Private equity titan Steve Schwarzman, once crowned “The New King of Wall Street” by Fortune magazine, is a Northeasterner, both by birth and by occupation.
But he claims “actual emotional ties” to South Carolina.
Several, to be precise.
The Blackstone Group chairman and CEO got his first taste of the Palmetto State during a 1966 spring break trip with his college roommate, whose father was a professor in Columbia.
One of his brothers lives in downtown Charleston.
And Schwarzman attributes no small part of his success to the late Wall Street tycoon Dick Jenrette, a part-time South of Broad resident and longtime preservationist of historic homes in South Carolina and beyond.
"He had a huge impact on my life," Schwarzman said in a recent interview.
It all helps explain why the billionaire executive and philanthropist is returning to the state. He’ll be in the Holy City on Wednesday to talk about his new book, “What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence,” at a sold-out event organized by the Charleston Library Society.
Blackstone is largely viewed as the gold standard in the private equity world, making Schwarzman a go-to source for global heads of state seeking advice about economic and financial issues.
He left his job as head of mergers and acquisitions at Lehman Brothers to start the firm with ex-Lehman chief Pete Peterson in 1985. They kicked in $200,000 each. The new buyout shop struggled at first but would eventually find its footing. Now publicly traded, Blackstone manages a global portfolio of businesses and assets valued at more than $554 billion.
"What it Takes" recounts Schwarzman's rise from a middle-class Jewish upbringing in Philadelphia, where his family owned a linen shop, to the pinnacle of Wall Street over the past 50 years, interspersed with some pearls of wisdom he picked up along the way.
"I wrote the book for anybody who's working in any organization ... or thinking about starting an organization or students who are trying to figure what to do. The purpose ... besides being informative and amusing — people tell me it's inspirational — is to give advice about what they should be doing to be successful and how to do that," he said.
"It's written from the perspective of, 'I wish I knew those types of things when I was in a position other than the one I'm in now,'" he continued. "It's about trying to short-cut some of the really difficult situations we all find ourselves in: What we should be doing and how we should be doing it?"
Schwarzman landed his first Wall Street job in 1969 at Donaldson Lukin Jenrette, the New York investment bank that Jenrette had co-founded with some partners in the late 1950s. The newly minted Yale grad didn't stay long. He quit the next year to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School.
Schwarzman soon found himself in need of the same type of advice he's now dispensing in his book. He was bored by the repetitive coursework by the end of his first semester. A bitter Boston winter didn't help.
"I was quite unhappy there," he said.
Schwarzman reached out to Jenrette, using the technology of the time.
“There was no internet, no email. You either called somebody or wrote them a letter,” he said. "I wrote Dick ... and told him I was thinking about dropping out, and could I come back to DLJ and do something else."
Jenrette responded with a six-page, handwritten letter in "pretty small penmanship."
"It was really astonishing," Schwarzman said.
Jenrette shared that he, too, once contemplated leaving Harvard's MBA program when he was slogging through it in the 1950s.
"He said, 'I decided at the end of my thinking process not to do it. ... And it was a great decision, and you should do the same as I did. Don’t leave. Complete it.'"
Schwarzman heeded the advice. And he remains grateful to this day.
"Dick was determinate in what I decided to do," he said. "I stayed. Had I not done that, my life probably would not have worked out exactly as it did."
Schwarzman would go on to rely on Jenrette's counsel and business acumen for years to come.
"When we went public at Blackstone in 2007 he was the first person I called and asked if he would like to be on our board of directors. He accepted," he said.
It's no coincidence that Schwarzman's last public appearance in South Carolina in 2014 was to help honor his former boss, who died about 18 months ago at age 89. The Blackstone chief was the keynote speaker when Jenrette received the inaugural Founders Award from the Charleston Library Society for his preservation work.
That event was held in the same room off King Street where Schwarzman will be discussing "What It Takes" and its lessons on success this Thursday. Its a fair bet Dick Jenrette will be part of the conversation.