The Italians Who Built America: Ken Langone
Ken Langone was born in Roslyn Heights, New York to working class parents in a close-knit Italian family. His father earned a living as a plumber and his mother worked as a cook in a school cafeteria. Growing up in a paycheck-to-paycheck home helped instill the value of a dollar in young Ken. As soon as he was old enough, he began picking up odd jobs to support his family.
Despite warnings from Ken’s high school principal not to waste money sending Ken to college, the Langones mortgaged their house so that their son could attend Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. To help pay for school, an ambitious Ken worked as a ditch digger, caddy, and butcher’s assistant. He graduated from Bucknell in 3.5 years with a BA in Economics. After graduating, Ken found work in the investment department of Equitable Life Assurance Company, where he worked full time while attending night classes four nights a week at the New York University School of Business. He obtained his MBA from NYU in 1960. Today, NYU sponsors a night school program called the “Langone Program” in the Leonard Stern School of Business with curriculum that includes Ken’s business model.
Soon after graduation, Ken began his first white-collar job for a Wall Street financial services company. He was very successful and quickly moved up the corporate ladder. Then in 1978, Ken met with Bernie Marcus for breakfast. Bernie had just lost his job at Handy Dan, a home-improvement chain, and he wanted to vent to Ken about how poorly upper-level executives had treated him.
That meeting sparked a lightbulb moment. What if Ken and Bernie started their own home improvement company?
Along with a third co-founder, Arthur Blank, Ken and Bernie began brainstorming a warehouse-sized store stocked full of discounted goods. It would be a place where the general consumer could buy everything they needed to transform their home.
Ken raised enough capital for the venture, and the first two Home Depot stores opened in 1979. Just three years later, Home Depot went public at $12 a share. Today a Home Depot share is worth over $350 and currently employs 400,000 associates at 2,284 stores in the US, Canada and Mexico.
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