Daniel Zhao

In a talk at Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Monday, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone — who recently donated $100 million to the New York University School of Medicine, eliminating the school’s tuition — expressed gratitude for the capitalist system that contributed to his success.

Hosted by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, the event, which drew a crowd of 50, featured a conversation between Langone and NYU Stern School of Business Dean Emeritus Dr. Richard R. West ’60. Langone, in May published a book titled “I Love Capitalism! An American Story,” emphasized the positive role of capitalism in social mobility in America.

He also shared the rationale for his decision to donate to NYU in an effort to eliminate the Medical School’s tuition. He said he was inspired by the growing gap in the quality of health care, which Langone predicted “is going to get worse and worse and worse over time.” He added that the health care system has not expanded enough to meet the demands that come with an increased average life expectancy.

But at the talk, he stressed the external factors that led to his own financial success.

“I am not self-made,” he said. “Who would have thought I’d be worth this kind of money? I mean, it’s crazy.”

Langone discussed the story of his grandparents who immigrated through Ellis Island. Despite his grandfather’s illiteracy, he was able to provide for his family in the United States, Langone said.

Neither of his parents graduated high school, Langone added, emphasizing that education was the key to upward socioeconomic mobility. Langone said that he had planned to join the marine corps after high school graduation until he visited friends at Bucknell University. Upon a suggestion from his friends, he met with the Dean of Admissions and, though he never formally applied, received a letter of acceptance from the University.

After enrolling, Langone said he almost failed out during his first year, but a professor of economics — who “saw something in [him] that [he] didn’t see in [himself]” — set him back on track. After graduating from Bucknell, Langone attended NYU Stern School of Business.

Langone attributed his success to the American capitalist system as well as to the individuals who supported him along the way. He added that there is no other country in which he could have achieved the same level of upward mobility.

Citing stories of employees who had achieved the American dream from within his company, Langone said he is proud of Home Depot’s positive impact on the American people as a source of jobs. He recounted one woman who worked her way from an entry-level position at Home Depot to manager status while supporting her two children. He also mentioned Crystal Hanlon, who entered the company as a cashier at a Home Depot store in Texas and is now the Northern Division President.

“That’s capitalism,” Langone said. “It works. It really works.”

Cameron Koffman ’19, president of the Buckley Program, said he was impressed by Langone’s unique perspective.

“He’s a really strong supporter of the system,” Koffman said. “He sees a lot of deficiencies but still sees the tremendous good stuff it brought for him and for the people around him.”

In his concluding remarks, Langone advised the attendees that the three most important components of life are “kind word, thoughtful gesture and passion and enthusiasm for what you’re doing.”

“All these wonderful things are happening, and we have to figure out how to take care of each other,” Langone said.

The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program was founded in 2010.

Lindsay Daughtery | lindsay.daugherty@yale.edu .