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As part-owner of a horse racetrack, Frank Fernandez knows a thing or two about wagers. He made a big one with his career last year, giving up his stake as a name partner in an Albany, N.Y., firm. The draw? The general counsel spot at Atlanta-based The Home Depot Inc., a company that experienced astronomical growth in the late 1990s but is now contending with a stagnant home improvement market. Fernandez’s move was hardly an uninformed bet. He knew Home Depot’s new president and CEO, Robert Nardelli, and had worked as his personal lawyer. Fernandez’s firm, Fernandez, Burstein, Tuczinski & Collura, had also served as outside counsel for General Electric Power Systems, which Nardelli headed before moving to Home Depot. In fact, Fernandez was the very first senior executive Nardelli hired after taking the reins at the retailing colossus in December 2000. Nardelli dangled a fat carrot to lure Fernandez to Home Depot. The GC’s contract, which was disclosed in a company proxy statement filed with the SEC in April, guaranteed him a base salary of $525,000 and a 2001 bonus equal to at least 65 percent of his salary. A $250,000 signing bonus plus $118,785 to cover moving and tax-related expenses doubtless helped to ease his move south. Thanks to those robust figures, Fernandez makes his debut on our survey at an impressive No. 17. Part of the value he brings to Home Depot is a thorough knowledge of corporate tax and finance. In addition to a J.D. from Albany Law School, Fernandez holds a Master of Laws in Taxation from New York University School of Law and has practiced as a certified public accountant. But Fernandez’s “track record” includes more than just law and finance. A horse lover, he holds 30 percent of the voting shares in the Saratoga Equine Sports Center, a harness racetrack in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Although Fernandez resigned as the center’s secretary before moving to Atlanta, he remains on the board of directors. His $1.2 million in total cash compensation will cover a lot of visits back to what he fondly describes as “a great horse community.”

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