ATLANTA — The Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest home improvement chain, did an about-face Thursday and said it will return to allowing shareholders to ask general questions at company annual meetings.

The decision came as the company also revealed that nearly a third of voting shareholders had withheld their support for the re-election of CEO Bob Nardelli as chairman. Only 5 percent of shareholders had withheld votes from Nardelli at last year’s meeting, a spokesman said.

The Atlanta-based company also said it will ensure that all its directors attend future annual meetings.

The company was widely criticized following its May 25 annual meeting in Wilmington, Del., because Nardelli was the only member of the board to attend. Nardelli did not allow a general question-and-answer session.

He ended the meeting after only 30 minutes, without addressing concerns some shareholders raised about his hefty compensation despite Home Depot’s lagging stock price.

“Consistent with the way we run our company — in which we listen, learn and lead — we will return to our traditional format for next year’s annual shareholders meeting, which will include a business overview, the presentation of proposals, an opportunity for shareholder questions and with the board of directors in attendance,” Nardelli said in a statement Thursday.

The decision came after the company received e-mails and phone calls from shareholders and customers, spokesman Jerry Shields said. He said he could not quantify the number of complaints, but called it more than the usual number Home Depot receives after annual meetings.

“Obviously there was enough communication that it was significant to the company that we decided to change,” Shields said. “We listened and learned and we’re going to change.”

Home Depot also released in conjunction with a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission a breakdown of how votes were cast on shareholder and company proposals made at last week’s meeting. At the meeting itself, Nardelli gave only the overall results of each proposal.

The vote totals showed that while Nardelli, the board chairman, received enough votes to be re-elected as a director, 32 percent of shareholders who cast ballots withheld their votes for him. The only other director with more withheld votes was Claudio Gonzalez, who was re-elected despite 36 percent of votes withheld for him.

Shareholder proposals seeking to allow investors to have a say on the CEO’s pay and to restrict retirement benefits for senior executives were rejected.

The only shareholder proposal to pass was one changing the voting structure for electing directors. Home Depot said Thursday it would implement the proposal.

Shareholders were upset because Nardelli has received $123.7 million in compensation, excluding certain stock option grants, since taking over as CEO in December 2000, according to proxy statements. As of last week’s meeting, the company’s stock price had dropped 9 percent, on a split-adjusted basis, since he took over.

The option grants, if they were to be exercised, would add tens of millions of dollars to Nardelli’s compensation.

Meanwhile, at the time of the meeting, shares of rival Lowe’s Companies Inc. had increased 185 percent, on a split-adjusted basis, over the same period Nardelli has been Home Depot’s CEO.

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