Born at the beginning of the Great Depression to Russian immigrant parents recently arrived in New Jersey, Bernard Marcus started out with nothing—and if he gets his way, the self-made billionaire will go out like that, too. Fired in 1978 at age forty-nine from his job running a hardware store chain, Marcus—along with partner Arthur Blank—rebounded by changing the way America shops. The Home Depot is now the nation’s second-largest retailer, but its founders are equally proud of creating the culture of corporate integrity and employee loyalty that earned it recognition as the country’s most admired retail chain.
When Marcus stepped down as CEO in 1997, he segued from business to full-time philanthropy. He supports such causes as children’s health, the Shepherd Center, Israeli democracy, and the local Jewish community. In 2001 Marcus announced the gift of the Georgia Aquarium to his adopted city, bankrolled with $200 million of his own money, plus more for the recent expansion.
Marcus has long promised to give away his fortune, most recently estimated at $1.9 billion. The loyal Republican also has been outspoken in defending entrepreneurial values, and in 2004 he contributed more than $1 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund to help reelect President Bush.
Photograph courtesy of The Associated Press