What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence | Stephen A. Schwarzman
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From Blackstone chairman, CEO, and co-founder Stephen A. Schwarzman, a long-awaited book that uses impactful episodes from Schwarzman's life to show readers how to build, transform, and lead thriving organizations. Whether you are a student, entrepreneur, philanthropist, executive, or simply someone looking for ways to maximize your potential, the same lessons apply.
People know who Stephen Schwarzman is—at least they think they do. He’s the man who took $400,000 and co-founded Blackstone, the investment firm that manages over $500 billion (as of January 2019). He’s the CEO whose views are sought by heads of state. He’s the billionaire philanthropist who founded Schwarzman Scholars, this century’s version of the Rhodes Scholarship, in China. But behind these achievements is a man who has spent his life learning and reflecting on what it takes to achieve excellence, make an impact, and live a life of consequence.
Folding handkerchiefs in his father’s linen shop, Schwarzman dreamed of a larger life, filled with purpose and adventure. His grades and athleticism got him into Yale. After starting his career in finance with a short stint at a financial firm called DLJ, Schwarzman began working at Lehman Brothers where he ascended to run the mergers and acquisitions practice. He eventually partnered with his mentor and friend Pete Peterson to found Blackstone, vowing to create a new and different kind of financial institution.
Building Blackstone into the leading global financial institution it is today didn’t come easy. Schwarzman focused intensely on culture, hiring great talent, and establishing processes that allow the firm to systematically analyze and evaluate risk. Schwarzman’s simple mantra “don’t lose money” has helped Blackstone become a leading private equity and real estate investor, and manager of alternative assets for institutional investors globally. Both he and the firm are known for the rigor of their investment process, their innovative approach to deal making, the diversification of their business lines, and a conviction to be the best at everything they do.
Schwarzman is also an active philanthropist, having given away more than a billion dollars. In philanthropy, as in business, he is drawn to situations where his capital and energy can be applied to drive transformative solutions and change paradigms, notably in education. He uses the skills learned over a lifetime in finance to design, establish, and support impactful and innovative organizations and initiatives. His gifts have ranged from creating a new College of Computing at MIT for the study of artificial intelligence, to establishing a first-of-its-kind student and performing arts center at Yale, to enabling the renovation of the iconic New York Public Library, to founding the Schwarzman Scholars fellowship program at Tsinghua University in Beijing—the single largest philanthropic effort in China’s history from international donors.
Schwarzman’s story is an empowering, entertaining, and informative guide for anyone striving for greater personal impact. From deal making to investing, leadership to entrepreneurship, philanthropy to diplomacy, Schwarzman has lessons for how to think about ambition and scale, risk and opportunities, and how to achieve success through the relentless pursuit of excellence. Schwarzman not only offers readers a thoughtful reflection on all his own experiences, but in doing so provides a practical blueprint for success.
“What It Takes is a must-read book, filled with the experiences of one of the great business success stories of the last 30 years—Blackstone. In this book, Steve Schwarzman chronicles his and Blackstone’s journey to the top of global business. The book is filled with fresh insights and personal experiences that everyone—from students to CEOs—will relate to and learn from.” —Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric
“The real story of what it takes from a man who could turn dreams into realities.” —Ray Dalio, founder, Co-CIO and Co-Chairman of Bridgewater Associates
“What It Takes is a must-read, inspirational account of how Stephen A. Schwarzman built Blackstone into one of the world’s top global asset management companies and leveraged his resources, know-how, and vision to spearhead bold philanthropic programs and provide trusted advice to a generation of political leaders around the globe.” —Janet Yellen, Former Chair of the Federal Reserve
“A series of thoughtful reflections derived from the author’s extraordinary life, which has already left its mark on the worlds of finance, politics, and education and made each the better for it. In this brief and insightful volume, Schwarzman has identified several key qualities required for excellence in any field, including a tireless sense of curiosity, a tolerance for risk, and an eye for the humble detail.” —Henry A. Kissinger, Former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor
“Stephen Schwarzman has lived the American dream: a self-made icon in his field, turned philanthropist, who has long worked with creativity and vision to deepen relationships between individuals and countries. Steve shares the full measure of his personal journey with us in What It Takes - part memoir, part playbook for success in any field. Humble, candid, funny and real, Steve offers wisdom and the gift of much needed common sense chapter by chapter and experience by experience. A great read!” —John Kerry, Former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator for Massachusetts
“From his start as an entrepreneur working in his family’s linen store in 1950s Philadelphia, Steve Schwarzman has made towering contributions to finance, relations between the U.S. and China, and computing, including a seminal investment in AI research that will help establish the age of intelligence. Steve always takes the long view and then helps move us in the direction that will pay the greatest dividends. This book reveals how he has achieved the rarest kind of leverage in multiple fields.” —Eric Schmidt, Former CEO and Executive Chairman of Google
“Steve’s life lessons challenge me to think bigger and move even faster. His insights apply to both our work and personal lives, and his leadership has always embodied the principle of doing what is right, even when it is hard. Steve challenges us all to be better leaders, better citizens, better people.” —Mary Barra, Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors
"In his new book, Steve relives his vast and varied experience at the center of a (thick) slice of US and global financial history. In the process he sets out a number of timeless lessons for business and life. This story literally has what it takes: the anecdotes, the insights and, most of all, the values to guide the next generation of entrepreneurs." —Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England
"Steve Schwarzman, whom I consider a rare global business statesman, has a unique ability to connect with others and has developed a very strong network of global leaders and institutions to help advance big ideas. His business and philanthropic efforts will have long-lasting impact around the world. What It Takes tells the story of lessons he has learned at every stage of life which offers great advice for anyone from the C-suite to the classroom looking to leave their mark." —Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum
"Excellence is in short supply these days, but you’ll find it on every page of Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman’s autobiography, What It Takes. Anyone who is interested in Wall Street—at its best—will not be able to put this page turner down!" —James Patterson, #1 New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Stephen A. Schwarzman is Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment firms. Mr. Schwarzman is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education, culture, and the arts, among other areas. Mr. Schwarzman holds a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives in New York City with his wife and three dogs.