Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone ’57, P’83 never intended to pen his memoir, not even after former Creative Artists Agency CEO Michael Ovitz broached the subject at the investment firm Allen & Company’s annual Sun Valley Conference in Idaho four years ago. Even after he met with an editor at Penguin Random House, he wasn’t sold on the idea. But when he saw Bernie Sanders on TV in January 2016, surrounded by young people and championing socialism, Langone quickly changed his mind. “If these kids have given up on capitalism, we’re in trouble,” he thought.
‘I Owe Bucknell $300’
In the opening chapter of I Love Capitalism! An American Story, Langone recounts how he overcame mediocre grades and near-expulsion as a first-year student to graduate from Bucknell a semester early. That wouldn’t have happened without a loan from the University engineered by Martha Henderson, assistant to the dean of students. “The 300 bucks means nothing now, but it made all the difference in the world then,” he says.
The Long and Short of It
The book jacket depicts Langone not as the billionaire and philanthropist he would become, but as a blue-collar teenager who dug ditches for the Long Island Expressway. “I think I was a little more Italian looking than that,” he says, adding, “When they showed me the first draft of the cover, I said I didn’t use a long-handled shovel — I used a short-handled shovel.” His editors liked the symbolism of Langone with his foot on the shovel, so artistic license prevailed.
If He Can Make It There…
“Until the book came out, I was terrified I had a bomb on my hands,” Langone admits. His worries were unfounded: I Love Capitalism! debuted at No. 10 on The New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction list in June. “We just made a deal in Japan with one of the big publishers over there,” he notes — and closer to home, “My wife [Elaine] loved the book. She said, ‘That’s the way it happened. That’s Ken.’”
I Love Capitalism! An American Story. Ken Langone ’57, P’83. (Portfolio, 2018.) Also available as an audiobook read by Langone.