Ken Langone on Over-Delivering

A few weeks ago, a friend suggested that I learn about the founding of Home Depot, since I’m in Atlanta. I did, and one of the cofounders wasn’t what I expected. His name is Ken Langone. He’s a colorful character from humble beginnings, a hybrid between entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and investment banker. I watched a few YouTube videos of him and got more interested in his story.

I discovered that Langone wrote a book called I Love Capitalism!: An American Story. It’s about his life and adventures in business. I bought it as soon as I found it and started reading. I’m not finished yet, but so far I’m enjoying it.

One concept that Langone shares in the book is over-delivering to cement relationships. Langone was the banker who IPO’d Ross Perot’s company, Electric Data Systems (EDS), in 1968. Langone had never taken a company public before and had a lot riding on the EDS IPO being successful. He thought highly of Perot. He wanted this transaction to be a success, and he also wanted to build a long-term relationship with Perot. Because of EDS’s uniqueness and growth potential, he was sure the public markets would be receptive to the IPO. He told Perot he could take EDS public at 100 times earnings (a number far higher than other bankers thought possible), or $15 per share.

The IPO was a success, and Langone was able to deliver Perot 115 times earnings, or $16.50 per share. Perot was ecstatic. He publicly praised Langone whenever the opportunity arose. Perot’s praise and the publicity about the EDS IPO got Langone a flood of new business. It also cemented his relationship with Perot because he far exceeded Perot’s lofty expectations.

Langone watched others over-promise and under-deliver. They’d close a transaction but ruin relationships because they’d lost people’s trust. Langone didn’t want to ruin relationships, so he took a different approach. To build a relationship and trust, he set what he thought were reasonable expectations and worked doggedly to over-deliver.

Fun fact: Because of Perot’s relationship with Langone, Perot was one of the first people who got the chance to invest in Home Depot when it was an early-stage company in 1978. Perot came close to investing $2 million and would have owned 70% of Home Depot if the transaction had been completed. As of the writing of this post, Home Depot has a market cap (i.e., valuation) of roughly $375 billion.