Entrepreneur and philanthropist Kenneth G. Langone discussed his career and cultural philosophy with Norean R. Sharpe, Ph.D., Dean of The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, at St. John’s University on October 17. The conversation was part of the annual Tobin CEO Seminar Series, in which executives are asked to share their thoughts on a wide range of issues—from economic policies and trends to career advice for M.B.A. students.
Mr. Langone, cofounder of The Home Depot, elaborated on his personal and professional experiences. His story can be found in his recently-published autobiography, I Love Capitalism! An American Story (Penguin Random House, 2018).
A product of Roslyn Heights, NY, Mr. Langone recalled his childhood as challenging financially, but full of love. “Much of what I have been able to do in this life is due to that wonderful childhood,” he said. Although the cost of college tuition was a hurdle, he was successful in earning an undergraduate degree from Bucknell University and an M.B.A. at night from New York University in 1960, before becoming a successful entrepreneur and business leader in the home improvement industry.
As he described his journey, Mr. Langone credited his many mentors, including Maurice Hart and Jack Cullen, who give him his first big break at R.W. Pressprich & Co. in 1962. As Mr. Langone is fond of saying, the individuals who have helped him in his life and career could fill Yankee Stadium.
After discussing his early days in financial services, Mr. Langone spent much of the time talking about The Home Depot, the home improvement supply retailer that he founded in 1978 with Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank.
Asked by Dean Sharpe about the importance of culture, Mr. Langone answered by citing the entrepreneurial spirit that he believes makes The Home Depot unique, and offered stories of how empowered employees have contributed to the company’s success.
“We have 3,000 kids today who are multimillionaires,” he said. To illustrate how employees can grasp opportunities at the company, he proudly told the story of Anne-Marie Campbell, who started out as a part-time cashier in 1985 and now oversees 1,700 stores and 340,000 employees as an executive vice president.
It is clear that Mr. Langone enjoys having a positive impact on young lives. He has donated millions of dollars to fund scholarships at both Bucknell and New York University. In addition to the $100 million that he donated to the NYU Medical Center to support free tuition for all medical students, Mr. Langone’s generosity includes money he gave to Bucknell University for its athletic center and the Part-Time Evening M.B.A. Program at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
At the end of the session, Mr. Langone expressed his gratitude for the opportunities that this country has provided him, saying that “there is no other country like this…I couldn’t do this anywhere else.” That love extends to capitalism, as he related when telling the audience that he had wanted to title his book, Me and Capitalism: A Love Affair, but the publisher preferred the current title.
Mr. Langone concluded his conversation with Dean Sharpe by advising the students in the audience to work hard and treat everyone with respect and dignity.