Frank Blake, the chief executive of Home Depot, defended predecessor Bob Nardelli against criticism he received over the company's lagging stock price and even referred to him as a mentor, but was quick to point out the two have differences.
Blake told business leaders at a gathering of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce that he learned a lot from Nardelli, who resigned in January after six years at the helm of the world's largest home improvement store chain.
"Bob Nardelli was a hugely important mentor to me," Blake said.
He added that Nardelli was good at setting a target and staying on strategy, no matter what.
As for the Atlanta-based company's stock price, which has continued to decline since Nardelli left, Blake said, "Bob got a lot of unfair criticism on this."
The defense of Nardelli was striking in that Blake and Home Depot have sought to distance themselves from the Nardelli era since Blake took over. Blake has tried to have a closer relationship with employees, and the company has said it is considering selling its Home Depot Supply unit, which Nardelli had seen as a growth vehicle.
After his talk at the chamber meeting, Blake was asked by a reporter about his defense of Nardelli in light of the shift in strategy he is implementing at the company.
"We're different people," Blake said. "But that doesn't mean I don't have a lot of respect for him."
On other subjects, Blake told the audience at the meeting that Home Depot has no intention of selling out to private equity groups and taking the company private. Some observers have suggested the company should think about privatization to provide bigger returns for shareholders.
Not Going Private
"We're not thinking about going private," Blake said. "We're pleased with our corporate structure. When we look at the amount of investment we need to make in our business and we think about the long-term, we're very pleased to be a public company."
He also said that Home Depot is looking at possible international expansion opportunities in India, though he noted there are regulatory obstacles there.
"That's a market opportunity we're looking at," Blake said in response to a question about India.
But, he noted that currently Home Depot would not be permitted to run a retail operation there. The company currently has 12 stores in China.
Blake added that the company will hold its annual shareholder meeting May 24 in Atlanta. Last year's meeting, which was presided over by Nardelli, was held in Wilmington, Del. The company was widely criticized for the tone of the meeting, at which Nardelli didn't allow general questions to be asked, and the board of directors did not attend.
Blake said the full board will be in attendance at this year's meeting.