The urge to be his own boss was too tempting for Michael Folio. After nearly 14 years at Atlanta-based Home Depot, where Folio saw the retailer grow from 88 to more than 1,600 stores, he decided to go it alone.

In September, Folio, 46 and former Home Depot senior vice president of real estate, founded his own development company. Folio Property Ventures will develop community centers and power centers in the 75,000 square foot to 400,000 square foot range. “It was the most difficult decision I've ever made,” he says of leaving the giant home improvement chain.

Folio already has projects in various stages of planning. Also, he has formed a partnership with Harlem Irving Cos., a large Chicago-based retail and residential development firm.

Folio Property and Harlem Irving will develop and own shopping centers together. Folio met Harlem Irving President Michael Marchese about 10 years ago when Folio headed Home Depot's real estate operations in the Midwest. The two firms will each have the right of first refusal to joint venture in each other's projects. If one party passes, the other party can develop it on their own.

“We worked multiple deals with Mike in and around the Chicagoland area, and we struck up a very good relationship,” Marchese says. “Mike's considerable talent and contacts bring a lot to the table.” Harlem Irving's partnership with Folio Property will help Harlem Irving expand beyond the Midwest, he says.

Folio, meanwhile, retains close ties to Home Depot, which has hired him to dispose its excess store sites and outparcels. “Mike Folio was an excellent officer for the Home Depot real estate department and has a keen expertise in commercial real estate,” says Frank Blake, Home Depot executive vice president of business development.

His work at the chain prepared him well for his new incarnation. “When you open more than 200 stores a year, you see every problem,” he says. Folio says his firm will pursue a broad mix of tenants in addition to any Home Depot deals it goes after. He plans to build up business “the old-fashioned way” — one deal at a time, one tenant at a time. Relationships, he says, are critical in our business.”