Mar 19, 2015

Steve Schwarzman: What I’ve Learned

Blackstone’s Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder Steve Schwarzman recently visited his alma mater, Harvard Business School, to speak with a group of 60 HBS women and participate in an interview with Professor Josh Lerner as part of the 21st annual Venture Capital & Private Equity conference. Below, we’ve compiled some of the lessons that Steve shared during those conversations.

1. You must have integrity everywhere.

2. What you have to do is find those really important variables and nail them.

3. I decided that when we started our own firm, we should only hire nice people. That was it. Nice non-political people. If you can’t live with that, you can’t be here.

 4. At Blackstone, we have full training. We have a culture where everybody can ask questions so that you never have to reinvent the wheel. We try and make success easy. Life’s hard enough.


 5. You know, life is not meant to be boring. It doesn’t have to be a sentence of some type, and your work shouldn’t be that either.


 6. At work, look at the people who are further, deeper into whatever place you are, more senior. Ask yourself: Do I want to be them? Do I intuitively feel I fit here, or I’d like to fit here but this isn’t me so I’ll do it anyhow? Don’t do that. Your instincts as a person are terrific. Don’t get sold some bill of goods.


 7. Specializing in stuff you don’t like because somebody tells you that’s a good strategic thing… I don’t know, usually you end up not doing stuff well that you don’t like.


 8. You always have to stay 15 to 20 percent ahead of a rapidly growing business, because you’ll grow right through it and you will lose control.


 9. You can never attract quality people if you’re suffocating them on individual things. On the other hand, if you allow people to just do what they want and they do the wrong thing and destroy capital, you destroy your business. That’s not a successful adventure.


 10. We have a process of forcing everyone, on every investment, every time, to speak up. Not to say, “Oh, this is really good.” I don’t care that it’s good. It’ll end up being good or it won’t happen. But where are the weaknesses?


 11. I have no interest in probability weighted outcomes. I believe every outcome you pursue has to be right.


 12. Finance is an apprentice business. It gets taught from generation to generation. You need to be trained. It’s not a waste of your time. It’s like going to medical school and skipping a few years: “Who cares about the kidneys?” You can’t do that. They don’t let you, and anyone who cares about you would not let you do it in finance either.


 13. Most entrepreneurs who’ve had major success have at some point or another faced a business disruption death experience. People who’ve lived through that have a lot in common.


 14. You don’t have to hire nasty pieces of work who just happen to be gifted. There are enough gifted people around.


 15. Have standards of excellence and don’t vary from them – if you don’t teach people that, they will default to other levels of performance. You must keep your standards high.


 16. If you can define the culture you want and there’s a great market opportunity, and you always anticipate problems but you can also anticipate victories, then you’ll have great careers, all of you, and lots of fun too.