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I Love Capitalism!: An American Story is an autobiographical work describing how Ken Langone found success on Wall Street and beyond. The values that Langone would build his unique style on were built in his childhood.
Through his education at Bucknell and New York University, Langone refined his style and learned about what he would spend the rest of his life doing: building businesses. During his career on Wall Street, he applied hard work, honest communication, and customer service which were ultimately successful. His co-founding The Home Depot came later in his career, and it is clear that Langone's values directly contributed to the home improvement store’s success.
The book opens with a description of Langone’s childhood as the son of a plumber and cafeteria worker. The examples his parents provided would greatly influence Langone’s decisions and his approach to life. He described his father traveling to find plumbing jobs instead of waiting to be called to a jobsite.
One winter as an 11 year old, Langone used money earned delivering papers to purchase wreaths. He strung the wreaths on a broomstick, paid a friend to help, and they began selling the wreaths door-to-door. This is one example of a young Ken Langone taking initiative and working hard to achieve the goal of making money. These stories and others remind me of the book about Jack Ma’s rise in building Alibaba.
His mother emphasized anticipating others’ needs, and always encouraged him to get an education. In his youth, Langone was so busy working all his side jobs that he did not spend much time on academics. This point on parenting is drilled home extremely well in the book GRIT.
At first, Langone was resistant to further education - he was ready to get to work. After persuasion from friends, he started taking classes at Bucknell. One of his economics professors saw through “some of the worst English he had ever seen” to recognize Langone had a very good understanding of the concepts.
The book also describes some mischievousness that nearly resulted in his expulsion from Bucknell. In combination, these experiences were a turning point. He began prioritizing his education, which he would continue by earning a Masters of Business Administration degree through taking night classes at New York University. To find out what causes a change like this you might read the book The Tipping Point.
One of the reasons he gives for his success is a thirst for knowledge. According to Langone, understanding how different businesses work is important when determining which companies to invest in.
The book continues telling the story of Langone’s rise in Wall Street and beyond, and Langone attributes his success to building relationships, forthright communication in customer service, and the marriage of initiative and hard work. In combination, these values made Langone an incredible salesman with a talent for finding unconventional solutions to complicated problems. Another good book to this end would be about Warren Buffet: The Life, Lessons, and Rules for Success.
Langone repeated twice in the book that he is not self-made; he achieved success because people offered him opportunities. Cultivating and maintaining relationships was one of the most important skills anyone can develop, he argues. For more on this definitely read the book How To Win Friends & Influence People.
Communicating honestly and without pretense is another important skill for everyone, as this is what helped set Langone apart. He did not want to waste anyone’s time, and he wanted to make deals happen. Condensed, these strategies mean that people are unique individuals with needs, instead of the means to an end. Langone was successful because he listened to these needs and worked to meet them. Ben Franklin shares this view and you can read more about his life and perspective in the book Benjamin Franklin An American Life.
To build on those relationships, Langone valued initiative, innovation, and hard work. During his time at R.W. Pressprich, Langone took initiative finding companies that had not yet been approached by an equity firm. An attraction to innovation also helped Langone figure out which companies would achieve success. In everything, Langone worked to go above and beyond for anyone who engaged his services and friendship. Hard work is what made that possible.
As these ideas come together, they help explain The Home Depot’s success. One of The Home Depot’s core competencies is good customer service, which means listening to the customer’s problems to find the best solution instead of throwing products at the customer. When this customer service was threatened by numbers-driven CEO Robert Nardelli, Langone helped initiate a change in leadership. Employees are encouraged to take initiative like asking customers if any assistance would be helpful. Langone emphasized that the employees’ hard work is responsible for The Home Depot’s success. For more details on taking initiative at work read the book Linchpin.
I Love Capitalism!: An American Story catalogues Langone’s relationship-centric values and how they helped him achieve success. From an early age, Langone learned the importance of working hard, looking for opportunities, and communicating with honesty. While there were some bumps along the way, the ability to solve problems with creative solutions and a wide network of allies made it possible for Langone to snatch victory from seemingly inevitable bankruptcy.
Ken Langone has consistently been featured on Forbes 400 Wealthiest Americans list since 1999, after co-founding The Home Depot and founding venture capital firm Invemed. He has also served as president of RW Pressprich, president and chief executive officer of Geeknet, and executive vice president of Electronic Data Systems. The boards Langone has been a part of include Unifi, Micell Technologies, Geeknet, YUM Brands, General Electric, The New York Stock Exchange, and many more.
In addition to his corporate success, Langone has made philanthropic donations to many organizations including the New York University School of Medicine, Bucknell University, The Boys’ Club of New York, Harlem Children’s Zone, The Animal Medical Center, and the Catholic Church. The New York University School of Medicine is now known as “NYU Langone Health,” after his $100,000,000 gift. Monetary gifts aside, Langone has donated his time and expertise by sitting on the boards of the Harlem Children’s Zone, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Horatio Alger Society Foundation, and the Promise Academy.
While working full time in Wall Street, Langone completed a Master of Business Administration from New York University by taking night classes. He also earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bucknell University.