To Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank, profit and purpose go hand in hand.
That was a recurring theme during Blank’s return visit to his alma mater, Babson College, on Thursday. Blank’s visit to the Wellesley campus was in large part tied to his decision last year to donate $50 million to fund a new entrepreneurial leadership school at Babson. The owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team also just authored a book, called “Good Company,” about how to implement this concept of managing with purpose.
The book is based around six values that have guided Blank throughout his career. Those principles — think put people first, not make tons of money first — are being incorporated into classes offered for the first time this fall through the Arthur M. Blank School of Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Blank, who left Home Depot in 2001, said companies need to be more purposeful in their decisions today, in part to attract the best talent. Younger workers, he said, want to join employers that share their vision and their mission for life. They want to connect with companies driven by a higher purpose than just financial results.
“The younger generation represents a third of our population, but 100 percent of our future,” Blank said. “That’s an important opportunity and responsibility.”
At the time of its unveiling last fall, the gift was the largest single donation in Babson’s history. It was also the biggest one for Blank’s family foundation — until several days ago, when it was announced the family would give $200 million for a new children’s hospital building in Atlanta.
At Babson, some of this money is being used for scholarships, and some of it is going to salaries. Care.com cofounder Donna Levin was recently recruited from Worcester Polytechnic Institute to be CEO of the new school, and Babson professor Scott Taylor was appointed to an endowed chair for values-based leadership.
The new “school” isn’t represented by a physical building on the business college’s campus, at least not yet. Babson president Stephen Spinelli hopes to put at least $18 million eventually to work by creating an “entrepreneurial village,” either by putting up a new structure or renovating an existing one.
One thing that makes this donation unusual: Blank views the new school as a partnership between his businesses and the school, one that will strengthen and evolve over time. He’s not just writing a check and walking away.
Blank and his businesses will stay involved in the school, which will be guided by those six core philosophies espoused in “Good Company.” For example, Blank was joined during his visit on Thursday by several other top executives from his family’s businesses, which include the Atlanta United soccer team and the PGA Tour Superstore chain, in part to provide input and insight for the new school.
The campus was a bit less vibrant than usual, with only two-thirds of the typical student population living there now, and classes either being taught remotely, or in a hybrid setting.
But the visit still prompted plenty of nostalgia. Blank, who graduated in 1963, said Babson played a key role in making him the leader he eventually became.
“I had an opportunity to become a different person when I was here,” Blank said. “I had a chance to grow up socially, and my leadership had a chance to develop at a small university, a small college, which I may not have had at a bigger school. I knew everybody on campus, and everybody knew me.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.