Jalal Hamad recounts the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the director of in-store experience and his team at the Home Depot operated around the clock to ensure that the essential work of its in-store employees wasn’t just accounted for, but celebrated and supported.
It’s just a snapshot, but it sums up all of Hamad’s passion, one that stems from the employer he’s called home for the last 21 years. The acrylic shield fixtures protecting frontline associates was the direct result of Hamad and his team’s intervention—not just their ideation and design, but a prototype physically constructed by the group in a way that would make the company proud.
The director mocked up a prototype using ABS piping and other materials right off the Home Depot shelves. Hamad was ordering 600,000 square feet of acrylic shielding before the design was even complete. The fixture was perfected out of five unique pieces and could be assembled and installed in all store locations. This, as it turns out, was the easy part.
Hamad and his team’s hardest problem was getting 70,000 shields (and eventually tens of thousands more) manufactured and delivered in 30 days to 2,000-plus stores when drivers, along with every other section of the production line, were in short supply. Then there were the rapidly changing state-to-state and city-to-city COVID guidelines.
“We would get a call saying that Miami–Dade County had just passed a new ordinance that would shut our stores down if the guards weren’t up in 48 hours,” Hamad remembers. “So I’ve got trucks en route to Chicago that are turning around to drive to Miami. It was just incredibly intense and, honestly, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” The director adds that Home Depot’s stakeholders involved in the massive cross-functional effort were instrumental in pulling it off.
This was one project. One emergency measure. But to Hamad, it means everything. His energy is contagious and his passion for his employer knows no bounds. The senior director believes in being a mentor and coach to the next generation of retail leaders, understanding that these tremendous achievements are only made possible by the abilities of a developed, supported team.
“I bleed orange, as we say here,” Hamad jokes. His only goal for appearing in print is to inspire people to understand that the Home Depot is a place where people like him can do anything they want to accomplish. For Hamad, it started with the million-dollar aisle.
Rewind a couple decades, and Hamad was 19 and living in Toronto when he began as a part-timer at the Home Depot. He was assigned the light bulb aisle to maintain and restock and reorder as necessary. “My entire mission was [that] I didn’t want a single item out of stock,” Hamad remembers. “The ownership I displayed over this little part of the story went from $800,000 to sales of over a million dollars in a year. That was my first ‘aha’ moment.”
At only 22, Hamad was promoted to store manager where he opened on a $40 million store, before he jumped to leading an $80 million business and 400 associates just two years later.
“The only reason I’ve been fortunate is because I’ve been surrounded by incredible leaders over the years that have put their arm around me and taught [me] what they knew,” the director says humbly. “At this point, I just want to be able to give back some of what I’ve received and inspire others the way they’ve inspired me.”
Hamad says inspiring people is one of his greatest joys. His motto is always the same: you have to love what you do. “Sure, some people just want a paycheck, but early on, I wanted to know how I could really inspire them to enjoy the time they spend at work,” the director explains.
It’s not just Hamad’s loyalty that has kept him in orange for the past two decades. “The competitive advantage for the Home Depot is this organic, genuine, and authentic culture,” the director says. The symbol of that culture is the inverted pyramid, which places customers and frontline associates at the top. Even the names signify this. There is no “head office,” but there is a store support center.
The COVID-19 pandemic was, for Hamad, the moment when authentic culture won out. “Our values, like taking care of our people and giving back to our communities—this was when our values were put to the absolute test,” the director says. “If anyone in this company ever had a doubt about whether this culture was real, they have no doubt today.”
Jalal Hamad lives for a perfect customer experience at the Home Depot, and it shows. The pilot program his team rolled out a few years ago resulted in a five-year investment strategy in the billions. Data collected (including the use of various technologies) identified specific pain points that Hamad wanted to solve for: speed, wayfinding, and know-how.
Hamad’s team rolled out more than 100 different projects into one pilot store, from improved site lines to more open showrooms and electronic shelf labels. The popular order pick-up lockers are a result of the program, as are the garden center self-checkouts and one of Hamad’s proudest achievements—the clean, simple, and intuitive wayfinding program. “For the first time in the Home Depot history, every single store looks exactly the same,” Hamad says. “They may be laid out differently, but stores from Hawaii to Puerto Rico to Chicago will be much easier to navigate.”