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A legal background may help Francis “Frank” S. Blake, the new chairman and CEO of The Home Depot Inc., navigate the company through multiple regulatory and shareholder minefields. But Blake’s primary contribution will be to formulate a strategy to deal with an equally challenging business environment, according to Blake’s former boss. Benjamin W. Heineman Jr., the former general counsel at General Electric Co., described Blake as a great strategist and visionary. “If there’s one person who would know what the strategic options are for Home Depot, it’s Frank-whether that is acquisition, or expanding organically in different segments of the home repair and construction industry,” said Heineman, who retired from GE and is a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. “This is not so much a story about a company [Home Depot] that needs a lawyer, but about how a lawyer became a very skilled businessperson and CEO,” said Heineman. (Blake is the second former GE lawyer under Heineman to get a top corporate job this year; Pfizer’s new chief executive officer, Jeffrey B. Kindler, was vice president of litigation and legal policy for GE, according to Kindler’s biography on the Pfizer Web site.) “I hired Blake because he was an absolutely first-class lawyer and a first-class thinker about business problems and the intersection between law and business,” Heineman said. Rise to power Blake worked at GE from 1991 to 2001, at one point serving as general counsel at GE Power Systems, now GE Energy, in Atlanta, where he worked with Robert Nardelli, then GE Power’s CEO and now the man Blake replaced atop Home Depot. Blake later became head of business development at GE Power and then was named by GE CEO Jack Welch to head business development for the entire company, said Heineman. Nardelli was passed over as Welch’s successor and became chairman and CEO of Home Depot. He immediately tapped Blake in 2002 for the position of executive vice president of business development and corporate operations. After getting an undergraduate degree at Harvard University, he attended Columbia Law School. He went on to clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens at the U.S. Supreme Court and serve as deputy counsel to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1981 to 1983. From 1985 to 1988 he was general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency. Later he joined the Washington law firm Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, now part of Bingham McCutchen, as partner.

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