Steve Schwarzman seems strangely content—up to a point. A decade ago, the Blackstone co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer was astride Wall Street as the private equity poster boy, armed with record-setting deals, a momentarily blockbuster initial public offering, and a birthday party that people are still talking about.
The intervening 10 years brought turbulence to the financial industry, yet the associated regulatory and market reaction ultimately buoyed Blackstone’s, and Schwarzman’s, bottom line. Nonetheless, the company’s stock price has languished—a sore point for Schwarzman, even as Blackstone has outpaced all its competitors to become the unrivaled leader in alternative assets, the class of investments that includes private equity, hedge funds, credit, and real estate. Schwarzman himself has widened his focus to encompass large-scale philanthropy, and he counsels heads of state, most notably President Trump. Alongside the president in Saudi Arabia, Schwarzman—who chairs Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum—announced a $100 billion infrastructure effort, with $20 billion of equity coming from the Saudis.
During two wide-ranging conversations in his Park Avenue office in Manhattan, Schwarzman ruminated on presidential politics, Chinese dealmaking, that stubborn share price, and relaxing to Law & Order after working “two and a half full-time jobs.”
ASON KELLY You’ve counseled the last three presidents. What have you taken away from that experience?
STEVE SCHWARZMAN Well, it gives you new respect for how complex it is being president of the United States. It’s a really tough job: the differences in the political parties, the difficulties of passing legislation. And then there’s the variety of the job itself—from dealing with highly complex things to doing public events without much substance. And then there’s the fact that the world never stops, and we’re just in one time zone. Washington, D.C., puts enormous burdens on people who, at the end of the day, are just humans. They come with a title, with expectations, but they’re people—and it’s really hard, in a complex, international, instant-communication world that we live in now, to be the person at the center of the vortex.
JK How have your interactions with this president been different from those in the past?
SS I think that the current president is quite practical in terms of being willing to change his positions and is quite practical in terms of what’s effective, what can work. He’s very driven on execution and has some very strong ideas on regulatory reforms and changes in tax. I would say he’s extremely pro-growth, which gets described as pro-business, but it’s really pro-growth, pro-job creation. Every president has some type of ideology, and the current president is basically a capitalist who believes in efficiency. I think that’s what his ideology is. So whenever he sees something that is inconsistent with efficiency, he’ll abandon what he said before in order to get to execution. The previous government was different. They had a very strong ideology, which wasn’t necessarily as simple as capitalism.
What I’ve found in being around political people is they’re willing to negotiate their ideology somewhere around 5 percent. They believe that’s really stepping out. And it’s really hard to do business when you only move 5 percent from your ideology. So you have to take each of these people as who they are and work with them.
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