Winter 2024 Issue

Home & Hearth Matter

Ted Decker ’85 leads The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer

By Claire De Lisle M.B.A. ’21

Winter 2024 Issue

Ted Decker '85 Leads The Home Depot, the World's Largest Home Improvement Retailer

“There’s a buzz in our stores and it’s the energy of our culture coming to life. And from day one that was intentional.”

Ted Decker ’85 often mentions the “blessing of The Home Depot.” In his view, that’s the culture and values that have set Home Depot apart from its competitors for almost 45 years. It’s what has kept him with the company for more than two decades, reaching his current role as chair, president and CEO in 2022. It’s a role he didn’t imagine for himself as a kid running his own landscaping business outside Erie, Pennsylvania — or as an English major at William & Mary discovering a passion for international finance. Yet ideas that began then continue to inform his work today.

Decker oversees all aspects of the world’s largest home improvement retailer, which includes more than 2,300 stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and almost 500,000 associates. It had $157.4 billion in revenue in 2022, $61 billion more than its closest competitor, Lowe’s.

On the surface, The Home Depot is a big-box retailer of everything from garden hoses and two-by-four lumber to lightbulbs and the famous 12-foot-tall Halloween yard skeletons (they have more than 35,000 products in stores and over 2 million products online). But when Decker thinks about the stores, he thinks about the energy he sees and feels there.

“It’s real, genuine and authentic. There’s action everywhere. This is a place where you are going to do the work,” he says. “There’s a buzz in our stores and it’s the energy of our culture coming to life. And from day one that was intentional.”

By day one, he’s referring to Home Depot’s origin story, when Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank sketched out their dream for a hardware store on a coffeeshop napkin in Los Angeles in 1978. They wanted big warehouse-style stores with a wide selection, competitive prices and high-quality customer service under one roof. But baked into the business model, says Decker, was also a values wheel of eight key values (including “entrepreneurial spirit,” “creating shareholder value” and “respect for all people”) and an inverted pyramid of leadership, with customers at the top, associates supporting the customers, management supporting the associates and the CEO at the very bottom.

“Everyone’s customer centric until there’s a cost associated with it outside of what you planned. That’s where culture and values come in, where the rubber hits the road,” says Decker. “We are blessed to have a legacy from our founders who are larger-than-life personalities who put their stamp on our culture.”

Marcus was fond of saying, “If you take care of the associates, they’ll take care of the customers, and everything else will take care of itself.” Ken Langone, another founder, reportedly ends every conversation with, “Take care of the kids in the store.” (Langone is 88 years old, so to him, everyone is a kid, Decker explains.)

Though the founders have since retired from the company, the values and culture they put in place are the foundation on which Decker builds.

“It’s very humbling to go into a Home Depot store and talk to an associate who says, ‘Thank you for what you are doing; my 401K is in a comfortable spot.’ What’s struck me over the last few months in this new role is the sheer sense of responsibility and duty to everyone who works here — which marries well with Home Depot’s value system,” he says. “It’s really all about servant leadership.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Home Depot


Photos of Decker show him in the iconic orange Home Depot apron, in the store ready to get his hands dirty. Speaking with him, he’s an easygoing guy, warm and casual, with a self-effacing sense of humor, who gives the impression that he’s genuinely interested in the people around him.

To Decker, servant leadership starts with creating an open and engaging environment so that everyone feels they are part of the team and their ideas are welcome and expected. It also means recognizing good work when he sees it. As he talks, he consistently praises others, whether he’s discussing leaders he’s worked with, associates on the sales floor or even people he doesn’t know who have skills he admires.

He says the first thing he and his leadership team ask store managers when they visit stores is, “Who would you like to recognize with a Homer Award?” — Home Depot’s award for providing excellent customer service and showing the company’s values. Those values are intentionally incorporated into every training and communication to “maintain their spirit and livelihood,” Decker says, but he also believes they are inherent.

“I’m a firm believer that every person in every situation inherently knows the right thing — whether we act on it or not,” he says. He feels the pressure of that, too: “If you make a decision that’s against your values, it’s easily seen and you lose a lot of credibility.”

Stephanie Coleman Linnartz M.B.A. ’97, CEO and president of Under Armour, serves on the board of The Home Depot and its audit and leadership development committees. “She’s literally my boss,” says Decker with a smile. “To have a kindred spirit who ‘gets’ William & Mary on the board is so cool and an absolute blessing.”

During the pandemic, when Home Depot was experiencing record sales and Marriott’s hotels were struggling due to travel restrictions, Decker and Linnartz — who was at that time president of Marriott International — worked together to create a jobs portal so that Marriott associates who had been laid off could find employment in Home Depot stores.

Decker and Linnartz spoke about leadership with W&M business and law students in September 2023 as McGlothlin Fellows for the McGlothlin Leadership Forum (see sidebar below the article).

“Being on the Home Depot board has been a great honor and tremendous learning opportunity. I have enjoyed working with and learning from Ted,” says Linnartz. “I have been especially impressed with Ted’s commitment to Home Depot’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and the intentional way he executes against them.”

For Decker, “doing the right thing” also includes sustainability, such as recent efforts that have reduced the carbon footprint of stores by 50%. It also includes giving of your time, and he cites the more than 1.5 million hours associates have volunteered through Team Depot projects in communities nationwide since 2011. The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $500 million in veterans causes and improved more than 60,000 veterans’ homes. They also partnered with the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary Law School.

According to Decker, The Home Depot was the only nongovernment entity at Ground Zero right after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, providing generators, bottled water and supplies to first responders.

“We regularly do this for hurricanes and other disasters — we send hundreds of trucks and give it all away,” says Decker. “We probably need to be better at telling people about the good work we are doing, but we don’t do it for the publicity. There are companies out there that show up one time and build Super Bowl ads off that. That’s not us. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

He calls Home Depot’s previous CEO, Craig Menear, a “North Star” of doing the right thing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Decker was in the 4 p.m. daily calls with Menear and senior leaders, adjusting strategy every day. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was limiting essential stores — including Home Depot — to a certain number of people per square foot. For many stores, that was about 500 customers and associates. Menear, however, felt the right thing to do was limit it even further, to just 100 people per store, and the information technology team created an app to allow associates to track numbers on all entrances to enforce this.

“We knew we would lose relative share, but it was the right thing to do. It instilled trust,” says Decker.

The Home Depot grew during the pandemic by $47 billion, which is 43% — rapid growth despite limited numbers of customers and associates in stores, supply chain shortages, and additional expenses for personal protective equipment and cleaning. It was fueled by a home improvement boom as Americans spent more time at home and used money that typically went toward going out on improving their living spaces.

High home prices also may have motivated some homeowners to renovate in order to sell their property or to update instead of buying something new. U.S. spending on home improvement jumped to $497.1 billion in 2020, an increase of $90.5 billion in just one year; in the previous 10 years, it had risen an average of just $15.2 billion per year.

Decker took the reins in 2022 and is now overseeing Home Depot in its first post-pandemic quarters of decreased sales, with the first quarter of 2023 seeing a 4.5% comparative reduction over the first quarter of 2022 and the second quarter showing a 2% reduction. He says he is not concerned, though, and that this is expected “moderation” on the part of homeowners as they switch their spending back to services from goods.

“As we learned through COVID, we have to be agile. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. We are constantly updating forecasts — yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly — to respond in real time,” he says.

He sees the housing shortage as an area of opportunity for the business — not only because meeting demand will require significant construction, but also because rising home values are adding to the equity wealth for American homeowners, to the tune of $15 trillion since 2019.

The Home Depot Foundation is planning to invest $50 million by 2030 in training skilled tradespeople through its Path to Pro program. Decker calls a lack of skilled labor a major reason for the housing shortage. He emphasizes that four-year college degrees are not the only path to wealth creation and career advancement, and he hopes state and federal governments will “put as much effort into those career tracks as into four-year degrees.”

The Home Depot’s “Pro” account holders — mostly professional contractors — make up about 10% of Home Depot’s customer base and 50% of sales, according to a Jan. 5, 2023, news release, so increasing the number of skilled tradespeople is also good for the bottom line.

Decker also sees Home Depot as relevant to the next generations of homeowners. Back in 2015, Home Depot assembled a cohort of interns from many different majors and disciplines. Their task: Explore the question, “Is home improvement and the classic American dream of home ownership still relevant to millennials?”

What they found was that yes, despite the Great Recession delaying some members of their generation from finding the jobs they wanted in the locations they wanted, they still aspired to own and improve their homes.

“The good news from that study was that absolutely, home and hearth matter,” says Decker.

The Home Improvement Research Institute found in 2023 that 49% of millennials complete five or more home improvement projects a year, the most of any generation. Millennials and Gen X are most likely of any generational group to choose DIY (“do it yourself”) methods, even as they express less confidence in their skills than older generations — which might lead them to a place like Home Depot for advice, a free class or a tool rental.

Whatever the future brings to the market, Decker feels ready for it. He advises students to be prepared to take on any new challenge, and he’s impressed by people who can jump into new and different projects with ease.

“Anything you can do to embrace change and appreciate the new opportunities change brings, you will grow the most and the reward is exponential,” he says. “That mindset started at William & Mary.”

Photo Credit: Alfred Herczeg P ’23


The Home Depot’s corporate culture reminds Decker of his experience at William & Mary, where the Honor Code was paramount and ideas were discussed freely between students and professors.

After growing up near Erie, Pennsylvania, Decker looked for universities in warmer climates where he could escape the long, snowy winters. He describes himself as a “big Colonial history buff” and remembers a family field trip to Colonial Williamsburg in the third grade that first put William & Mary on his radar. He was reminded again of William & Mary when the late Chester F. “Chet” Giermak ’50, P ’73, P ’75, P ’77, P ’86, G ’15, a legendary W&M basketball player turned president of Ereiz Magnetics, came to speak at his high school for Free Enterprise Week. Decker applied to William & Mary and readily accepted the university’s admission offer.

As a student here, he would frequently run up and down Duke of Gloucester Street and often spent time in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. He loved sitting at the lunch counter at the old drugstore in Merchants Square and seeing all the costumed CW employees come in for lunch.

He worked at George’s, as did many of his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers. In Blow Gymnasium, he played squash competitively “for the one year that it was a thing,” he says, laughing, and he was the campus champion at the sport.

One night during his sophomore year, Decker was leaving a live show at the Pub, a student bar down behind what is now the Campus Center, and it started to rain heavily. He shared his umbrella with Cathy Creekmore, a freshman. Cathy was also interested in reading, history and travel. Her parents were in the foreign service and she came to William & Mary from India. Decker was intrigued and then in love. He and Cathy backpacked around India for three months as students. They’ve now been married 34 years.

Aside from meeting his wife, his favorite memories of campus are from studying in the Sir Christopher Wren Building late at night, when nobody was around but him and his thoughts.

“Whether you were thinking about the founders of the nation or economics or just reading, it was a great place to study. Walking back to my dorm through this beautiful campus at midnight or 1 a.m., I thought ‘This is the most magical place in the world,’” he says.

Perhaps that’s why he and Cathy Creekmore Decker ’86 were married in the Wren Chapel after graduation. They had their reception in the Pollard Room of the Alumni House, the cozy living room of the historic section, but it was “sweltering hot in October with over a hundred people squeezed in,” he laughs. Being in the room for this interview, on another sweltering fall day, “really took him back,” he says.


Decker loved being able to take courses at William & Mary from all different departments and the freedom to explore many subjects before choosing a major. He feels it’s a shame that students in so many countries — and increasingly in the U.S. — choose their specialty as teenagers.

“Being exposed to the hard sciences as well as the humanities before you select your major … helps you become a much clearer thinker, a broader thinker, a better decision-maker,” he says.

An avid reader and admirer of those who can write well — “writing is a lost art,” he says — he became an English major. He loved classes he took with government professor John McGlennon P ’11, P ’14 and English professor Walter Wenska. He briefly thought about becoming an editor, but, he says, “I realized it wasn’t my strength.” Thinking he would go into business, he took economics courses. He credits taking calculus as preparing him “to get through anything.”

“Ted took full advantage of his liberal arts education. His business success shows how the exposure to different modes of thinking and development of strong written and oral communication skills helped him to achieve great success,” says McGlennon.

He finds himself frequently drawing on skills he learned in his comparative literature courses.

“Comparative literature courses give you deep critical thinking skills to understand and interpret big, philosophical ideas, whether you agree with them or not,” he says. “As an English major I was required to wrestle those thoughts into form — skills I use to think through proposals and how to summarize key ideas and provide support for them.”

He looks for those types of skills in those he works with, also.

“English majors don’t necessarily run hardware stores,” he says. “But when I think about the deeply analytical work of studying history, philosophy and English texts, the thought that goes into formulating arguments and writing about them, these are important skills that manifest themselves as people progress through their careers, whatever they are.”

Even now, he reads more in the realms of history and literature than business. At the time of this interview, he was reading “Nimitz at War: Command Leadership from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay” by Craig L. Symonds, about Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas during World War II. Decker says he is inspired by the way Nimitz handled the many different personalities around him, and that he finds real-world examples of leadership much more enlightening than advice in business books.


After graduation, Decker pursued a career in international banking, something for which he says he had an “absolute passion.” He received his MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, which gave him a strong background in finance that he finds invaluable today.

He moved to Sydney with PNC Bank and London with Kimberly-Clark. But by 2000, he had found his corporate home — The Home Depot, where he used his international banking chops to become director of business valuation. He rose over the next 22 years to lead the multinational company.

It wasn’t his first foray into the world of home improvement. While a student at William & Mary, Decker would return to Pennsylvania during the summer and work sealing driveways. He’d been mowing lawns for extra money since he was 8 years old and had run a landscaping business before college, but the key fall and spring seasons coincided with his coursework in Williamsburg.

He was in the local hardware store every day buying big buckets of sealer. Eventually, he realized it would be more efficient — and cheaper — to contact the manufacturer directly and get a tractor trailer load of sealer delivered to his parents’ garage.

That experience of being out in the hot sun with a broom, smelling that sealer, stuck with him. He wants to keep that connection between those making the decisions and those using the products out in the world. He and all the management team of Home Depot spend time in the stores and warehouses, interacting with the associates and customers, hearing ideas and feedback, seeing how Home Depot is part of people’s home and work lives.

He talks about associates in the stores with a reverence fitting their place atop the inverted pyramid, and he carries that philosophy of the value of frontline work into the advice he gives job seekers.

He encourages college students and recent graduates to focus less on the required “time in position” before promotion and more on the foundational skills they can gain in each opportunity.

“You can have all the fancy titles in the world, but if you don’t have basic competencies, they don’t mean much,” he says.

In hiring, he looks for what he calls “spike accomplishments” — what challenges an employee managed through, what breakthroughs they made and whether they made a significant impact in their market — regardless of what their title was. He says he’s the voice in the room saying, “But what did this person actually get done in that role?”

He also wants leaders who develop talent in their teams. To him, the most successful leaders are those whose team members have gone on to become officers in the company.

He says he’s learned a lot from working for and with people who lead by example — he cites his former boss Carol Tomé, now CEO of UPS, as one example.

“I spent nearly 25 years at Home Depot, and the decision I’m most proud of was my decision to hire Ted Decker in 2000.” Tomé says. “Together, Ted and I worked on a number of critically important strategic initiatives, including Home Depot’s expansion into Mexico. He’s wicked smart, with an incredible sense of curiosity, humor and humility. Ted is a servant leader and truly embodies Home Depot’s values. He’s an outstanding CEO and I’m thrilled to call him a fellow CEO and friend.”

When people show promise, Decker likes to give them a new challenge and help guide them through it. He sees his role in helping others grow as being transparent with them and available to answer any questions and hear any ideas.

That’s the hallmark of his leadership style: making everyone around him feel welcome and comfortable to offer their input. He says he has an open-door policy for people at all levels of the organization and his main goal is to be curious and ask questions to draw out others’ ideas.

Decker acknowledges that he, like any leader, can have blind spots. Referring to author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek’s trust matrix, he says there are two types of employees that can be damaging to morale at an organization: high performers who do not act in a way that aligns with the company’s values, and low performers who otherwise are full participants in the company’s value-based culture. It comes perhaps as no surprise, given the value Decker places on The Home Depot’s culture, that Decker finds the former particularly damaging. In his view, performance can be improved through training and coaching, but values are core to a person’s view of the world.

People who are high performers but have a negative effect on the company culture “can be the cancer in your organization and hard to deal with, particularly if you’re in tough times,” he says. “I’ve held on to them too long, but when I finally make the call, people come to me and say, ‘Why did you wait so long?’”

He also says he’s learned from experience that “big problems don’t age well” — “I know I need to deal with them as quickly as possible and let the board know. People give you grace up to a point, but trying to pretend it isn’t happening or will get better doesn’t work.”


Running a multinational, multibillion-dollar publicly traded corporation — even one Decker describes as a “blessing” and a “gem” — is hard work.

To unwind, Decker still runs in the morning, like he did as a student, though he jokes it is more of a brisk walk now. He has been practicing mindfulness using apps. He gardens.

But when he really wants to get away from it all, his passion is experiencing live music. Any genre, any volume. He tells stories of coming into work in the morning half-deaf from a rock show the night before. He hasn’t been to Burning Man yet, but he isn’t ruling it out.

Ultimately, though, he gets his energy from being able to contribute to that “buzz” in the stores, day after day.

“This is a long haul and hard work. You should find an industry in which you truly have a passion, and the right institution with people you truly enjoy, doing something you are reasonably good at,” he says. “I see 50 to 100 people every day, and I can honestly say I enjoy meeting with them.”

Spending more than two decades with one employer makes Decker an outlier in the labor market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that U.S. wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was just 4.1 years in January 2022. CEOs are also leaving their positions in record numbers; more than 1,400 resigned between January and September 2023, 50% more than the same period of 2022. It’s also the highest on record over that period since the firm began tracking in 2002, causing some media outlets to dub this the “Great CEO Exodus.”

Decker, however, continues to carry The Home Depot’s torch forward as a true believer in its values and culture.

“At the end of the day, what makes a company unique and special is the culture,” he says. “The culture comes from the people.”


Each year, the McGlothlin Leadership Forum brings distinguished leaders in business and law to William & Mary for discussion with graduate students from W&M Law School and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business about today’s important national and global business trends.

This year’s fellows were Ted Decker ’85, chair, president and CEO of The Home Depot, and Stephanie Linnartz M.B.A. ’97, president and CEO of Under Armour. On Sept. 11-12, they answered students’ questions about leadership, principled achievement, company culture, career transitions and managing through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Decker and Linnartz spoke candidly with students about the challenges they face as leaders and the visions they have for their respective companies. They provided insights into what they are looking for in job candidates, and Linnartz described how she uses her experience from 25 years with Marriott International in her new role as CEO of Under Armour, which began in January 2023. Read more about her in the fall 2022 issue.

“Believe in yourself, push yourself. Take that next step, that risk. Think boldly. Bet on yourself,” Linnartz advised students. “You are your most important agent of change.”

The annual McGlothlin Leadership Forum is made possible thanks to the leading generosity of the forum’s co-founders, James “Jim” W. McGlothlin ’62, J.D. ’64, LL.D. ’00, P ’89 and Frances “Fran” Gibson McGlothlin ’66, L.H.D. ’18.