Arthur Blank’s love for Hilton Head Island runs deep. In 1974, he and his family were living in Savannah, where he was running a chain of successful drug stores that were originally a pharmaceutical company founded by his parents, Max and Molly Blank. When Arthur Blank and his family moved from Savannah to Los Angeles, he met Bernard Marcus, who was running a chain of home improvement stores, and the two men co-founded The Home Depot in 1978. But Blank still felt the call of the salt water.
“We loved Hilton Head so much we flew back to take a one-week vacation,” he said. “At the time, we had three children. We didn’t have the money to make the flight but we made it. I still remember the first time we rented a house. It has since been taken down, but as you entered the Ocean Gate, it was the very first home on the left-hand side, right on the ocean in Sea Pines. Hilton Head has always been, as New York, a part of my life forever … amazing.”
Blank puts Hilton Head Island on the very top of his list of beach getaway destinations. “My wife’s family is new to Hilton Head. I've always said to people, even one night on the island and I feel like I've escaped. I come back renewed. And you have so many families. It’s a very open population — it’s not just for the elite.”
A native New Yorker who has made Atlanta his home since 1978, Blank’s mantra has evolved from, “There is no such thing as a finish line” to “The best or nothing.” That’s been especially important to remember now, as he is in the middle of the construction of the Mercedes-Benz stadium, set to open this summer, which will be home to both of his professional teams: the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United UFC.
“My eldest daughter makes the point that your whole life can’t be a race. There are days when I don't put a lot on my calendar,” he said. “Fortunately, I’m blessed with a great staff so I don't have to worry about day-to-day. I get involved in strategy where I feel I should be. So it’s good. But there is no finish line, certainly.”
The new stadium is a game-changing sports arena — pun intended. NFL owners have already awarded the 2019 Super Bowl to Atlanta, and the massive structure, with its eight-petal retractable roof inspired by Rome's Pantheon, is tracking for LEED Platinum certification, making it the most environmentally sustainable professional sports arena in the world. The stadium and its grounds will feature multimedia art works commissioned by 53 artists from all over the world, including Gabor Miklos Szoke of Budapest and Old Town Bluffton’s Amiri Farris, with the Savannah College of Art and Design curating the collection.
“We want the stadium to have an art collection of museum quality. We asked our Falcons fans to tell us the kind of art that they would like. We used thematically those ideas,” Blank said. “Everything we do, we try to respond to the people that we serve. We don't try to impose our will, if you will, on anybody.”
Blank served on the stadium’s art committee, and his eldest son, Kenny, an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist who is also involved in theater and cultural activities and is an avid supporter of the arts, was instrumental in the selection process.
The headquarters of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the AMB Group sits in Atlanta's North Moore neighborhood, where Blank serves as chairman of both the foundation and the AMB Group, which oversees investment and support services for private businesses. It is here where his core values are implemented and permeate the air: give back to others, put people first, listen and respond, include everyone, innovate continuously, and lead by example.
“I would say I like to work, I like to add value, I like to be part of everything that our management team is doing here. I think I’m appropriately involved in that,” Blank said. “I’ve always had this mentality of being a servant leader. I’ve always liked management and managers who are eager to serve. I’ve never been an individual sport guy. All my best sports are team sports — football, ran track, was a catcher right in the middle of every play — as opposed to golf, which I've never been good at. I like the camaraderie of it and what we accomplish together. I admire those things. I don’t like people who are all about themselves, ego first.”
Despite his multifaceted and fast-paced professional life, Blank still follows his mother’s advice: Make sure there is balance in your life. “I love spending time with my family and grandchildren here. I got remarried in June, and my wife has three children. I love dogs and all four live with us. We’ve got a lot of activity in our house,” he said. “Physical activity has always been important to me all my life for mind and body. I ran for 45 years, but I walk now.My mother, her favorite place was on Hilton Head. She loved sitting on the porch and watching the ocean for hours on end. She lived a full life (Molly Blank passed away in 2015 just shy of her one100th birthday).”