'Home Depot Mirrors The Way I Operate'
By Geoffrey Colvin; Robert Nardelli

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Unlike McNerney, Robert Nardelli did not speak with other prospective employers while he was in the running to head General Electric. But when he didn't get that job, it took him just one day longer than McNerney to become a new CEO--at Home Depot. He was already immersing himself in his job when FORTUNE talked with him.

Why did you go with Home Depot?

I spoke to a lot of people throughout that week [after the announcement that Immelt would be GE's next CEO]; some you are aware of, some you're not aware of. As I looked at all of the companies, I certainly knew Home Depot. [Co-founder and CEO] Arthur Blank had participated at one of our CECs [corporate executive councils] about a year and a half ago, and he did a great job of conveying the magic of Home Depot and the culture and the emotion. So it was pretty easy to have a sense about whether your personal management style is going to fit that company's culture. Of everything that I looked at, Home Depot most mirrored the way I like to operate.

You've had all of 48 hours to figure it out, so what do you plan? What are the big issues at Home Depot?

I'll only give you some early impressions, because anything other than that wouldn't have any credibility. The kinds of processes and operational rigor needed in a store are very similar to my background. How do you make it more efficient, make sure you don't have stock-out situations? How do you make sure you're getting inventory turns? In my experience at GE Power Systems, we doubled inventory turns. We were the first business in GE to have negative working capital. We took our return on total capital up over 100%. It's the same game here. You know, you have a box. How do you make sure you're bringing the richest mix that provides the highest customer satisfaction?

GE has produced a lot of CEOs for other companies. Some have succeeded and some have not. Can you draw any lessons from that?

If some were less successful than others, it was because they didn't realize they were in a different environment. They didn't have enough respect and awareness of the culture; they weren't sensitive to the pride of the company and the employees they were going to. You can bring some unique skills and insights from your prior experiences that allow you to hone and shape. But to move from one social architecture and operating system and assume it's 100% portable and the platform of understanding is there at the new place--that's a terrible mistake.

Will you bring Six Sigma quality to Home Depot?

I wouldn't say no. But that's starting top down. We had a lot of underpinnings at GE that enabled us to absorb Six Sigma with the speed and proficiency we did. I've got to understand where we are.