On Oct. 21, the Russell Banks CEO Leadership Lecture Series welcomed guest speaker Kenneth Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot and founder and CEO of Invemed Associates LLC, to the campus for a breakfast reception and Q&A moderated by Zicklin School Dean John Elliott.
Also on hand to welcome Langone was friend and Baruch College alumnus Martin Kaplan (’59), a former Baruch College Fund trustee, who spoke of Langone’s “integrity, candor, and hands-on approach.” “He has a terrific passion for business,” said Kaplan. “Another one of his passions is philanthropy. His is truly a great American success story.” Kaplan was partially referring to Langone’s and his wife’s generosity to NYU, one of Langone’s alma maters (the other is Bucknell). In 2008 New York University Medical School and Hospital was renamed the NYU Langone Medical Center to acknowledge Langone’s decades-long support.
The lively Q&A began with Langone speaking of humble beginnings and then remembering his undergraduate years. “I was not an immediate scholastic star,” he said of a troubled first semester at Bucknell. He turned that situation around, however, by embracing what has become a lifelong philosophy. “Have enthusiasm for everything you do. Enthusiasm is 90 percent of the fight. And if you don’t have enthusiasm for what you do, go out and find something else to do,” he counseled.
With his animated, down-to-earth style and gravely voice, Langone entranced and entertained the audience with important takeaway messages, a veritable Bartlett’s of business-related aphorisms, such as “Business is the business of relationships; the subtext is trust” and “Cowardice is the core of business problems.” He also offered advice specific to particular business transactions: ”I’m a venture capitalist but not with my own money” and “Don’t ever wish a stock up. There are plenty of early warnings that a dog won’t hunt.”
It’s hard to argue with his philosophies. The Home Depot, Inc., which he co-founded, is the world’s largest home improvement specialty retailer, with nearly 2,300 stores and annual sales topping $66 million.
The Banks Family Foundation, Inc. created the Russell Banks CEO Leadership Lecture Series at Baruch College. Its mission is to invite distinguished speakers to campus to share their knowledge and expertise with Baruch’s students, faculty, and alumni. The series is part of the College’s Executives On Campus (EOC) program. Russell Banks (’40) was an alumnus and adjunct professor of management at Baruch.