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24-hour CEO People

Following the tireless Bob Nardelli.

It ain't easy keeping up with Bob Nardelli. That was one of the most important lessons I learned as I spent a few days shadowing Home Depot's CEO and chairman ("Bob Nardelli is Watching"). We didn't take any trains, but there were definitely planes and automobiles as we motored from a rubber-chicken lunch to a bad-news urban park in Washington, then jetted to a dinner back at the office in Atlanta, all in about three hours. The pace didn't slow down much in the days that followed, and Nardelli never wavered, although I did. Unlike writers, who get to spend at least part of their jobs hunkered down in their messy warrens with no one to bug them but the occasional pesky editor, CEOs are on 100% of the time, 24-7. Nardelli, for his part, seems to thrive on the speed of change. When people resist, he likes to say he'll call rival Lowe's and ask them if they could slow down for just a little bit.

There are, of course, things that ease the burden of being the boss, my favorite of which is life with a corporate jet at your beck and call. No parking, no lines, no security, no wilted salads, no traffic delays, no sharp elbows in your rib cage. There is, however, one major hazard: the soda glass. If you forget to put it in the cup holder before the plane takes off, you run a very serious risk of clocking either yourself or your interview subject. Nardelli, more experienced in this arena, saved us both with a quick grab, as I feebly mumbled that they don't serve the sodas in coach until the plane has reached cruising altitude. Like I said, he's always on.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.