Retired Home Depot executive Jim Inglis shared his journey from a 19-year-old hardware store employee to vice president of the world’s largest home improvement retailer during a President’s Lyceum with high-achieving students.
Inglis earned both his bachelor’s degree and Master of Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton. He has more than 50 years of experience in the home center industry, including with Home Depot, where he worked as vice president of merchandising – West Coast, executive vice president of merchandising, executive vice president-strategic development and as a member of the corporate board of directors. He is an international adviser to home centers companies in South America, Europe, Australia and Asia.
Early in his talk, Inglis acknowledged that he’s not perfect, and that his Type A personality is both a gift and something that gets him in trouble. He’s learned that he needs, “more of Him, less of Jim.”
Biblical wisdom from Proverbs 3:5-6 and James has guided him.
“Reading the book of James is like checking a compass to see if you’re heading in the right direction,” Inglis said.
When one of the Home Depot founders called and asked Inglis to join them not long after its inception, Inglis sought counsel from other hardware brands who advised him to stay away. They told him that the stores are too big and the prices are too low.
Despite their warnings, Inglis hopped on a plane from California to Altamonte Springs, Florida, for the opening of the ninth Home Depot store.
“I went and said, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this,’” Inglis recalled. “The rest was history.”
In the early days, the leaders were hungry for success and came from many different backgrounds — the organization and its culture were not Christian, Inglis said.
Consistency is key to one’s Christian witness, Inglis said. He told students they will probably find themselves uncomfortable with decisions or direction in their workplaces. They need to make a case for what they believe. In some cases, it will be appreciated, and in some cases, it won’t, he said.
When they traveled, the men with Inglis often wanted to go to the strip club or the bar. When he stayed back, they recognized he was not “one of the boys.”
“They will not ridicule you in the long run. They will respect you,” Inglis said.
All of that travel was a sacrifice for his family, he said. His daughters were teenagers when Home Depot was opening two stores per week. He credits his wife and their church for raising the girls into Christian women.
“We recognize the value of having a strong relationship with our church. My wife was a cornerstone of our family, but also, the church was a cornerstone,” Inglis said. “When I was with my family, I tried to show unconditional love.”
Inglis is the son of a pastor and has brothers in full-time ministry. But he said he never wrestled with whether to pursue ministry.
“I felt that God did have a plan for my life, and I just needed to keep stepping forward,” Inglis said. “When I got into the business world, I loved it.”
Inglis recognizes his responsibility to steward his gifts. He is a past board member and chairman of the Atlanta Mission and current board member of Help the Persecuted. He is a member of the executive committee of The Storehouse of World Vision, which is a network of warehouses across the U.S. that receive corporate donations of new, top-quality building materials and other goods for distribution by local community partners to those in need.
Inglis met Dr. Sam Voorhies, the new director of the University’s new Center for Biblical Leadership, while working in Africa to bring clean water to villages where most of the population had been wiped out by AIDS. Voorhies previously held several leadership roles at World Vision, an international Christian humanitarian aid organization.
Given the choice between spending $30,000 on a new car or drinking water, “the water wins every time,” Inglis said, pausing as he was overcome with emotion. There are villages in Africa where women have one job — to put a jar on their heads and search for water. Sometimes, the water is contaminated and makes the whole village sick.
By bringing clean water, “you can incredibly raise the worth of women because now they can do other things that are more productive,” Inglis said.
He said his current passion is helping persecuted Christians from Iraq and Syria return to their homes so that they can be lights in their communities. Syria ranks No. 11 and Iraq ranks No. 13 for extreme and very high persecution, respectively.
“These are our brothers and sisters in need,” Inglis said.
When a student asked how one can discern God’s plan, vocationally or otherwise, Inglis said it requires staying in alignment with God’s spirit. It doesn’t require sitting back and waiting for an epiphany.
“You have to keep that connection with Christ, and He will direct your path.”
Photo 1: Retired Home Depot executive Jim Inglis speaks to students in the President's Lyceum on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 in the Rinker Boardroom of the Warren Library. President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. listens in the background.
Photo 2: Retired Home Depot executive Jim Inglis speaks to students during the President's Lyceum on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. In addition to sharing about his business experience, he talke about his passion for bringing drinking water to African villages and helping persecuted Christians.