Marvin Ellison went from making $4.35 an hour as a security guard at Target to running the second biggest home-improvement retailer in the United States.
This is his story.
Marvin Ellison is President and Chief Executive Officer of Lowe’s. How he got there is an inspiring story of hard work and perseverance. First, let’s take a look at his early days.
The shaping of a successful mindset
Ellison grew up in Tennessee. He was the middle child, with six siblings and was labeled ‘the peacemaker’. From early on, he had a knack for leadership. Like many inspiring stories, Ellison’s is marked by years of humble beginnings. His parents were sharecroppers, and growing up in rural Tennessee, he didn’t feel there was anyone around who reflected ‘success.’ Fortunately for him, his parents encouraged all six children to work hard and aim high. From a young age, he had a burning desire to reach great heights. His parents also grounded him in faith, which Ellison credits as a foundation to his success and the fuel that’s kept him going through the years. He attended University of Memphis, working through school to pay for tuition and expenses. During that time, he took on many roles, including that of security guard at Target, where he earned $4.35 an hour.
Although an entry-level position with low pay, Ellison told the Charlotte Observer the position was “The best thing that ever happened to me.’’ He attributes the position with giving him an inside lens in the retail industry.
He spent 15 years at Target, all while learning and contributing as much as he could and rising through the ranks along the way. He then moved to Home Depot and also earned his MBA from Emory University.
How Ellison became a high-powered executive
While at Home Depot, he was promoted to Executive Vice President of US stores. He held this role from 2008 to 2014. Then, in 2104, Ellison became Chief Executive Officer of JCPenny. In 2018, Ellison became Chief Executive Officer of the home retailer, Lowe’s.
Here’s an interview with Ellison where he talks about joining Lowes and his approach to familiarizing himself with the company, operations and structure. There are a few good insights in this interview that show he doesn’t lead from an untouchable, hierarchical standpoint but, instead, attempts to be relatable.
A black man in leadership
The media frequently portrays black males in a negative light. So when a man like Ellison shatters all stereotypes and presumptions about an African-American male, it’s illuminating. Leadership in large corporations, like Lowe’s, allows for powerful influence. With a customer base of over 18 million per week, the company’s reach is far and wide. And Ellison sits at the helm. Being the Chief Executive Officer, he has influence on operations, buying decisions, company direction, and, of course, a lot more.
Ellison’s relatability approach also has impact on the 300,000+ employees under his leadership. This same relatability is a powerful concept for members of the black community to feel connected to Ellison and thus inspired by his success.
It’s important to note that such positions of power have far reaching impact on society as a whole. It also impacts employee policy within the corporation. And most significantly, his position is a massive inspiration on individuals who look like Ellison who look up to him and aspire to one day reach great heights themselves.