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If you like Stephen Schwarzman's story, you might also like:
Lawrence Ellison,
Ray Dalio,
Henry Kravis,
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and Sanford Weill

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Stephen Schwarzman
Stephen Schwarzman
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Stephen Schwarzman Interview (page: 2 / 4)

Chairman and CEO, The Blackstone Group

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  Stephen Schwarzman

Very few kids set their sights on being investment bankers when they grow up. So when you were about 10 or 12, what kind of kid were you, and what did you want to do?

Stephen Schwarzman: Wow. That's a great question. At 10 or 12, all I wanted to do was basically win any sport I played in, and that's what I liked to do then. Clearly, I evolved somewhat. I didn't even know what investment banking was, at that age, let alone even in college.

As a 10 or 12-year-old, did you think you might have a shot at a sports career? Were you good?

Stephen Schwarzman: I was pretty good for a kid. You're never sure how big you're going to grow and how strong you're going to be, but at that age I was big and strong and pretty well-coordinated, so that was what I enjoyed.

What about your family? Big expectations in any particular direction?

Stephen Schwarzman: I was the oldest child, and the expectation was to get everything right, and it was an interesting expectation, because it wasn't drummed into you. It was simply assumed. There wasn't much reinforcement for doing things in a 100-percent manner, but you were just assumed to do it. That was the standard. No one discussed it, nobody bought into it, it was just part of what was expected.

Were both of your parents part of this climate of expectation?

Stephen Schwarzman Interview Photo
Stephen Schwarzman: I think my mother was more the pusher, I guess. There's a classic Jewish mother syndrome, and I certainly had, at a minimum, an acceptable level of pushing, which was, I think, culturally normal, at least where I came from. I think my dad wasn't so much that way, but he's a very, very smart fellow, smarter than I am, still. With that as a role model, it was somewhat hard to sort of out-think him, because he'd usually have the right answer, and still does catch little imperfections in logic. So that was what the family scenario was. It was very much from a place where -- major metropolitan city, this happened to be Philadelphia, where it was, in the city -- a place where people, typically, in the late '50s, early '60s, would move out and go to the suburbs. It was, could you blast your way out of the city and get to the suburbs. It has nothing to do with the child. That's what the parents do, and my parents made that transition, which was a lucky thing for me.

Did your father's work have anything to do with the financial world at all? Was there anything around that was going to provide a model of that for you?

Stephen Schwarzman: Yes, it provided a unique model of something I did not want to do. He worked with his father in a retail business that sold curtains, linens, draperies, handkerchiefs. I started working there, in effect, at the age of five, which he did with his father, and I found it an absolutely horrible way to spend time. I didn't like waiting on customers, I didn't like folding merchandise. I didn't like dusty basements where you had to mark merchandise, and I decided that whatever I did in life, that would not be part of it.

Did you ever tell him that?

Stephen Schwarzman: Of course.

Did he take it in good stride?

Stephen Schwarzman: He's got a very amiable, wonderful disposition, and he heard that, and then I would end up back at the store the next year. So I think, during the time when I was a child, you more or less do what you're told, subject to one or two years of revolution where I decided I had had it. But I don't think that not going into that environment was heartbreaking for my dad. It was what he did.

Sometimes fathers want you to do anything but what they did, but it seems that he just had a sort of comfortable relationship with the issue.

Stephen Schwarzman: Yeah, absolutely. He worked with his dad, who was a very dominant personality, and my dad is not a dominant personality, so it would be out of character for him to be that way with me.

If you were interested in sports, you probably had coaches. Were they an influence on you growing up?

Stephen Schwarzman: I had some amazing teachers and coaches. I had a history teacher in the 11th grade in American history named Norman Schmitt who was wonderful. He just made American history burst forth, and I was entranced by it. I always liked to study and get good grades, but there were always kids smarter. I might be in the top -- oh, I don't know -- six percent of my class, but that meant there were five percent that were smarter, and indeed they were.

I also had an amazing track coach, ironically named Jack Armstrong, very much like an all-American boy, and indeed, he was. When we ran competitively, we were second in the country in the AAU junior championships. His teams -- as a testament to him, rather than any of the individuals like myself -- when I graduated from high school, until that time, he had been 107 and 2 as a record in dual meets, which meant that he went through many different generations of kids, and the kids always mysteriously ended up being enormously capable, which was a testament to him. He would have all kinds of wonderful ways of motivating people. We used to train in the winter as well as the summer. We trained outdoors in the freezing cold, ran sprints and middle distances on frozen parking lots, which is a real challenge as the wind's whipping and you're wondering if your legs are going to go out from under you. No matter how miserable you felt, he would be there smiling, and as you rounded the location where he was, he'd say, "You've got to make some deposits on training day to make some withdrawals on meet day," and he was very cheerful, because after a while, you were wondering why were you going through this level of agony. But the camaraderie on the team was fantastic. I was the only Caucasian in most of the races that I was ever in, because I ran sprints, so that made it sort of a whole cultural experience for me, which I really enjoyed.

I was also one of the student leader people. I was usually the president of my school, junior high school president, president of my high school. I was one of those -- what do you call them? -- student leader-type people.

Let's talk a little about your experience at Yale University. How did you pick Yale?

Stephen Schwarzman: I went to Yale because when I was interviewing at schools, I saw a kid walking down a street -- I can still see him right now -- wearing sort of tan chinos, Bass weejuns, which are a kind of shoe for us mid-lifesters when we were young, and a blue long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar and a corduroy sport coat, and I looked at that kid and I said, "I want to be that kid."

This role model is walking around the world somewhere and doesn't know that he changed your life.

Stephen Schwarzman: Right. Who knows? So I went to Yale, and I had a real good experience there.

What did you study at Yale? What was your major?

Stephen Schwarzman: Remember, this was the 1960s, when everything was touchy-feeling. I was in an interdisciplinary major -- which was a new thing then -- which was psychology, sociology, anthropology and biology, which is really sort of the study of the human being. Why do they think what they think? Why do they act the way they act? You studied from all four of those disciplines.

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This page last revised on Dec 22, 2007 13:28 EDT
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