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Greenberg: Home Depot's CEO Will Never Make My 'Worst' List

Stocks in this article: HD

NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Every year I do a "Worst CEOs" list, and one person who will never make that list is Home Depot's (HD) Frank Blake. And not just because of the most recent quarter's earnings.

If I did a "Best CEOs" list, Blake would be on top, year after year.

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The odds were against Blake when he took over the CEO reins, because, for the most part, he was a nobody to those outside of the company.

Click the video below to see what TheStreet's Jim Cramer has to say about Frank Blake:

 


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I don't know Blake and have met him only once, in a group of people, but from the outside, he seems to have a trait I admire in corporate leaders: He doesn't seem overly impressed, at least to those around him, with himself. He just seems like one of those CEOs who is as effective talking with the janitor as with the CFO. It's a great skill, one that I believe is innate, and one that tends to characterize someone who can lead by inspiration, not intimidation.

I'm certainly not a management consultant, but in 40 years of working for mostly good people, I know a thing or two about what makes a good manager. Blake just seems to be the kind of exec people want to work for. After all, he and other top Home Depot execs regularly wear the Home Depot aprons and work the stores.

My meeting with Blake was with a dozen or so others at a regular off-the-record CEO meeting, the kind that are held regularly at CNBC. (I'm sharing because this is the kind of thing, I would guess, he would tell anybody.)

I mentioned to Blake that I was impressed as I shopped his stores throughout Southern California, the Chicago area and Connecticut -- enough diversity to see a similarity in the retailer's efforts to improve customer engagement. This was one of Blake's initial objectives.

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The rest of the conversation went something like this:

He: "You've only been in the ones that worked."

Me: "Ones that worked?"

He: "Not all of them are doing as well as those you've seen."

Me: "You mean it's easier said than done?"

He: "Yep. It's up to the store manager, and we usually promote an assistant manager to store manager, and they don't always have what it takes. But you don't know that until they get the job."

That floored me, because rather than just acting like it was a big success, he was acknowledging how hit-and-miss it can be and how hard, in practice, it really is.

Reality: In the end, beyond the hype and hope, it's about execution, and Blake executes. Over and over. That doesn't mean every quarter is great, or that the stock won't go down.

But it's not about the quarters, or every tick in the stock. It's about the whole picture. Blake seems to not only know that, he seems to play off it, paying more attention to what goes on in the stores than to what happens in the stock market. That's what makes a great CEO.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 1:15 p.m. EDT on Real Money on Aug. 19.

Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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