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New Member Spotlight: The Home Depot

Ian Duff

UIDP welcomes The Home Depot as a new member organization. UIDP spoke with Ian Duff, senior manager, early career research and innovation, about The Home Depot’s goals for its membership in UIDP.

UIDP: What is The Home Depot hoping to gain from its membership with UIDP in the coming year? 

DUFF: We’re the world-leading company in home-improvement products, and we understand that to continue to compete, to capture the market, and to take care of our customers, we’ve got to be innovative. One of the focus areas has been how to leverage top talent that’s coming from these universities to solve problems for The Home Depot, and how to create a talent pipeline as well.

My role is to put innovation into action and to support the enterprise of The Home Depot, solve problems, find out what’s new, and make sure that we’re on the cutting edge of taking care of our customers. We hope to find a great network of university and industry partners so we can ask questions. It’s beneficial to have that access to top universities.

Ultimately, what we’d would like to accomplish through UIDP is to be able to partner with those who understand that we have a common mission, and to allow them to enhance our research capabilities.

UIDP: What are the current challenges that The Home Depot faces in terms of research and in the development of cross-sector partnerships? 

DUFF:  A challenge for us is to be able to communicate that we are a research company and an innovative company. We have great brand recognition. Everyone knows the orange box, but what a lot of people don’t know is that we have a large e-commerce website. We’re ranked 18 on the Fortune 100 list, and we’re only in three countries in the world, but we’re now competing with truly global companies. You don’t get to that point unless you’re investing in research and development. We want to communicate this to attract great talent, but also to create discussions in these highly collaborative spaces.

We work with university partners and understand their mission is to teach and to educate. With big enterprises like The Home Depot, it’s going to require a strategic communication plan to inform our organization of the benefits and capabilities of university collaboration. There are always going to be conversations about intellectual property (IP) and confidential information.  We need to balance protecting information that is important to our core business and providing enough insight to maximize the output of the research project.

UIDP: Please share with us about some of your successful university-industry projects or partnerships.

DUFF: A partnership that I’m extremely proud of is with our hometown schools and in our backyard, especially Georgia Tech. It’s one of the top universities, and we’re taking the approach of truly investing in a university partnership. We’re trying to move through the partnership continuum and see strategically what it means for both organizations. I’ve appreciated how big a university like Georgia Tech is because I’m so used to working for a large corporation, and they deal with some of the same challenges in terms of scope and communication. They have so much available for us to interact with; there’s partnerships or activities for everyone and they do a great job exposing their entire student population to those opportunities.

We’ve had a lot of interactions with Georgia Tech —capstone projects and sponsored research—but we haven’t really centralized it. We haven’t figured out if we can be more strategic so that we’re not duplicating work or having to do the same administrative work over again to get the partnership started. I’m really looking forward to engaging more deeply.

UIDP: What’s an interesting fact about Home Depot that people may not know? 

DUFF: We are a very innovative company; we’re always asking questions and trying to solve problems. We’re doing some cutting-edge initiatives, and we’re strategic and forward-looking. We’re in a space now where we can have conversations with some of the big tech companies about what we’re trying to accomplish with our company.

There are many opportunities for students to find careers with The Home Depot. In a corporation as big as us, you have a supply chain function, you have technology, you have human resources, merchandising, and more. You have the opportunity to grow your career. I’ve been here for nine years, and I’ve had nine different positions. I enjoy working for The Home Depot because I can find a new challenge within this massive enterprise.

Second, The Home Depot is a great partner. Our values are rooted in being people-centered, and we carry that into our external relationships. The hope is that we build meaningful partnerships because we never want people to feel like we’re using them or trying to get a resource out of them. We’re trying to do things that are best for both parties in all our interactions at The Home Depot.