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Good piece in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company about Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, who, the magazine reports, has overcome early struggles and turned the company into an “innovation machine.”

The article notes that Nardelli – who, like Albertsons CEO Larry Johnston was not chosen to succeed General Electric chairman and legend Jack Welch when he retired – is a leader who can “zero in on the tiniest details” while still being able to “grasp the big picture.” In Nardelli’s case, this means “an ability to focus both on the distant horizon – housing starts, say – and on close-in details like the gross margins on house paint. It means blending in with the starched shirts of Davos and, the next day, sharing a plate of barbecue with a part-time worker.”

Nardelli also is a “data freak” who still understands the importance of “emotional intelligence,” and he hosts frequent meetings with employees at various levels where his chief job is to listen.

While the early days of Nardelli’s tenure were marked by dissent and mistrust – in part because he was trying to impose discipline on an entrepreneurial culture – the numbers certainly suggest success: in the five years since he joined the company, annual sales have gone from $45 billion to $80 billion.
KC's View:
Here’s a question to ponder.

If Nardelli had gone to Albertsons and Johnston had gone to Home Depot, what would the state of those two organizations be today?

Would Home Depot still be seen as an innovation machine? Would Albertsons still be on the sale block? If so, this would suggest that each company was dependent less on the vision of its new CEO than it was on structural advantages and problems built into its culture.

Or, would Nardelli have found as way to build on Albertsons’ strengths while eliminating its weaknesses, while Johnston would have done little or nothing to keep Home Depot on the right track?

We don’t know the answer to this question. And it probably isn’t a simple answer. But it is interesting to ponder.