Download The Podcast MP3

I save the dumbest questions for last.

“There are no dumb questions,” Steve Schwarzman said. He’s chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Blackstone, the largest private equity firm on the planet. They have half a trillion dollars under assets.

But he was wrong.

“This one’s dumb,” I said. 

Then I asked, “Why can’t a private equity firm of your size buy a country?”

If Trump can bid. Can’t he?

“That would be a very inspired, out-of-the-box kind of idea,” he said.

(That’s a polite way to say “crazy.”) 

Then he said, “I haven’t lived long enough to see a country sell it itself.”

But he has lived through a lot. He’s advised presidents through financial crises, been offered countless opportunities including the chairmanship of the Kennedy Center (he said yes) and the head of a major securities firms at age 34 (he said no). 

He’s established scholarship funds with millions of dollars. And funds higher education. Now he has a book called “What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence.”

And if you read anything at all this year, I recommend this chapter: “25 Rules for Work and Life.” I’m pinning it to my wall.

I’ll give you two of his rules:

  • No. 3: Write to people who you can learn from and try to meet them.
  • No. 25: “Everyone has dreams. Do what you can to help others achieve theirs.”

I asked him about these in the podcast.

Because it’s easy to say why you can’t follow this rule or that rule. 

It’s not easy to do “what it takes.” Like the title says. But I guess that’s also why Steve calls it a pursuit. 



  • How diversifying my income with side gigs changed my life. And could change yours – [0:00]
  • Episode preview – [0:59]
  • I welcome Steve Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the biggest managers of money on the planet. Blackstone has $545 billion under asset. – [3:02]
  • Steve explains what Blackstone’s private equity arm does. And how they decide whether to buy a company – [4:52]
  • The needs of a growing company – [6:26]
  • Why Steve’s style of investing survived financial crisis – [7:57]
  • How Blackstone “shock tests” every company they buy. And why this helps them make double the money other  companies make in the stock market – [8:45]
  • How Steve finds new businesses to invest in – [10:48]
  • In Steve’s new book,“What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence” highly recommend Steve’s chapter “25 Rules for Work and Life.” If you read anything read this chapter. – [11:54]
  • The difference between a private fund and a mutual fund. – [12:19]
  • How Blackstone improves companies they buy – [13:39]
  • How perception impacts business – [16:40]
  • How Blackstone reduces risk, expands the companies they invest in, increases value and enhances returns – [18:29]
  • Blackstone’s average rate of return after fees is 17% – [20:45]
  • Steve’s behind-the-scenes involvement  in creating public policy during the financial crisis – [21:11]
  • When Steve started Blackstone, he was 38. He was one of the highest-ranking managers at Lehman Brothers. So he was already wealthy. I ask him, “What drove you to say, ‘Ah, I could do whatever I want for the rest of my life, but I think I’m going to work 100 hours a week instead’?” – [21:50]
  • The enjoyment of doing what you love. “I don’t regard it as work,” Steve says. “I regard it as an adventure. The memos I get on situations at work, I don’t look at them as work. I look at them as short stories. And I get to play a part in the story. I can help write the story.” – [25:06]
  • The brutality of getting started – [27:06]
  • I ask Steve if he ever felt like giving up in the beginning – [28:30]
  • How to get through “the wall of pain” – [29:52]
  • I ask Steve about the importance of self-forgiveness in developing tenacity. He says, “I look it at as learning. So if you do something that didn’t work out, retrospectively, that’s a great moment. Because we don’t learn from our successes. We just continue to do them. But when you really mess something up, most people try to pretend it didn’t happen. Or forget about it. I never forget about it. And the reason is, there are lessons to be learned.”  – [31:08]
  • Why Steve believes life is more fun when you get older – [32:45]
  • I ask Steve, “When should someone give up on a dream or a business or a project?” – [35:37]
  • Advice from Steve on finding your dream – [36:12]
  • Steve gives an example of how he found a new dream during the 1992 recession. And how Blackstone became the largest owner of real estate in the world – [37:47]
  • How experimentation leads to new dreams – [42:14]
  • The huge mistake the government made in regulating banks during the financial crisis – [43:12]
  • Go to the place least crowded. I ask Steve, “How do you get good at this?” – [46:58]
  • “It’s always good to be doing something with someone you know who knows something.” – Steve Schwarzman – [48:08]
  • Rule No. 3 of Steve’s “25 Rules for Work and Life”: Write to people who you can learn from and try to meet them. But that’s not easy. Because people are busy. So I ask Steve, “How does the average person get a mentor or virtual mentor or at least learn from someone who is fascinating to them?” – [48:50]
  • I ask Steve how important it is to offer value to people you want to learn from – [51:45]
  • “Everyone has a history. Everybody is on a journey. Even if you see them as static, they know they’ve been on a journey to get where they are.” – Steve Schwarzman – [53:00]
  • Rule No. 25: “Everyone has dreams. Do what you can to help others achieve theirs.” – [53:19]
  • The reward and joy you get from enabling someone to move forward in life – [53:48]
  • The catastrophic collapse that would’ve happened if the government didn’t do “the right things” at the time of the financial crisis. I ask, “What would’ve happened?” Steve paints the scary picture… no money in the ATMs or banks. The market would have collapsed. Unimaginable levels of unemployment. And you would’ve had to restart the economy. “It actually wouldn’t have been imaginable,” Steve says. – [56:27]
  • I ask if a financial crisis like that could happen again – [1:00:06]
  • Steve shares  “the most unwise set of laws [he’s] ever seen.” – [1:00:56]
  • Why saying the government “bailed out” the banks is a misnomer – [1:02:06]
  • Steve’s thoughts on regulating vs. deregulating banks nationally – [1:03:11]
  • Don’t try to win short-term negotiations. Do this instead… – [1:04:33]
  • How Steve handled being offered the chairmanship of the Kennedy Center – [1:05:12]
  • Don’t go for the easy yes. Instead, Steve says, “Have a vision.”  – [1:07:34]
  • Know when to say no – [1:08:16]
  • How to avoid stumbling around in the dark. Steve says, “I always like to say, ‘What’s the best this can be? What’s it going to look like?’ If you just start out stumbling around in the dark, it’s really hard to find the bathroom.” – [1:10:19]
  • One of the concepts in Steve’s book is that when two people talk to each other, both sides assume the other is telling the truth. And everybody has a certain threshold. Where, at some point, trust goes down. And suspicion creeps in. On average, people have a high trust threshold. But Steve seems to have a much lower one. So I ask him about this. And how it’s helped him. – [1:10:52]
  • “Life is cyclical. Things are cyclical. And you have to know where you are.” – Steve Schwarzman – [1:12:51]
  • How to look at things in an unemotional context – [1:13:55]
  • Steve’s evaluation of the economy right now – [1:16:03]
  • My final question. I warn Steve… it’s dumb – [1:17:29]
  • I thank Steve Schwarzman for his time and recommend his book, “What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence” – [1:20:45]

Links & Resources