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Home Depot CEO says no plans for retail store closings, job cuts

ATLANTA - The Home Depot Inc. doesn't plan to make any broad-based job cuts or reduce the number of its core retail stores in the face of a persistent housing slump that isn't expected to improve anytime soon, Chief Executive Frank Blake said Friday.

Blake told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that the Atlanta-based company's focus on customer service means more employees, not fewer, will be needed.

'We're making investments, notwithstanding the downturn,' Blake said. 'I think that's absolutely the right thing to do for the business. It's going to lead to long-term success.'

While Home Depot said earlier this week it was closing its 11 Landscape Supply stores and in the past it has shut a number of its Expo design centers, Blake said there are no plans to close any of the company's more than 2,000 core retail stores.

'We're not going to shut stores to save costs,' Blake said. 'We don't need to.'

Blake said he recognizes that with profits and sales down and the company's stock price down more than 12 percent on an adjusted basis since he replaced Bob Nardelli as CEO in January, investors may be uneasy. That's especially an issue because Home Depot has taken aggressive moves to boost its stock price, including selling its wholesale distribution business and launching a major stock buyback program.

Despite the stock performance, Blake insisted that Home Depot's strategy to focus more attention on its core business is the right strategy for the world's largest home improvement store chain.

'I think it's entirely fair and appropriate that I'm assessed in terms of the stock price,' Blake said. 'It's a right metric for folks to use.'

Asked if he is concerned about the company's stock price, something his predecessor was graded on during his six years at Home Depot, Blake said he believes that eventually the investment community 'will say this is a great stock to own.'

'I recognize that we're in a very tough market,' Blake said. 'It's an obvious statement. We've been very transparent with the investor and analyst community.'

On other issues, Blake said Home Depot will look at opportunities in the future for more expansion overseas, though it doesn't have any current plans. He indicated Home Depot wasn't looking at Europe for expansion.

Blake also talked about his management style, his future with the company and why he took the job in the first place amid the turmoil Home Depot had faced over Nardelli's hefty pay and the company's lagging stock price.

Blake, perhaps more hands-off than Nardelli, said he believes the best way to manage is to focus on a fairly small number of things, rely on his team to handle the rest and to communicate only on an as-needed basis.

Asked why he took the job, Blake said he spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, but ultimately decided that it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

He said he hasn't given much thought to how long he would like to stay as CEO. He's been the company's chief for 8 1/2 months.

'I'm 58 years old, so I'm not thinking I'm going to have this job for years and years and years,' Blake said.

He added, 'I think I understand what the job entails. I think I understand the kinds of things we need to do. I hope I get the time to do it.'