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'Clutch'

In 1978, Bernie Marcus, 49, had just been fired from a chain of hardware stores. He had few options, so he did what he had been talking about doing for years: He started his own hardware chain. It helped that he did not have another choice. At every turn, he would have to be “clutch”—that is, excel under immense pressure. His stores would be different from all other hardware stores—they’d be warehouses filled floor to ceiling with everything needed to fix or improve a home. A great plan, except he didn’t have enough money to fully stock the first two stores. One store looked more like a going-out-of-business sale than a grand opening. But he came up with a solution born as much of his street smarts as of his two decades in retailing: “We bought boxes. We bought empty paint cans. We had to give the illusion that we had merchandise.” Two years after the first store opened, the concept was doing so well that Marcus and his partners decided to take the company—The Home Depot—public.

Excerpted from Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t. Published by Portfolio. Copyright Paul Sullivan, 2010.

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