Skip to main content

Steve Schwarzman And How He Got That Way

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Steve Schwarzman is an American, Philadelphia born – Philadelphia, that city of brotherly love – and goes at things as he has taught himself, free-style, and makes the record in his own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.
But you can, of course, disguise the presence of the help by making sure they aren’t wearing rubber shoes. And the sound of rubber shoes squeaking is one of the things that the head of the Blackstone Group won’t tolerate, according to an extensive profile of Schwarzman in today’s Wall Street Journal.
Schwarzman comes off sounding a bit like like a character from a Saul Bellow novel—in particular Augie March. His childhood was spent working in a store but he never took to the work. “I hated waiting on people,” Schwarzman says. The early days of Blackstone’s private equity business seem built on ideals that Augie would have appreciated, including the unwillingness to adopt the “corporate raider” tactic of launching unsolicited bids at public companies. Even now he clings to an idealism that might be at home in the headquarters of Google, who famously instruct employees “Do Not Be Evil.” He tells the Journal that “he would never go after a company just to thwart a rival firm, and that he isn’t a ‘marauding, low-class, low-brow inflictor of random damage.’”
He describes himself as a counter-punch expert, lacking a “first strike capability” but unwilling to back down when challenged. “I didn’t get to be successful by letting people hurt Blackstone or me,” he says.
But in other ways he’s more of a bizzaro Augie March. Where Augie clings to his idealism of love and is thoroughly middle class, Schwarzman seems to have early on embraced a life of Machiavellian ambition. Augie’s life unfolds as a series of chance encounters with the forces of a chaotic world, while Schwarzman’s unfolds according to various complex strategies of his own devising. At the end of Bellow’s novel, Augie announces that he knows what it means to be an American. But that was 1953. Schwarzman’s version of being an American is cut from a different era—the gilded age, the roaring twenties or possibly the second half of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
How Blackstone's Chief Became $7 Billion Man [Wall Street Journal]