Home Depot Executive on Moving from the Floor to the Corporate Office

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 4, 2019) — What does it take to turn a job into a career? According to Hector Padilla, president of The Home Depot’s Southern Division, they key is to live in the moment, surround yourself with the right people, and become a lifelong learner.

Padilla spoke to students in the Michael J. Coles College of Business on Thursday as part of the Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series. Started in 1990 with an endowment from Tetley Tea CEO Hank McInerney, the Tetley series brings exceptional Atlanta-area business leaders to campus each semester to inspire students.

Hector Padilla, Home Depot Southern Division President, at Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series at Kennesaw State University

As The Home Depot’s Southern Division president, Padilla oversees 690 retail locations and 100,000 associates in 15 states, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas. He previously served as the company’s senior vice president, where he was responsible for improving efficiency at nearly 2,000 locations.

Padilla emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1994 at the age of 19 and got a job making $6 an hour at The Home Depot’s store in Hialeah, Fla. During the next 25 years, he would hold a series of leadership positions in the department, store, and district levels, before joining Home Depot’s corporate offices.

“My story is not unique to me,” Padilla said to an auditorium of Kenesaw State students, most of them business majors. “My boss has been with the company for 30+ years. She started as a cashier.”

During his presentation, titled “Know Where You’re Going,” Padilla outlined the strategies that allowed him to achieve success, adding that students could apply them to advance their own careers. These strategies include:

1) Being Intentional

Padilla said it is important for professionals to have a clear career goal they are working towards, and that becoming an active listener is a valuable tool for developing intentionality.

“Listen for the words. Look at the facial expressions. Pay attention,” he said. “When you pay attention, you remember things and you put things together…Being in the moment means that you are learning.”

2) Investing in Relationships

He believes leaders should surround themselves with supportive people who can provide new perspectives and help solve problems in unique ways. This applies to friends, teachers, coworkers, and employees.

Padilla was quick to say that this is different than traditional networking, which can sometimes reduce relationships to transactions.

“I’ve never subscribed to that because, for me, it’s never been about who you know,” he said. “If you are in an organization where you have to know people to get somewhere, then you are in the wrong organization. [Investing in relationships] is about how you make people feel, how you manage yourself, and how you challenge yourself. It’s about the opportunities you have earned, not that the relationships are going to get you somewhere just because you have them.”

3) Prioritizing Self Development

Leaders should always seek to improve their skills, Padilla said. Whether it is pursuing additional education – like he did when he recently earned his Executive Master of Business Administration from University of Miami – or simply researching a skill you want to develop, Padilla urged the attendees to be lifelong learners.

Once a quarter, Padilla writes out a list of his strengths and his opportunities for improvement, and then develops strategies for improving his performance. To reinforce the importance of writing things down, Padilla provided each student at the event with a canvas journal in The Home Depot’s signature orange.

Hector Padilla, Home Depot Southern Division President, at Kennesaw State University's Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series

Padilla devoted half the event to Q&A, fielding student questions about how to move up in their organizations, overcoming shortcomings, and what sacrifices they should make to succeed.

Dylan Malec, a senior in the professional sales program, works as an associate for The Home Depot and is interviewing for an internship with the company’s store operations organization. He said that meeting Padilla cemented his desire to continue his career there.

“It’s like meeting a celebrity,” he said, adding that Padilla recommended he emphasize his passions on his resume. “I never really thought about it that way. On my resume I never talked about how passionate I am about helping others or about being involved in an areas I love to be in.”

Hector Padilla, Home Depot Southern Division President, at Kennesaw State University's Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series

Padilla said working with young people – whether in his role at The Home Depot or at events like the Tetley lecture – is “energizing.”

“The younger generation is coming into the workplace super-prepared,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with how driven they are and how much access to information they have. They are coming in at a much richer place than I was when I was starting out. That’s energizing.”

– Patrick Harbin

Photos by Rosa Zavala Castillo