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After years of financial success, founder of the Blackstone Group Stephen Schwarzman ’69 published  What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence  — a New York Times bestseller chronicling the business mogul’s life and tips. 

The book tracks Schwarzman’s life from a humble background working in his father’s linen shop to co-founding the multibillion dollar investment firm decades later. Schwarzman explained to the News that the book offers glimpses into the moments which helped shape the private-equity firm into one of the world’s largest. 

“About ten years ago, I began to notice a shift as I was meeting with executives, investors, and others around the world,” Schwarzman wrote in an email to the News. “Instead of just wanting to know about Blackstone’s different businesses and offerings, they would ask me to share my thoughts on how they could better manage their firms, identify talent, or improve their decision making. These conversations ultimately led me to write the book, which I hoped would be useful to others.” 

Identifying this interest, Schwarzman began writing — and rewriting — his book, condensing years worth of successes in the business world into lessons that an average reader would find useful. In the book, Schwarzman also emphasizes the many failures he also experienced along the way.

He cites missteps in the book, which include early struggles to raise funds for his first meeting. He also recounts personal disappointments, such as a rejection from Harvard College, and he discusses his friendship with Donald Trump, which allowed him to serve as a trusted confidant in conversations about trade and the economy. He also touches on his philanthropic pursuits.

“I read the book with pride when it was published last year and enjoyed learning about some of the moments that shaped the firm into what it is today,” Wesley LePatner ’03, a senior managing director in Blackstone’s real estate group, wrote in an email to the News. “The book does an excellent job capturing Blackstone and our culture, including the rigor we put into decisions on behalf of our investors [and] the entrepreneurial approach we have maintained even as the firm has grown.”

The Blackstone culture, LePatner explained, is very similar to that of Yale: Both places are brimming with smart, driven and collaborative people who are passionate about their work. She credited Blackstone’s success to Schwarzman’s leadership and work ethic, which LePatner said is “reflected in the DNA” of the firm. 

Schwarzmann said that even six months after the original publication, he continues to receive readers’ emails almost daily, adding that he especially appreciates the buyers who say that they gifted the book to their children — and, in some cases, their grandchildren. Although Schwarzman said he wrote the book for readers at various stages of their career, the work especially resonates with readers who are entering the workforce, he said.

In a review of Schwarzman’s work, philanthropist Ray Dalio described the businessman as a man who turns “dreams into realities.” Yet, when asked about systemic economic injustices and the current economic downturn and the undeniable strife it will bring on individuals, Schwarzman wrote to the News that the country must work to address economic inequality.

“This is certainly a challenging economic time, but perhaps some of the best ideas for products and services come at times of enormous economic dislocation,” Schwarzman responded in an email to the News. “The current crisis aside, the fact that a large portion of the United States lacks savings and simply is not earning enough needs to be addressed. I have spoken publicly about a significant increase in the minimum wage and numerous ideas to dramatically increase educational levels throughout society, including training in technology for students of all backgrounds.”

He added he hopes his book acts as a guide for how people can move forward from “times like this.”

Stephen Schwarzman co-founded The Blackstone Group with Peter Peterson in 1985.


Julia Brown |

Madison Hahamy |

Madison Hahamy is a junior from Chicago, Illinois majoring in English and in Human Rights. She previously wrote for the Yale Daily News and served as Senior Editor for The New Journal.
Julia Brown served as University Editor on the Managing Board of 2023. Previously, she covered the University's graduate and professional schools as a staff reporter. She graduated cum laude from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics & Mathematics.