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Kenneth Langone was born in Roslyn Heights, New York, to working-class parents. His father was a plumber and his mother a cafeteria worker. As a student at Bucknell University, Langone worked various blue collar jobs, and was a butcher's assistant, a caddy, and a ditch digger. While at Bucknell, Langone became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. After graduating in three and a half years, Langone headed back to New York, this time to Manhattan instead of Roslyn Heights. There he attended New York University Stern School of Business at night, while working full-time during the day. That part-time evening program now bears his name, and is known as the "Langone Program" at NYU.
Building up his experience over the next decade, Langone began to study the home improvement business and eventually bought stock in Handy Dan, a home improvement chain. This led to a relationship between Langone and both Handy Dan CEO Bernard Marcus and CFO Arthur Blank. Although a minority shareholder, Langone effectively protected Marcus from issues that arose between Marcus and Sanford Sigiloff, the CEO of The Daylin Corporation, Handy Dan's parent company. Marcus, however, felt that if Langone sold his interest in Handy Dan, it may actually improve his relationship with Sigiloff. Shortly after Langone sold his Handy Dan stock both Marcus and Blank were fired. Langone organized financing for Marcus and Blank to found Home Depot. Now a national chain with over 300,000 employees, it is Langone's most notable business venture.
Kenneth Langone has contributed almost $150 million to various charities. His philanthropic focus has been Universities, medical research and training, education, and helping children.
Universities Langone has contributed towards include Bucknell University, and NYU. Bucknell University has benefited from his $11 million donation, which financed a new Athletics and Recreation Center. Additionally, he has donated $6.5 million to NYU's Stern School to endow the Kenneth G. Langone Part-time Evening MBA program. Langone serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the NYU Langone Medical Center.
Langone has contributed towards charities which fund medical research and treatment and provide education and services to the disadvantaged. These charities have included the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, The Children's Oncology Society (Ronald McDonald House), Tomorrow's Hope Foundation, Harlem Children's Zone, and the Robin Hood Foundation, where he serves as Director. Langone is also the Chairman of the Promise Academy, a charter school in New York City.
Through Home Depot, Kenneth Langone started the charitable organization Ken's Kids, which provides job training and employment to youths aged 18–21 with disabilities in Philadelphia. Langone himself financially contributes to the charity.
Langone donated millions of dollars to a wide variety of charities, most recently $200 million to what is now known as the New York University Elaine A. and Kenneth G. Langone Medical Center.
Langone has attracted publicity with his attempted purchase of the New York Stock Exchange. Although the deal fell through, it raised Langone's stature on Wall Street and in the business community in general. He was a co-defendant with Richard Grasso in the 2004 prosecution by Eliot Spitzer over a controversial package of $139.5m of benefits received by Grasso on leaving his post as chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, in addition to an estimated $10m annual pay. The Exchange was operated as a non-profit enterprise, and so was subject to New York state laws governing remuneration within non-profit enterprises. Langone was, as a director of the Exchange and senior member of the remuneration committee, heavily involved in development of the pay package. On July 1, 2008, the New York State Court of Appeals dismissed the case. The majority opinion stated that, since the beginning of the case, the NYSE had become a subsidiary of a for-profit multinational corporation, and that pursuing the company in the matter was therefore "not in the public interest."
Langone served on the board of General Electric in 2001.
Langone was a co-founder and board member of ChoicePoint Inc.
The Wall Street Journal discussed a pitch made by Bernard Madoff to Langone just before Thanksgiving 2009. Langone told the newspaper that Madoff said he was raising $500 million to $1 billion for his new fund for exclusive clients.
He and his wife Elaine Langone have three children; Kenneth G. Jr., Stephen, and Bruce Langone.
He lives in Sands Point, New York.