Born: May 12, 1929, in Newark, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2015: Enterprise
It’s the class rags-to-riches story, with a few twists of fate.
Bernard Marcus was born to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He and his three siblings were raised in a Newark tenement in what he later described as “a very tough neighborhood.”
Marcus graduated from South Side High School with hopes of becoming a doctor. He was accepted at Harvard, but could not afford the tuition. Instead, he enrolled at Rutgers University in Newark, where he studied pre-med for two years and attended pharmacy school of four years.
After beginning his career as a pharmacist, Marcus moved over to the retail side of the drug business. He landed a job operating the cosmetics concession at a Two Guys store in Totowa, where he was eventually put in charge of sporting goods and, later, the major-appliance department. By the time he left in 1968, Marcus was a vice president of the parent company, Vornado.
Marcus moved on to senior posts at steadily larger companies, including Los Angeles-based Daylin, which owned a chain of Handy Dan home-improvement centers. At Daylin, he and a fellow executive Arthur Blank, began experimenting with discounted goods. When Marcus and Blank were fired amid a struggle for corporate control in 1978, the two turned to a group of investors and started their own home-improvement chain, with two stores in Atlanta. They had planted the seeds for Home Depot.
With its bare-bones warehouse stores and deep discounts, Home Depot quickly revolutionize the home-improvement business–and made billionaires of Marcus and Blank. Marcus served as the company’s CEO for 19 years and as chairman of the board until his retirement in 2002.
Since his retirement, Marcus has focused largely on philanthropy and the process of giving away much of his wealth. Through his Marcus Foundation, he supported at-need children, medical research, free enterprise, military veterans, and Jewish causes. Notably, he funded the launch of the Marcus Institute, a center of excellence for the provision of comprehensive services for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. He also donated $25 million to Autism Speaks to spearhead its efforts to raise money for autism research.
At his New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Marcus gave much of the credit for his success to his formative years in Newark. “The success of Home Depot, and my success, a lot of it has to do with what you learned early on,” Marcus said, adding, “If you look at your career, and you look at where you are today, it’s a culmination of everybody that’s had an impact in your life.”