Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone will discuss book, career and investment advice at bookstore appearance in Palm Beach.
Gifting a book started Wall Street titan and Palm Beacher Stephen Schwarzman’s career.
He was a recent college graduate living in New York with no full-time job — let alone a financial sector job — when Schwarzman witnessed a simple but to him profound scene: The picture of an ideal, happy family, husband, wife and two children, sitting on a lawn having a picnic.
The moment struck a deep chord, Schwarzman recently recalled. Though he had little money, he went to a bookstore and bought “Babar the Elephant,” a children’s book he remembered his father reading to him every night when he was young. He walked over to the family and gave them the book.
The astonished father told Schwarzman to visit his office on Monday, maybe he could help him find a job.
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“That was the first time I was ever in a skyscraper. That was the first time I ever had a suit,” Schwarzman said. One of the introductions led to a job offer.
“You know, it changed my life. It was pretty much just happenstance,” he said. “It turns out, I’m not so bad at this stuff.”
Some 50 years later, Schwarzman, 72, is the billionaire chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the world, managing $500 billion of investments, and he serves as a regular adviser to U.S. presidents and world leaders.
On Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m., Schwarzman is scheduled to tell that one, and other stories and insights, during an appearance at The Palm Beach Bookstore. He will be signing copies of his new book, “What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence.”
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Bookstores still matter to Schwarzman, who helped save The Palm Beach Bookstore when overdue roadwork on Royal Poinciana some 20 years ago was threatening its livelihood.
“All of the stores along here were really upset, because it was going to go into our season,” said Candice Cohen, who has run the bookstore for 30 years. “I went to the town council and I spoke to them and I asked for help.”
Schwarzman happened to be there, too. He went home and the next day mailed Cohen a check for $5,000.
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“I have never met him. He shopped in my store and loved it. It was an amazing gesture. Very, very kind,” said Cohen, who used the money toward her rent and promptly mailed Schwarzman a thank you letter, inviting him to introduce himself next time he was in the bookstore.
“He’s so low-key, he hasn’t,” she said.
When Cohen ordered Schwarzman’s book for her store some months ago, she requested a book signing from the publicist.
“They said, ‘We know about you. He’s already said that he wants to have a book signing with you,’” she recalled. She will get a chance to finally thank him in person Thursday.
“So, I’m really looking forward to this book signing,” Cohen exclaimed.
Schwarzman is measured in his answers, especially on financial questions. Asked where Blackstone is investing that others are not, Schwarzman cited warehouses, which now total more than 1 billion square ft., retail investments with 10 percent returns and Stage 3 drug investments handpicked by his team of PhD’s.
Blackstone is now the largest holder of warehouses in the world, where it collects rents nearly double any other asset class in real estate, he said.
The simple, but meticulously researched decisions speaks to one of the 25 rules outlined in his book — rule number 19 is “Don’t lose money!!!”
“I don’t encourage risk, I encourage success,” he said when asked if that rule contradicted rule number 13 — Be bold.
“You have to see it to understand that it literally can’t go wrong and then you commit enormous resources, both financial resources and human resources to accomplish that,” he said of his organizational strategy.
Schwarzman is measured in his answers, and for the financial questions. In addition to warehouses, which now total more than 1 billion square feet, he listed retail investments with 10 percent returns and Stage 3 drug investments handpicked by his team of PhD’s.
“I’m giving you three examples, I can go on,” he said. “We always find something interesting pretty much other people aren’t doing.”
Buying while others are afraid is one key strategy, he explained. Another is waiting for the right moment.
“We just wait — like in basketball — for the open shot,” he said. “If you just wait until you see one of these types of opportunities, it’s actually not hard to be successful.”
And how did the billionaire philanthropist enter the world of finance when he describes in his book a youthful disinterest in all things business related? One reason was just basic need, he acknowledged.
“I always liked earning money because I didn’t have any,” he said.
For Cohen, the world renowned investor has a knack for storytelling.
“I thought it was very, very well written. His voice comes through,” she said. “He may have missed his calling.”