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Nardelli abruptly resigns as CEO of Home Depot; gets $210 million

ATLANTA - Dogged by criticism of his hefty pay and his company's poor stock performance, Bob Nardelli abruptly resigned Wednesday as chairman and chief executive of The Home Depot Inc. after six years at the helm of the world's largest home improvement store chain.

But he didn't leave empty-handed: the Atlanta-based company said Nardelli would receive a severance package worth roughly $210 million, an amount decried by some lawmakers as a golden parachute that sends the wrong message to investors.

''It's a sign of being totally out of touch,'' said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. ''They don't understand the extent to which they make the American public angry.''

Frank said he would push for legislation requiring public companies to allow shareholders to have a say in compensation and severance for senior executives. At Home Depot's annual meeting last May, shareholder proposals to give investors a say on the CEO's pay and to restrict retirement benefits for senior executives were rejected.

Nardelli's severance package includes a cash payment of $20 million and the acceleration of unvested deferred stock awards currently valued at roughly $77 million. A Home Depot spokesman said the timing of the resignation had no bearing on the amount in the package.

The total package is seven times the $30 million Home Depot set aside last June for stores and employees that provide good customer service. Home Depot has 2,127 stores and 355,000 employees in the United States, Canada, Mexico and China.

Nardelli, a former college football player, became CEO of Home Depot in December 2000 after being passed over for the top job at General Electric Co., where Nardelli had been a senior executive.

Home Depot said Nardelli was being replaced by Frank Blake, its vice chairman, effective immediately.

Blake's appointment is permanent, Home Depot spokesman Jerry Shields said. What he will be paid was not immediately disclosed, Shields said. The company declined to make Blake available for comment, and messages left for Nardelli with his secretary and on his wife's cell phone were not immediately returned.

Home Depot shares rose $1.33, or 3.3 percent, to $41.49 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, near the upper end of their

52-week range of $32.85 to $43.95. Before Wednesday's news, Home Depot's stock had been down more than 3 percent on a split-adjusted basis since Nardelli took over.

Nardelli's sudden departure was stunning in that he told The Associated Press as recently as Sept. 1 that he had no intention of leaving, and a key director said that the board was pleased with Nardelli despite the uproar by some investors.