Self-made billionaire to grads: Don’t work on Wall Street — do this instead

Ken Langone
Kate Rooney | CNBC
Ken Langone

Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone's path to success was straight out of a business school textbook. He studied economics at Bucknell University, earned his M.B.A. at the New York University Stern School of Business and went to work on Wall Street. In 1974 he launched his own investment firm, Invemed Associates, where he helped secure financing for what would become Home Depot. Today, he is worth $3.3 billion.

Even though this traditional path made Langone a billionaire, he says it's no longer the best way for young people to get ahead.

He argues that because of the increased automation of the financial sector, workers don't gain the exposure necessary to learn about business. "The Wall Street game is over for all intents and purposes," he tells CNBC. "More electronic, less hands."

Instead of working on Wall Street, Langone says that business hopefuls should get their hands dirty.

"Go out and go to work for a company and learn the business," he says. "Learn what drives a customer, learn about cost, learn about margins, learn about inventory, learn the basics of the business."

Langone also argues that even though he himself benefited from several degrees, college is not the right avenue for many young people.

"College is not for everybody," he argues. "I think we're putting kids in a position 'you do this, you go to college, the world is yours.' It doesn't work that way."

The Home Depot co-founder says that students should consider both traditional four-year colleges and alternative educational opportunities, like trade schools. Shifting the way the United States educates and trains students is one of the most crucial challenges of our time, he argues.

"You want the dark secret? What are we going to do about educating these kids in public schools to put them in a position where they can read and they can count and they can write?" asks Langone. "We've got a real issue in America — we've gotta help these kids get qualified to take advantage of the opportunities."

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