Ken Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot, offered up some straight talk about his life, the economy and the state of the country Monday during the Palm Beach Civic Association’s 75th Anniversary Speaker Series Luncheon at The Beach Club in the Town of Palm Beach.
One hundred fifty Civic Association members attended the event. Each attendee received a complimentary copy of Mr. Langone’s book I love Capitalism: An American Story.
Civic Association Chairman and CEO Bob Wright welcomed everyone to the luncheon during the Civic Association’s 75th anniversary year. Mr. Wright thanked The Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. Legacy Society for sponsoring the event. He recognized Janne Rumbough, who was in attendance.
“When you read the book, you feel like he’s talking to you and you’re just sitting down somewhere,” Mr. Wright said. “It’s so personal and so one-on-one. He’s had an incredible career and he’s not stopped now.”
His long-time friend, Civic Association Director Ira Harris, and Ken had an entertaining conversation in an interview-style format.
Regarding Social Security and government entitlements, Mr. Langone feels those should be reserved for those who need them and should not automatically be given to the wealthy. He and his wife receive $4,000 in monthly Social Security benefits. Mr. Langone said he signs the check over to a charity every month.
“Do we really need all these benefits?” he asked. “How much of it should be on our shoulders because we’ve succeeded?”
“We’re in deep trouble with 71 percent of the federal budget is entitlements,” Mr. Langone said. “That means they can’t cut them. How are we going to live within our means? We are going to leave our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren with debt … I’m saying, ‘I know in my case, I shouldn’t get a nickel (from the government).’”
Mr. Harris asked Mr. Langone what his biggest concern is for America today and has the American dream changed since he lived it.
“I’m a great believer in America,” Mr. Langone said. “We’re the greatest nation on earth. My story is an American story. It’s about a poor kid who was fortunate enough to be born in this country and take advantage of all the good things this country had to offer. It’s that simple.”
Mr. Harris asked why the political process in Washington is so broken and what can be done to fix it.
“I think the wrong people run for public office,” Mr. Langone said. “I can think of so many people who would be outstanding public servants, but they don’t want to get into that cesspool.”
He pointed to the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“We took due process and we threw it out the window, but this is the nature of the beast,” Mr. Langone said. “I think it’s a tragedy that we allow misfits calling the shots in this country … Not that I have much in my past to hide, but I wouldn’t want to go through that.”
Mr. Langone is a staunch supporter of term limits.
“Why don’t we have term limits?” he asked. “Because 535 people in Washington are terrified if they have to go out and earn a living, they’ll starve.”
Mr. Harris asked, “What do you see different in Wall Street today?”
“The human touch is leaving,” Mr. Langone said. “The relationship you and I had as competitors … We were cutthroat, but at the end of the day we were all friends …. We’d go to outings together. We’d play golf together. Now, it’s a bunch of computers … You can’t quarrel with the efficiency, but it’s a different world.”
“What advice would you give a young kid today going to college?” Mr. Harris asked.
“My advice would be that college is not for every kid,” Mr. Langone said. “We’re short plumbers, electricians, carpenters and these are all high paying jobs. You’ve all heard the story about a lawyer who called a plumber to his house and after an hour the plumber gave the lawyer the bill. The lawyer said, ‘You charge more an hour than I do and I’m a lawyer.’ The plumber said, ‘I know. I used to be a lawyer.’ Why not put these kids in a position where they can’t fail? How many kids are sacrificing and going into debt to go to college and at the end ask, ‘Where’s the promise land?’ Maybe they shouldn’t have been in college.”
Mr. Harris said that Mr. Langone has a deep faith in God and asked him to speak about it.
Mr. Langone, a devout Catholic, said that some of the finest people he knows are professed atheists. They are spiritual people, although they don’t realize it, he said.
“Fundamentally, all faiths are grounded in one thing – goodness,” Mr. Langone said. “Catholics are obligated to go to mass once a week – that’s one hour a week. It’s all the rest of the hours of the week that you are tested and where you have a chance to demonstrate what you believe in. My faith is something that’s precious to me … One of the beliefs I have is that God will never give you more than you can handle. Every once in a while, I’ve had to tell Him, ‘You’re getting a little close on this one.’
“America is the engine of philanthropy in the world,” Mr. Langone said. “There’s not another country on this earth that practices philanthropy like this country does – across all faiths and beliefs.”
For more information about the Civic Association, visit palmbeachcivic.org or call (561) 655-0820.