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This Is One Incredible CEO

By Sean Williams - Oct 3, 2012 at 11:18AM

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A weekly reminder that some CEOs actually do have your best interests in mind.

The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first, and who are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.

This week I'd like to take a closer look at home improvement giant Home Depot (HD 1.67%) and point out why its CEO, Francis Blake, has succeeded in building up the company from within.

Kudos to you, Mr. Blake
Who said you'd have to wait forever and a day for Home Depot's stock to double in value? Over the trailing-12-month period, Home Depot is just a hair from being up 100% and it has Francis Blake and the passion of some 300,000 employees to thank for that.

Home Depot has been clicking on all cylinders. As a one-stop do-it-yourself home improvement store, it's uniquely set up to take advantage of strength in the homebuilding industry from a commercial aspect, but has also been able to take advantage of homeowners who are unable to move and looking to remodel their homes. The past couple of years, while challenging for many retailers, have been a win-win for Home Depot.

What's really pushed Home Depot higher in recent months has been the rally in homebuilding stocks that's been supported by optimistic data on home sales and pricing. Lennar (LEN 3.24%) kicked off earnings season for homebuilders by posting a quadrupling in net income on the back of a 210-basis-point increase in its sector-leading homebuilding margin (23.2%).D.R. Horton (DHI 3.44%), America's largest homebuilder, noted similar strength in its most recent quarter by reporting a rise in new home sales of 25%.As long as housing prices remain stable, this aspect of Home Depot's business should continue to rise.

It also hasn't hurt that Home Depot's integration of technology within its stores has made searching for products and utilizing the point-of-sale registers easier for consumers and employees alike. Relative to Lowe's (LOW 1.42%), I'd arguably state that Home Depot has run circles around its peer in terms of efficiently maximizing its workforce. It's no wonder that Lowe's has been losing market share to Home Depot recently.

Francis Blake is trouncing his peers from a valuation perspective as well! Paint and coating company Sherwin-Williams (SHW 2.98%) has had an equally impressive run higher thanks to an abundance of home remodels, but it trades for nearly 10 times book value. Home Depot, on the other hand, is valued much closer to five times book and trades at a slight discount to Sherwin-Williams in the price/earnings department.

A step above his peers
Above I've outlined why Francis Blake has led Home Depot to dominate the home improvement landscape; now let's look at how he's become a leading figure in countless communities around the country.

Just as I highlighted last week when we took a closer look at Target, Home Depot is a company that thrives on putting America back to work. During the springtime each year, the company hires around 70,000 seasonal workers, of which half tend to stay on either part- or full-time once their seasonal tenure is up.

As you can expect, retailers don't offer the best starting pay in many cases, but Home Depot makes up for it in notable ways. For instance, it's one of the very few retailers to offer perks like a 401(k), multiple medical and dental coverage options, sick and vacation pay, and stock options to both full- and part-time employees. Among retailers, Home Depot seems to be one of the most generous with regard to employee benefits.

Home Depot isn't just keeping the benefits within its stores, either -- it's giving back to the communities that keep it in business. Through its Team Depot volunteer program, employees and the company donate money, tools, and their time to helping out those less fortunate. Home Depot also supplies nonprofit organizations like schools with Community Impact Grants, sometimes as large as $5,000, in the form of gift cards to buy materials from its stores. Finally, Home Depot is on the frontlines of disaster relief, giving $500,000 annually to the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program to help those affected by disasters within the U.S.

Two thumbs up
What's even more amazing about Francis Blake? Since being appointed Home Depot's CEO in January 2007, right as the housing sector was peaking, Blake has still managed to boost quarterly dividend payouts by 29%, from $0.225 to $0.29!

Blake really has the complete package. His company is set up perfectly to take advantage of a commercial rebound in housing and a consumer surge in remodeling. Home Depot is also efficiently using its workforce and technology to gain market share from its competitors. Its share price is heading higher, as is its dividend, and its employees are getting an opportunity to share in that wealth and share the Home Depot ethos with the community. That is the perfect example of a great leader and CEO. Two thumbs emphatically up, Francis Blake!

Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, then head on over to the new CEO of the Week board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry: You can still weigh in on other members' selections.

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Stocks Mentioned

The Home Depot, Inc. Stock Quote
The Home Depot, Inc.
$283.73 (1.67%) $4.65
Lennar Corporation Stock Quote
Lennar Corporation
$77.02 (3.24%) $2.42
The Sherwin-Williams Company Stock Quote
The Sherwin-Williams Company
$242.23 (2.98%) $7.00
Lowe's Companies, Inc. Stock Quote
Lowe's Companies, Inc.
$179.88 (1.42%) $2.52
D.R. Horton, Inc. Stock Quote
D.R. Horton, Inc.
$72.50 (3.44%) $2.41

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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