of where they work, and vote accordingly, if they realized how anti-business laws and policies threatened their livelihoods, too. But they don’t trust employers enough to listen, much less give credence to the notion of shared political interests, says Marcus. And employers don’t bother trying because of the credibility gap.
But alignment is important. Without that brake on detrimental government activity and what he sees as an anti-business bias in the media, Marcus fears we’ll reach the point where an entrepreneur like himself couldn’t start a venture like The Home Depot.
In response, Marcus and other business leaders started Job Creators Network to teach employers what they can legally do to educate employees and foster trust. “Having communication and trust is also necessary to make your business grow,” Marcus says. He and Art Blank, his partner in the start-up of The Home Depot, made transparency and communication central to the retail concept’s culture. “We told [employees] the truth. We talked about the [business] environment. I think they felt better about their careers,” he says.
His lessons extend to restaurants. “Running a good restaurant, you have to talk to your customers,” says Marcus. “The rule is, No. 1: talk to your customers, and No. 2: talk to your employees.”