Ann-Marie Campbell’s rise up the ranks of Home Depot, from cashier to Divisional President, is the kind of story that instills confidence in the health of the American Dream. For almost three decades, Campbell has steadily climbed the company’s corporate ladder, rung by rung, learning the business from the ground up. Today she is responsible for over 686 stores and a team of 100,000 employees.
A Chance Encounter
“I started at Home Depot in 1985, when I was quite young,” Campbell said when we spoke over the summer. “At first, it was just a job. I didn’t think of it as a career.”
In 1989, Campbell met her most valued mentor by happenstance when he, a vice president at Home Depot, asked her a question during a routine store walkthrough. “I stepped up and answered in such a way that I got on his radar,” Campbell said. “He saw something in me.”
What he saw was someone with intelligence, curiosity, and potential. “At the time, he believed in me more than I believed in myself,” she reflected.
Confidence is Key
Campbell’s mentor played an instrumental role in her career trajectory by encouraging her to take a promotion that she believed was out of her reach.
“I thought I needed to be perfect. Women often think they have to know everything before they can step into a role. But my mentor told me, ‘You can do this job.’” Campbell continued. “He taught me to understand and own the value of what I brought to the table.”
By switching her focus from what she didn’t know, to what she did, Campbell found much more confidence in her abilities.
Inspired by the positive effect that her mentor played in advancing her career, Campbell is now a mentor to others. “I place a lot of emphasis on building the confidence of the women I mentor. I tell them, ‘Be bold. Be you.’ It is a simple message, but there is a lot of power in that simplicity,” she said.
Hard Work is Not Enough
As Campbell’s career progressed, she realized she needed to go beyond just doing a good job at work. “In my early days,” Campbell told me, “I thought if I just worked hard, I would get to the next level. And that is true to a point. But as I advanced in my career, I learned that excellent work and expertise were simply givens. I needed to differentiate myself in another way.”
In order to move into a leadership position, Campbell turned her attention to developing a different skill-set than those she had relied upon previously. “At this point in your career, sponsors and mentors can help you see what you offer that is unique – that goes beyond just tackling the day-to-day. It is the YOU. It is your Emotional IQ. It’s your ability to network, to influence, to build relationships. You don’t get to display that just through hard work.”
Campbell soon recognized her strength as a communicator and motivator, and also pinpointed other skills she could focus on building. Today, effectively communicating a simple message that motivates both the entry-level employee and the senior executive is one of Campbell’s most honed skills. As the leader of tens of thousands of employees, clear and consistent communication is a necessity, and she’s made it a hallmark of her management style.
“People want to be successful, so it is important to clearly communicate what success is and how critical their role is in our collective success. That’s how you get people working together,” she said. “That’s the way to get 100,000 people all rowing in the same direction.”
A Catalyst for Change
Campbell is proud to work for a company that is committed to diversity at every level. “I don’t think you can ever maximize the potential of an organization if it’s not truly diverse in people and thought,” she posited. “Home Depot has a diverse customer base, so that diversity should be reflected among its employees, its leadership, and its suppliers.”
Her passion for fostering an inclusive work culture motivated Campbell to take a role serving on the advisory board of Catalyst, a non-profit research and advisory organization dedicated to advancing women into business leadership. “I was doing a lot of work on building diversity within the company. And I realized that my efforts would have exponential value if I could connect with corporate leaders from other organizations that were focused on the same goal,” she said.
“Through my work with Catalyst, I get to talk with men and women from other companies about their successful diversity initiatives. We learn from each other about what is and isn’t working. The people on the board bring such value and passion to what they do,” Campbell continued. “It’s a phenomenal organization.”
Not satisfied with her own personal success, Ann-Marie Campbell is passionate about creating opportunities for others. Whether motivating and uniting her employees or advocating for the power of a diverse workforce, Campbell continually works towards bettering the collective by empowering the individual. A little over twenty years ago, someone recognized the spark in her. Now she pays it forward by doing the same for others.