Builder: Cofounder, Home Depot; Owner, Atlanta Falcons

When I was running Home Depot, I’d always stop the customers who walked out of our stores with nothing. They were the ones who taught us the most. Odds were, they didn’t come to Home Depot just to walk around. They came because they wanted to buy something. And somehow, we had let them down. Wrong stuff, wrong price, bad service — something. They would tell us what the issue was, and then we would just go in and fix the problem.
I took the same approach after buying the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, 40% of our stadium was empty. Our players needed a full house of our fans, but half of the people who came to games were rooting for the other team. So I went around the city asking people why they weren’t buying tickets. I didn’t ask Falcons employees — they had been trying to get people into the stadium since 1966, and they hadn’t figured it out yet. I asked everyone else I met. Why don’t you come to the Georgia Dome? They always had some explanation. We made a list of the problems and then fixed them. This is my 15th year as an owner, and we’ve sold out every game except for two.
Business isn’t all that complicated. If someone is out in the desert walking around, they’re going to be thirsty. You just have to ask them what they want to drink. If you have the humility to listen to other people rather than just hawking stuff, you’re going to have a lot of customers. Too many businesspeople have big egos and aren’t willing to ask.

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