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Home Depot co-founder and philanthropist visits RE

Ken Langone, the Home Depot co-founder and philanthropist whose donations helped make New York University Medical School tuition free, addressed students for more than an hour at Ransom Everglades' upper school on January 19. He shared his rags-to-riches personal story and advised students that making ethical decisions and showing respect for others were always good business.
The second speaker in Ransom Everglades’ Holzman Center of Applied Ethics Distinguished Speaker Series, Langone fielded questions from center director John A. King Jr. and more than a dozen students during his visit to the Lewis Family Auditorium. Head of School Penny Townsend offered a welcome and introduction.

Langone, the son of a plumber father and cafeteria worker mother who took night classes to earn his MBA from the New York University Stern School of Business, has donated $300 million to the New York University School of Medicine while supporting a multitude of other organizations and institutions.

He and his wife Elaine also have donated millions to Bucknell University, where he earned his undergraduate degree after borrowing money to pay off his last semester of classes, and supported the Harlem Children’s Zone and its charter school, The Promise Academy.

“The joy of what Elaine and I have done with our financial success far exceeds the success itself,” he told students. “The challenge is once you’ve benefited by the great capitalistic system that we have is to make sure you share it. Make sure you give back … We all have a moral obligation to do all that we can to lift everybody up.”

Reflecting on his 40 years at the helm of Home Depot, he emphasized that people are his company’s most precious resource; that businesses must work to ensure best practices in sustainability, human rights and other areas from their vendors; and that mere legality should not be the standard for actions an individual or company takes. Langone noted that while it’s legally appropriate for him and his wife to receive some $4,000 monthly in social security benefits, he believes it unethical for people of their means to accept the money, so they donate those benefits.

“Ethics are a higher standard than the law, much higher,” he said. “When you’re in an ethical dilemma, err on the side of being totally ethical … If you’re going to rationalize bad behavior based on somebody else’s bad behavior, shame on you.”

Langone was invited to campus by the Holzman Center of Applied Ethics’ leading supporter, Steve Holzman P'21. The center’s first speaker was City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, who visited the upper school in December. The center opened in November 2021 with the goal of empowering students to engage in ethical decision-making and to act with honor, excellence and integrity at RE and beyond.
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.