Esteemed billionaire, business magnate and philanthropist Kenneth Gerard Langone visited St. John’s on Oct. 17 as part of the Peter J. Tobin College of Business CEO Lecture Series.
During this question and answer event, Langone and Tobin Dean Norean R. Sharpe discussed Langone’s unique career journey from his beginnings to his benevolent philanthropic acts and his advice to aspiring business people in the audience.
The personal stories and words of wisdom shared throughout the night are largely referenced in greater detail in Langone’s biography “I Love Capitalism! An American Story,” which has garnered critic approval and an esteemed New York Times Best-Seller title since its publication in May.
Students and faculty received complimentary copies of the book as they entered Marillac Auditorium at the start of the event.
Within the first few minutes of the moderated discussion, Langone credited his family and positive childhood experiences growing up in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., as part of his success.
Though his family had little financially, Langone stated that it was in his youth that he experienced a strong foundation and support system that motivated his sense of perseverance.
It was also when he witnessed true charity through his father’s small, but meaningful, donations to the Catholic Church.
While Langone is considered by many to be a self-made man, he claimed that he could fill Yankee Stadium with the people who helped him in his development throughout his career and lifetime. The list ranges from his family to Bucknell University professors, Jack Cullen and Maurice Hart, the two businessmen who gave Langone his first shot at the business world and beyond.
Also discussed were the origins and business standards of The Home Depot, the American home improvement supplies retailing company founded by Langone and business partners Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank in Atlanta in 1978.
Through personal narratives, it became evident that The Home Depot has prioritized employee satisfaction and growth from its conception.
Langone stated that it was most logical to “give a person a raise before they ask” if an employee demonstrated a higher standard of work than their compensation accounted for.
According to Langone, having to ask for a raise would lead an employee to feel unappreciated in the workplace. This fiercely loyal and ethical mentality became obvious in the backbone of The Home Depot’s procedurres, where every new employee receives stocks in the company, health and security benefits, along with ample room for growth within the company.
Langone shared the story of one particular Home Depot employee who lived this mission: Anne-Marie Campbell, who started out as a cashier in Florida and now manages thousands of stores as the Executive Vice President of U.S. stores.
“Don’t tell people you care about them, and then be indifferent,” Langone said.
Particularly evident in the answers that Langone provided were his genuineness, hard working mentality and charitable nature, as witnessed by the many philanthropic donations which Langone and his wife have made to both Bucknell University, Langone’s alma-mater, and New York University, as well as other associations. In August, Mr. and Mrs. Langone endowed current and future NYU Medical Students with free tuition regardless of merit or need.
Freshman Lizabeth Edwards agreed with Langone’s aforementioned traits.
“The way that he treats his employees is really impressive,” Edwards said. “He came from poverty and worked hard for his grades and success throughout college and hearing that was very motivating.”
St. John’s professors were equally impressed.
Economics and finance professor Igor Tomic shared his approving thoughts on the lecture. “[Langone] said he wasn’t the brightest candle in the room. This is a good message to students…” Tomic said. “We oftentimes under-think the effort that management must put in [to a business’s success]. Langone came from a generation of men who didn’t retire..”
Professor of law in a business environment, John P. Clarke, also commented on the outcome of the lecture.
He said what most impressed him about Langone was his demeanor and the way he relayed his message to students in an engaging way.
“He was very entrepreneurial and an overall savvy guy,” he said. “I was very impressed to find that he hired St. John’s alumni because they were so hard working.”