CBS This Morning
NORAH O’DONNELL: Business icon Ken Langone is on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest people in the world. But he insists he is not a self-made success. Langone grew up in a working class family in Roslyn Heights, New York. He first made a name for himself on Wall Street as billionaire Ross Perot’s banker. Langone went on to co-found one of the world’s largest retailers, Home Depot. In 2008 after a $200 million donation, NYU Langone Medical Center was renamed in his family’s honor. Langone wrote a memoir about his unique path to success called “I love Capitalism: an American story.” Ken Langone, welcome. So great to have you here.
KEN LANGONE: I’m honored to be here.
O’DONNELL: It’s a great story of how you got to being where you were as a kid to now. One of the really nicest things you say in the beginning is that you could fill Yankee stadium with all the people that helped you.
O’DONNELL: It’s not just a story about a self-made billionaire.
LANGONE: I’m far from self made, starting with my parents. Humble, uneducated, great, great capacity for unconditional love. I was kind of a so-so kid and they’d get upset with me. My father used to say more than once, “If I never see you again, it would be too soon.” But they always loved me. I knew that. And that’s a powerful incentive.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA: And you had been approached many times to write your life story in a book and turned it down until the election of 2016 and you said you were motivated because you saw a whole new generation gravitate towards Bernie Sanders. That bothered you, why?
LANGONE: Because they hadn’t even started and they were quitting. They were 21, 22 years old. Give life a shot. Take a few risks. Take some chances. Nobody should go to bed hungry in America. Nobody in America should not be educated. None of those things. But if we don’t have kids believing they can make a difference, that they can contribute, something’s wrong as a society. Something is wrong. I don’t want anybody — I should not — this is the insanity of our system. I get a check every month from our government. What a disgrace. There are people out there that need it that should get it. Not me.
GOLODRYGA: You draw a line between the private sector and the government and where they should stand.
LANGONE: Yes. Yeah. I think the more we can do for ourselves, the better we are. Remember this, somebody who gets a check from the government and does nothing for it, you’re taking away from them in my opinion self respect. The kid that gets his first job and has a check, holy smokes, I did that. You know, you build — success is built on that.
JOHN DICKERSON: But the Sanders supporters would say — they talk about the system being rigged and so they look at Washington and say, you know, the President’s lawyer is getting a lot of money from companies who want influence with the President. So they see that system and they say, you know what, we need a real change in this system. It’s a system where you have ten million people who are in the working poor. So they’re working hard, they’re not being lazy, and they still can’t succeed in America, so they say something has got to change.
LANGONE: Okay. Bernie, Arthur, myself and Pat Farrah started Home Depot. We have 400,000 associates working for the company full time. We have 80,000 seasonal in the spring and fall. We have 3000 kids that come to work to us out of high school, barely out of high school, pushing carts in from the parking lot. Ready? They’re multimillionaires today. That’s the capitalistic system. Look, do we do everything right? Absolutely not. My fervent belief is capitalism is the best way to spread good things among a massive number of people.
DICKERSON: Do capitalists need then to — Home Depot took the tax cut and gave $1,000 bonuses.
DICKERSON: A lot of companies didn’t. I think there was one study that found that 45 of the top 500 companies only gave those bonuses. Do capitalists need to be more like Home Depot?
LANGONE: I’ll answer that question this way. The biggest challenge to ameca opi is income inequality. If you don’t fix income inequality, you know what happens? Cuba happens, Venezuela happens, Russia happens. People that were way down — I was on bear in mind, my parents, mom had to go to work to work in the school cafeteria to put food on the table. We ate well and had a warm home. We didn’t have an air conditioned home. The point is we’ve got to help these people. But the best way out is to offer them opportunities where they can develop, not only their own skills but their sense of self worth. When you take away from me my sense of personal belief in myself, nothing is left.
DICKERSON: But should people in your position in other companies be doing more? If it’s not to be done by government, should the capitalists —
LANGONE: Norah very nicely talked about Yankee Stadium. I’m not a self-made man. There are a lot of people out there saying they were self made. That’s for them to decide, I’m not. Home Depot, look at what we do for veterans. Look at what we do — There’s a program at Home Depot, and I’m proud of this, called Ken’s Crew for challenged people, we have 400 in the company now. Down syndrome, autism, you name it.
I can’t tell somebody else what’s good for them. If somebody wants to say they’re self made, that’s their call. My call is, Man, first of all, this goes on every morning. I look up, grandma and grandpa, thanks for coming to America. My grandfather went to school until he was six years old. In that book there’s a picture of him. You look at his hand, it’s gnarled. Why? The man for 66 years from the time he was six years old had a shovel in his hand. Look, we’ve got a lot of things we need to work on in America, but we’re still the best place on Earth and we’re going to get better and better and better.
GOLODRYG: Ken, you have said there will be no other America.
LANGONE: There will never be another America. No, no.