Blackstone CEO’s Leadership Lesson: Think Big and Never Give Up

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Stephen Schwarzman says people have been asking him for years how he built Blackstone Group into one of the world’s most successful investment firms. So he finally decided to write a book on how he did it. He calls it, quite simply, What It Takes.

“It takes enormous tenacity,” he tells me. “The ability to sustain failures. The ability to learn from failure. The ability to have a big dream.”

Certainly, Schwarzman and Pete Peterson, had a big dream when they co-founded Blackstone in 1985 as a new, boutique investment firm. They wanted to start big by raising $1 billion for their first private equity fund. Peterson had been U.S. Commerce Secretary under President Nixon and then the powerful Chairman of Lehman Brothers and Schwarzman was the firm’s brilliant, successful deal maker. But despite all their fame and vast network of Wall Street connections, they struggled to raise the funds. “The rejections were horrible and humbling,” Schwarzman recalls.

But they kept making sales calls. “Once you make that commitment, you have to see it through. It’s not always easy,”he explains. “But you never give up.”

Today Blackstone manages more than half a trillion dollars in assets. The New York firm has 500,000 employees and does business all over the world. And Schwarzman is a billionaire many times over.

Schwarzman got his start in business by folding handkerchiefs in his father’s drapery and linen business in Philadelphia. A good student and track star in high school, he went on to Yale University, Harvard Business School, and then Wall Street where at 31 years old, he became the youngest head of mergers and acquisitions at Lehman.

There were many hard lessons along the way, says Schwarzman, but he tries to inspire young people he mentors by sharing the ups and downs of his life experiences. “I think people should do things that they’re really comfortable doing and they love,” he says. “And then it’s not work any more. It’s fun. It’s play. And that’s the way you really find your place in the world.”

Watch the video above for more from my interview with Schwarzman.

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