Businessman says it's better to give than to receive

Co-founder of Home Depot delivers second annual Saul G. Cohen Memorial Lecture

Ken Langone

Businessman Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot, told a crowd at Rapaporte Treasure Hall Monday that he feels as if he benefits more from his considerable philanthropic endeavors than the organizations and people he supports.

"My notion about giving back is simple: I'm more of a beneficiary of my charity than the recipients of my charity," he said as he delivered the second annual Saul G. Cohen Memorial Lecture, "Not Business as Usual: When Doing Well Means Doing Good." "The more you give back, you think to yourself, 'Hey, maybe the world is a better place because I'm here.'"

Langone also came to the defense of so-called "fat cats," wealthy entrepreneurs and business people who have come under fire from the media and others during the economic downturn for their supposed excesses.

"I do believe it's time for America to understand that people who have succeeded aren't bad," Langone told a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty, staff and friends. "People who share their time and treasure don't need to be put on a pedestal, but don't vilify them. Let's not kill the goose who laid the golden egg."

Langone served on Home Depot’s board of directors as lead director from the company’s inception in 1978 until his retirement in 2008. He currently serves as chairman of the trustees of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, and is vice chairman of NYU. He also is on the board of the Ronald McDonald House of New York, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. Additionally, he is a board member of the Harlem Children’s Zone and chairs its charter school, Promise Academy. 

Langone told the crowd that he learned the true meaning of charity from his father, a plumber with an eighth-grade education. After hearing that Langone had made a significant gift to Bucknell University, his undergraduate alma mater, Langone’s father asked him, "What did you go without to make that gift?"

When Langone responded that his lifestyle would not change because of the gift, "he looked me in the eye and said, 'That's not charity. Charity is doing without,' " Langone said. "That's when I learned about charity."

He tells the Bucknell students whom he supports now that the best way "to thank me is to pass it on. There are a million different ways people can give back."

Before he began his talk, Langone pointed out the difference in viewpoints between himself and last year's inaugural Cohen Lecture speaker, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

"I applaud Brandeis for hosting a diversity of opinion," he said with a laugh. "I can't think of two more different people than Chuck Schumer and me."

The Cohen Lecture was established through the generosity of the longtime Brandeis science professor’s family and friends, and reflects his wide variety of interests. Lecturers are selected by the family and feature leaders from the worlds of academia, arts, business and industry, government and politics, law and science discussing important topics of the day.

Cohen was an instant-film pioneer who achieved a number of firsts in his 36 years on the Brandeis faculty. Denied teaching jobs at other institutions because of anti-Semitism, Cohen joined the Brandeis faculty in 1950. He later became the first chair of the chemistry department and the science school, the first dean of faculty and the first University Professor. He was instrumental in establishing Brandeis as a first-rate college and a research university with thriving graduate programs. He died in 2010 at the age of 93.

Categories: Business, General

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