Home Depot Founder Ken Langone: “Don’t Sell America Short!”

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Andrew Schwartz: You're listening to The Reopening. The podcast that asks, "How will America work through the COVID-19 pandemic? How will we innovate, and how will it change our global economy?" Each week we invite top business leaders to share their insights on the road to economic revival here at home, and around the world.

Scott Miller: Today’s guest is Ken Langone, chairman of Invemed Associates. While perhaps best known as the co-founder of Home Depot, Ken now devotes his energy to philanthropy, including he’s chairman of trustees of New York University’s Langone School of Medicine. We talk with Ken about the power of education, as well as America’s core strengths, prospects, and promise.

Andrew Schwartz: I'm Andrew Schwartz.

Scott Miller: And I'm Scott Miller.

Andrew Schwartz: And this is The Reopening.

Andrew Schwartz: Ken Langone, thank you so much for joining us on The Reopening today. We're really thrilled to have you. We've been wanting to talk to you, since we began the podcast. So thanks for being here.

Ken Langone: Thank you for having me.

Andrew Schwartz: Ken, health and education are two of the most important things to you and you put your heart and soul and your resources into these sectors to make it possible for people who wouldn't be able to succeed or have the opportunity to have a chance to actually have a chance. What do you think is the most important thing for the United States to do in these sectors, going forward, coming out of Covid once we actually get out of Covid.

Ken Langone: Well, let's discuss it in healthcare terms. You have a fever. The fever is a manifestation of something underlying that causes inflammation in your body and heat. Fever will go away if you address the underlying situation. If you ignore the underlying situation, the fever will persist. That's my analogy. Let me give you a parallel. We must desperately make every effort to address income inequality and unfairness in America. To me is one of the biggest challenges at the same time one of the greatest opportunities we have to secure the future of America. To do that, that's the fever. The underlying cause is ignorance. I can't tell you how precious it is to have people who work, not for you, but with you. That's a one word, but a very subtle difference. Nobody works for me, everybody works with me. I may own the business, but we're addressing the issue of the business, which is a customer and customer satisfaction. We all have the same challenge and we all have the same objectives. So we work together. We have to make sure that all of our kids are given the basic educational skills they need to compete in a world that is becoming more competitive by the minute. We can't put artificial barriers up that as other nations of the world progress through science, through health understanding, that if we don't keep pace with that and if we don't beat that, we can't win. And we're going to be relegated –(inaudible)- second class society. So we have the problem. In my humble opinion, the beginning step is education. At the beginning is levels, three-, four- and five-year-old level. I know kids are capable at three years old of learning the alphabet, of counting, but they need somebody to sit with them and make the effort and be diligent and be adamant in making sure that child know they matter, that they love them, that they care for them, that they make a difference and there will be a difference in their lives. This takes time. We didn't get to this mess, where we are now in education, public education in America, overnight. It was a long gradual slide. And in fact, if you go back to the early origins of the mass wave of immigration, the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the immigrants that came here with barely any education at all, pushed their kids. CCNY,

where Bernard Baruch went to school and learned his skills as a financier, was known as the Harvard of public education. The number of people that left, graduated, the Jews, the Polish, the Italian, the Irish, Scotch. It's there –(inaudible)- there and it works. We have allowed public education to deteriorate in America today. To the point where we're falling further behind every single year. And we're now making accommodations - no tests. How do you know if a child is ready for the next level of challenge if he hasn't mastered the previous level of challenge. It would be irresponsible as society to put somebody in an automobile, let them drive a car, if they haven't passed the basic test to show them how to drive a car. If you needed, God forbid, brain surgery, would you want the neurosurgeon to not have submitted to a rigorous program of education built on a base of knowledge, and then at the end, to have to take tests to show his level of competence or would you rather just say to a guy, “here's a drill and here's a saw. Go do what you’ve got to do to my head. Let’s hope.”

Andrew Schwartz:

It's like that commercial on TV. Oh, we'll figure it out.

Ken Langone: We’re dis-servicing these kids.

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah.

Scott Miller: There’s no question.

Ken Langone: How do we know where to focus on their deficiencies to make them competitive?

Scott Miller: Yeah, back when I when I started my career in manufacturing and back when I actually had hair and it wasn't all gray, we had great training programs. But you had to be able to read, write, and compute to get the entry job. We gave a test.

Ken Langone: I understand, they knew what they were doing.

Scott Miller: Right.

Ken Langone:

And again, I'm trying not to point a finger at any vested interest in saying this is the problem. I'm saying, here's the problem. There's a current push in medical education to have a pass/fail system. Absolutely not. That means the guy that would have had a 65 has the same standards as the guy that was a straight-A student. There is a difference in quality. There's a difference in outcomes.

Scott Miller: Yeah. You want to reward competence.

Ken Langone: I want to know that if I'm saying I'm going to the best, how do I know if he's the best or she's the best? I do it by starting to understand their level of competence. I'm trying In discussions like this, not to put myself in a position where you say, “Oh, I know what this guy is. He's this or he’s that conservative or he’s that level.” I'm trying to say, “let's forget labels. Let's talk about the problem and the issue and how do we solve it?” That's all.

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah. You've always been somebody who - you're not a partisan, you're a problem solver and you're somebody who points out what's really going on. Like, for instance, at NYU Medical Center, you know, you said, “look, we've got a bunch of doctors out there who graduate with huge loans and they can't even practice the medicine they want to practice, so let's fix that.” Tell us about that and how that guides your philosophy towards training and education and things like this.

Ken Langone: First decision, and by the way, credit where credit's due, the idea of free tuition was Bob Grossman's. He became dean in 2007 and I think probably the first day that he had the job, he and I talked and I said, “Bob, what would you like to do?” Bob came from an extremely modest background of a family. He shared a bed with his uncle in the Bronx, that’s how small of an apartment they had. He said, “I would love it if one day every kid that we admit to NYU Medical School comes tuition free.” I said, “Alright, we're going to do it.” Now that was eleven years before we did it. There was a minor problem, we needed $600 million.

Scott Miller:

Details, details.

Ken Langone: We decided, Bob and I decided, that we wanted to reward the person. We didn't want it to be any kind of reflection of the financial wherewithal they came from. So we said, “this kid is going to give up four precious years of his life. He's going to give up, at that point in his life, 17% of his life. Starts at 21, 25, four years, four years over 25, I think is about 17%. Then that's only the beginning. Then he's got internship, he’s got residency, he’s got fellowship –

Andrew Schwartz: Postdocs, all that.

Ken Langone: Neurosurgeon, for example, doesn't really get out to work, standalone, until he’s about 36-37 years old. So we made a very deliberate decision that all these kids were going to get it based on their commitment to wanting to be a doctor and making the sacrifices they would have to make to meet the rigors of becoming a doctor and it ain’t easy. And we also decided that this would allow for the kid, the opportunity, once they've accomplished everything they need academically that if a kid said, “I really love to hold babies on my lap, be a pediatrician.” He could effectively say, “I want to be a pediatrician.” Pediatricians don't make as much money as a brain surgeon, nor the gynecologist nor the primary care physicians. Many of them, they'll say, “well, I can't afford to be a primary care physician, but I got $200,000 of debt that I accrued by going to medical school, but I gotta pay it off.” So we felt that by unburdening them of that obligation that they would have free choice as to what they want to be. And that to me is one of the greatest contributors to success in a chosen career, loving what you do.

Scott Miller: Oh yes, absolutely.

Ken Langone: I couldn't think of a worse hell than waking up every day and saying, “oh my god, I gotta go to that job. Oh shit, pardon my French, but why God? I gotta go to, beause I gotta feed my family.” On the other hand, I can tell you for myself, I couldn't wait to get up to go to work every day, if I could’ve worked without sleep, I’d have worked without sleep. And in fact, if I could have afforded to pay and I had to pay to go to work, I would have paid to go to work because I loved what I was doing and I still love it. And you see that in people's enthusiasm, in their success, in their ability to feel good about themselves and pass along. So that was the background and the morning that we announced it two years ago, obviously I've done very well financially in my life, but it was the moment which Elaine and I are at the podium and announced the free tuition program, including for all the kids who are in advanced years. So in other words, if a kid was in his second or third or fourth year, at that moment, that was free, the last year for them. We didn't give them a refund for the earlier years, it wouldn’t work. So when we announced it, there was this incredible silence and then this incredible eruption. And “60 Minutes” captured it.

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah, sure did.

Ken Langone: And at that very moment when they erupted, the first thought that went through my head, the exact words, the thought was, “Holy shit, I’m rich.” It really felt that my wealth really made a difference. That’s when it came to a tangible point for me. I knew I was wealthy, I had beautiful homes and I had fine clothes and you know I had all that a rich person, a wealthy person, had. But I didn't really feel it until that very moment. And the kids that have come up to me since then to tell me about the difference in their lives. One story, two stories that morning. After the assembly, we had a reception outside the auditorium. A mother came up to me with her son, she was a parent, she also was a pediatrician. And she said that morning at breakfast, she had no idea was coming, so that morning breakfast, she graduated medical school 35 years before, and she said that morning at breakfast that, she was having breakfast with her son, it dawned on her that she was going to die in debt, because now she hadn't paid off my medical school debt yet and now she's helping to finance her son. And she said, “when you made the announcement,” she said, “my first thought was, oh my god, I'm going to die debt free.”

Andrew Schwartz: That’s really extraordinary.

Ken Langone: Another father came up to us, he was retired. He and his wife said that their son had wanted to be a doctor for as long as they can remember. They weren't doctors. And they made their mind up that they were going to help him. And he understood that if they were going to help him, he had to go back to work, he was retired. So he said, “we were prepared for me to go back to work to help my son,” he said, “now I can stay retired.” These are the collateral lives that were touched by that activity and I urge anybody, if you’ve got to spend 100 million dollars, it's a hell – it’s one of the best ways to spend it, I can tell you.

Scott Miller: What a great blessing. Well, let me wind the clock ahead a couple of years from that gift, because it turned out NYU Langone Medical Center was at the center of the big outbreak of Covid. I know you were staying in touch with those people. What's it like now? How are they doing? How are they holding up?

Ken Langone: How are we doing? The cases, Covid cases, continue to drop. They’re entirely manageable and I think, based on talking to my colleagues at other medical institutions, academic medical institutions, we’re all sharing the same experience, that is we're no longer under the struggle. Don’t forget, when it first happened, we get wondering first happened we stopped everything except for treating patients with Covid. The byproduct of that activity was we lost $400 million in the first month.

Scott Miller: Yeah, so-called elective surgery actually pays the bills at hospitals.

Ken Langone: You didn't do anything. You didn't see cardiac patients, you didn't see people that had neurological problems, you didn't see people in –(inaudible)-. You know, you didn't see anybody because your whole drawer, your whole focus, was on this wave of illness that was coming in. We were entirely capable of handling it, in fact, the cases, I get the charts every morning, the numbers keep coming down. And more importantly, we're back to full tilt. We're doing everything we did, in fact this afternoon at two o'clock, I'm going to go in and have an appointment with my cardiologist, because on the 15th of July, I'm having cardiac surgery. Oh no, not cardiac, I’m having cataract surgery. I'm sorry.

Andrew Schwartz: Good. That's better than cardiac.

Ken Langone: Much better. Other than that, they want to make sure everything's okay before then. So I'm going into the hospital. Last week I went in for an eye exam. No problem. By the way, anybody who's hearing this, a mask is 90% of the solution to the problem. You see the spike in Florida and go back and look a couple of weeks ago, they were standing next to each other, they didn't have masks on. “Hey, here I am, get me sick.”.

Andrew Schwartz: Yep.

Ken Langone: Okay. A mask is 90% of it. Six feet away from each other is probably another five and keeping your hands clean. Well I, I never thought it would be a blessing, I have a hand fetish. I've always washed my hands 25 to 30 times a day. It's now a very practical illness.

Scott Miller: And quite beneficial to you. Yes.

Ken Langone: Very beneficial. Anyway, we're flying, we're doing great. Everybody's back working. We're doing elective surgery, we're doing everything we have to do, and we’re assuring the patients, it's safe, come on in.

Scott Miller: Great news great news.

Andrew Schwartz: It's really amazing because you know we're seeing people not wearing masks and you just said it so clearly, it couldn't be any clearer than that. You know, if we go back to the 1918 pandemic or other pandemics in the world, you know, it was always face coverings masks that helped slow the spread of disease. Are you worried though that when we get to the fall, we're going to be indoors more. I heard Peter Hotez from Baylor talk about the difference between being inside versus outside.

Ken Langone: You can’t handicap stupidity.

Andrew Schwartz: Right.

Ken Langone: Anybody who's a golfer, you see some guy attempting a shot that's 99% against them, well, a handicap system wasn't designed to say this guy's stupid, he'll do something like that, therefore he deserves a higher handicap. Yeah, being inside is more conducive to spread. On the other hand, we've learned a lot. All of our healthcare is being practiced inside. My eye doctor last week had his nose that far from when he was examining my eye. He had a mask on, I had a mask on. If he had the disease, I didn't get it, and if I had it, he didn't get it. Now let's go back to the early days of the of the pandemic, the crisis was having the products we needed, masks, test kits, gowns. You know, you can write down a list of things that we were lacking. And by the way, it's interesting, we have a strategic petroleum reserve, but we didn't have a strategic medical equipment reserve. Andrew Cuomo gets on it says New York City needs 40,000 ventilators. Well it turns out, thank God, we didn't need them. People are critical of the fact that we turned Javits into a hospital that thank God we never needed.

Scott Miller: Right. Nobody knew we didn’t need it.

Ken Langone: Well, guess what, I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Andrew Schwartz: Sure.

Ken Langone: That's what you call a suspender and a belt.

Scott Miller: It’s the wisdom of stockpiling, yeah.

Ken Langone: We’ve learned a lot and I think, for example, not pardon me, we're not going to be caught short with our pants down the next time. We'll have the masks. I can remember on a Saturday at 11 o'clock at night with Mike Roman, the CEO of Triple M, on the phone. “Mike, we need masks desperately.” Calling up Tom Joyce at Danner, the CEO of Danner, they own Cepheids, and pleading with him. We needed test kits to run the tests for people. Every place we looked, but we caught up. And I remember saying to our people, “remember that great song in World War Two, ‘Praise the Lord and Bless the Ammunition.’” We did it. And we did it again. When America got its mind to what it needed to do, just like in World War Two, we deservedly became known as the arsenal of democracy. We turned out hundreds of thousands of planes, tanks, guns, clothing, shoes. We went to war and we did it again now. Now, how do I feel about the fall? Well, first of all, I, guided by people who are much smarter than me in the field, I have an extremely high level of confidence, extremely high level of confidence, that we're going to have a vaccine by Christmas.

Andrew Schwartz: That is great news.

Ken Langone: A vaccine does not guarantee you 100%.

Andrew Schwartz: Sure.

Ken Langone: But to the extent you pull that percentage down, the numbers moving ahead change dramatically.

Scott Miller: It reduces the risk dramatically, yes.

Ken Langone: The big risk is the number of people that come into the hospital, can you accommodate them as you’re doing everything else? The surge that we had back in March precluded us from dealing with all of our other patients. And we have a wonderful breast surgeon, her name is Freya Schnabel. And she's my wife’s, my wife had breast cancer, Freya operated on her. It was very successful outcome. And she told me that when this happened and they were told to suspend all their activities, she said, “if they told me to go in the kitchen and cook soup,” she said, “I would have done it.” That was the attitude of these caring physicians and that's exactly what we did. You know, we said, “suit up your plan.”

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah.

Ken Langone: It was a serious, so what I'm looking at is, and by the way, let me tell you a tragedy in America. I can't believe that the wearing of a mask has become a political issue.

Andrew Schwartz: We can't either. This is one of the things I wanted to ask you about. I was just in Ohio right outside of Cleveland.

Ken Langone: This is a national disgrace.

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, Ken, seriously. I was just in Ohio at my in-laws. And this is just outside of Cleveland. As you know, Ohio is half red, half blue, and we're safely distanced at my at my father-in-law's house, he's got, you know, 13 acres. But I but I had to go up to CVS. I had to go to the gas station, stuff like that. So when I would go up to CVS, I'd be wearing a mask. Half of the people in CVS were wearing masks. Half the people weren't wearing masks. The people who weren't wearing masks were glaring at those of us who were wearing masks, like we were doing something wrong. I couldn't figure it out and it's that this issue has become politicized. How the hell has a public health issue become politicized?

Ken Langone: A mask is uncomfortable. It’s hot. You put it on –

Andrew Schwartz: It is!

Ken Langone: Your glasses can get steamed up. Okay, it's not convenient, but I'll give you a for instance. Yesterday morning, I got a lovely little Catholic church down the road that I go to when I stay out here. In the morning at 8:30 Mass, every single person had on a mask. And a woman walked in to go into the sanctuary, she didn’t have a mask on, and I pointed like that. It was clear, the requirement is you must have a mask on, okay? Mike Pence yesterday said, “please wear your masks.” But, but this is sheer stupidity and I'm not taking sides, one way or the other. I'm saying let's fight over something meaningful. I go back to the Javits Center. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. A mass can't make you more susceptible to the disease, so there's no downside. Wear the mask.

Scott Miller: Just think of it as a courtesy to others. It's just common courtesy.

Ken Langone: No doctor has pushed back on me. I made a statement that a mask is 90% of the solution of not getting infected. If I increase my chances by 90% that I'm not going to get sick, wear the mask. Give me two of them.

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah, exactly. Well along those lines, Ken, you've always offered people really practical advice. What are you telling business leaders now as they're preparing to get ready for the next cycle of their business?

Ken Langone: What I tell my kids or I tell my—well: wear a mask, wash your hands as many times as you can, and stay six feet away from each other. On the church, on the going down for communion this morning, they got a piece of orange tape every six feet, so I don't move up to get the host, the next six feet, until that person moves up. And guess what? I see the same people at Mass every morning, so I know they’re not getting sick, or at least if they’re getting sick, they’re not sick enough not to come to mass. So what am I telling people? It's blocking and tackling. Like business. 90% of business is being thoughtful and being kind and, you know, I tell kids in business school, if I can only give you one book to read that would give you more the tools you need to succeed in business, it would be the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Read it and watch and see wonderful things happen. You know, it's consideration, but more importantly it's self-preservation, which is the most motivating factor of any human being’s existence. Nobody wants to die, unless you’re sick in the head and you’ve got a mental problem. So, what do I tell business people? Be practical, be sensible, and remember the three rules – masks, hands, distancing. That's it. We’ll beat it. We’ll get herd immunity and then from there we go. Look, the one thing I think we know, that the minute we anticipate a pandemic like this, which God forbid, I hope it never happens again, the first thing is to lock down nursing homes.

Scott Miller: Oh yes.

Ken Langone: 47% of all the deaths were people in nursing homes across the United States.

Andrew Schwartz: Incredible.

Ken Langone: Okay. I'm going to be 85. I know, now thank God I think my lungs are in good shape, but I'm 85 and I don't have the resilience or the physical strength to fight off disease like I did when I was 21. And we know for a fact that these young people who are getting the disease are beating it and going back to their lives. It’s the older people who are frail, who have lung impairments, or heart issues, or diabetes, or whatever. So what did we do instead? One of our political leaders said, “put them back on the nursing home.” So the sick people were put back in the nursing home with the people that weren't sick. Stop guests. And by the way, with technology today, the ability to read your temperature with infrared and it's quick. I went into the hospital the other day, before the doctor examined my eyes, he had his nurse shoot me with an infrared on my forehead, I had 97.3.

Scott Miller: Yeah, I walked into the dentist's office this morning, had exactly the same exam. It was easy, no brainer.

Ken Langone: The fact that you don't have a fever doesn’t mean you can’t be a carrier, but at least it's a good beginning.

Scott Miller: Yeah. So, Ken, I’ll tell you what, in this conversation, if CSIS produces new logo coffee mugs, what it should say on the back is, “you can't handicap stupidity.” You've given us a lot to think about and really words to live by. So thank you for your time.

Andrew Schwartz: I want to ask you one other question, Ken, because this is something I've heard you talk about and you know it’s something I study really closely. You've been really critical of the media and how it's been polarized on both sides. Do you see this getting any better? And is there a way for us as Americans to make this problem better? Because it's clearly a problem on both sides.

Ken Langone: I remember 50 years ago a good friend of mine was a man with the name of Sydney Gruson. He was one of the editors, managing editors, of the Times. And he was married to Flora Lewis, who was the Times foreign correspondent. Times was a newspaper record. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a conservative, okay? The linchpin of the underlying support of democracy, in my opinion, is a driving objective media in all forms. When you want to have an opinion, that’s what you have an op ed piece for, that's what you have the editorial page for, not the front page, okay? People should be given the facts. Remember Friday on the old television show, the Dragnet, “the facts, ma'am, just the facts.”

Andrew Schwartz: Yeah.

Ken Langone: Tell us exactly what you saw objectively as a reporter and then let us make up my mind about what I think is right or wrong. That's democracy. That's how it works, should work. We have so polarized the media today, that to me it's one of the biggest threats to democracy I can think of.

Scott Miller: Yeah, we all have our curated news feeds that they send us stories we tended to like or share. And so we get more of the same stuff, we get deeper into our –(inaudible)-.

Ken Langone: Look, I know that when I read the editorial page of The New York Times, this goes all the way back, I was going to see a liberal point of view, but that's okay because that's the editorial page. I know before I read it that this was somebody giving me their opinion.

Andrew Schwartz: And you could go to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and yeah.

Ken Langone: But God forbid, the front page should be reserved for hard news and only hard news. You brought the question up. I watch these news conferences with, like Trump or not, the American people elected him President of the United States. Forget about him the person, consider the office. The minute you guys lose respect for John Hamre as your leader and you treat him disrespectfully, it’s all over.

Scott Miller: It’s over, yeah.

Ken Langone: It’s over. I wish Trump did a lot of things differently than he did, a whole lot of things differently than he did. But I'm I'm respecting the will of the American people that they gave him the job and I have a chance this coming November to say, I think we ought to have a change, and I can vote whatever way I want. Or I could say as bad as the guy is, I'm voting for him. Or as much as I wish he did things, the point I'm making is we need to stop putting labels on people and things I'll put my bona fides up against anybody out there about my commitment to racial equality. More by my behaviors than my words. My dad had a great expression, actions speak louder than words. Measure me by what I do, more than by what I say. And I believe that the African American community today is being terribly disserved by the pathetic shape of public education in America. Why? Because you come to New York City, wealthy people send their children to private schools. It's the poor people who can't afford it that send their children to public schools. I'm a major supporter of what they call the inner-city schools of Manhattan, in addition to my activities at the Harlem Children’s Zone. These are Catholic schools. 85% of the kids that go to Catholic schools in New York are not Catholic. That's okay. But they're going to get a much better education if they went to public school. Through the all of this, don't sell America short. Don't you dare sell America short. Because when it comes time to kick ass, we're going to show people how to kick ass. Alright? We've got a lot of things we have to work on, but I consider the political landscape, which if you do the math, it almost exactly is always in the middle. Sometimes it's here and sometimes it's there. But at the end of the day, you can bet on one certain thing, the middle is going to get its fair share of the time. I think that's going to happen in America. When? I don't know. I do believe that the more we realize the seriousness of the problems we’re dealing with, and the more people say, “we have to do something about it,” the more likely we are to address those issues.

Andrew Schwartz: That is the coffee mug that we need to print right now. Ken –

Ken Langone: Let me say one thing.

Andrew Schwartz: Sure.

Ken Langone: One of my great associations is with CSIS. I can't tell you the enormous respect I have for the work all of you do there, the way you do it, and the way you present it. I think if we have any hope for coming to the right conclusions, it's always going to be on the basis of having the right facts. And more and more and more, I see a unwavering commitment to objectivity at CSIS. I like to brag that we're a bipartisan think that and I think it's very important. I think –

Scott Miller: Yes.

Ken Langone: If we’re going to come to the right conclusion, let's consider all sides of the problem.

Andrew Schwartz: Absolutely.

Ken Langone: All of you people, through your work there, practice your skills there. All of you deserve enormous credit for making sure that we adhere to that approach, because I think in coming up with the facts as they are, not as we wish them to be, you stand a better chance of making the right decisions.

Scott Miller: That's definitely why we all hang around and so, we’re grateful for your support.

Andrew Schwartz: It means a lot to us that you would say that, Ken, really does.

Ken Langone: One of the great associations in my life. I carry that association with both honor and humility.

Andrew Schwartz: Well, we thank you for everything you do for us and we're very blessed to have you as part of our organization and at the head of our organization. Like you said, you know, without strong leaders, you know, where would we be and that's where we are as a result of you, John Hamre, Tom Pritzker, and others who really help us get done what we need to do.

Ken Langone: Near the end of a book, “Eisenhower in War and Peace,” I marvel at the philosophical and psychological genius the man had and some of the decisions he made. And I lament, where are the Eisenhowers today? Where are the Harry Trumans today? You know, where are they when we so desperately need them? We need them badly.

Scott Miller: Not in politics, by and large. That’s the problem.

Ken Langone: Where are the Sam Rayburns?

Andrew Schwartz: You know, that's why we started this podcast is we wanted to talk to them. And clearly, you know, we got to talk to one today, so –

Ken Langone: Where does a politician go into politics? Because he wants to get something done, not because he wants power or views it as a road to riches, which, frankly, let's be honest about it, look at the number of politicians that move from a political career in the private sector. And I have no trouble with them, but while you're a politician and while you’re a public official, do the right thing. Now that may impair your later career path opportunities, but you’re there to do the right thing and that's what I think is lacking in American today. Call them as you see them.

Andrew Schwartz: That’s right.

Scott Miller: Very good.

Andrew Schwartz: Well Ken, thanks a million for your time today. This is the first of hopefully many conversations we have with you and we really appreciate your time.

Ken Langone: Well I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and, more importantly, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to say in one way or another, I have been involved with each of you and all your colleagues.

Andrew Schwartz: We’ll talk soon, Ken, thanks so much.

Scott Miller: Thanks, Ken.

Andrew Schwartz: Thanks for listening to the Reopening. If you liked this episode, please write us a review and subscribe wherever you find your podcasts. You can also find other podcasts from the center for strategic and international studies at csis.org/podcasts.