A Billionaire's Bet: The Best & Brightest

7 leadership tips from billionaire and Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman

By Jackson Hudgins

If you weren't one of the 3.7% who made it into Schwarzman College during its first year, all is not lost. CNBC followed the class of overachieving Scholars from inauguration to graduation, and collected some of the advice billionaire and Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman gave out along the way.

Have a worthy fantasy

In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Schwarzman suggested the secret to success is to aim high:

"I'm a great believer in what I call having a worthy fantasy. If you're going to do something, it ought to be a great thing, because there are only so many things you can do with your life. And so I always choose to concentrate my efforts on things that I think could be really special and consequential. And then you put a 120% effort into those types of things."

Keep your integrity

After giving a speech on the opening day of their fall semester, Schwarzman took questions from his eponymous Scholars on a wide range of issues. He had this to say on the topic of integrity:

"Always keep your integrity. You know they say, 'It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, and one moment to ruin it.' It's even truer in the internet world… in the old days we'd say, 'it's middle class values.'

"Do the right thing. You don't need to consult a lawyer to do what's right. Everybody knows what's right.

"And don't go up to the line to look on the other side and see what it's like. Just stay near the middle… You don't have to do weird things. It's unnecessary. I've watched people blow themselves up and ruin their lives just by being clever when they shouldn't."

Cultivate influence

Schwarzman has the ear of some of the world's most important people. As he told CNBC:

"If you're not engaged with somebody and you don't have any influence or input to intelligent people, they'll go their own way. And if you're trying to find common ground, that's sort of almost silly to just completely withdraw and let things happen"

Speaking of his relationship with President Trump, he told his scholars in a letter: "I have always believed one's obligation is to work for the common good. To the extent you can help achieve this objective for other people, you have an obligation to do so even if there is a short-term cost. That's what being a leader is."

Slow it down

Schwarzman has made a career of making decisions under immense amounts of pressure. When a Scholar asked him how he's learned to cope, he had this to say:

"I [taught] myself how to breathe slower. How to slow things down. How to not answer somebody instantaneously.

"You can always move slower. The world will basically wait for you if you're deciding something consequential. And you can always say, 'I'd like to think about that a little bit.' So the only reason to feel panicked is if you're panicking yourself, and that's your fault. You don't have to do that .You can take your time, you can weigh things. It's very infrequently that the timing has to be instantaneous."

Try and be happy

Schwarzman is a workaholic, but that doesn't mean he's not having any fun. He reminded his Scholars to cultivate their passions:

"It's not just work life balance. You can be unbalanced, like me, and be very happy. Everybody finds their own balance in their life.

"Some people work enormously hard, some people write beautifully, some people travel incessantly, some people are in war zones, doing media reporting. There are all kinds of fascinating things.

But always find some happiness for yourself. You always have to make time for that, it's important."


Schwarzman got his first break after his Yale graduation when he was introduced to Bill Donaldson, who would later become chairman of the S.E.C. Though he only lasted 6 months at Donaldson's investment-banking firm, it was the beginning of a meteoric rise to the top of the financial world. As he told his scholars:

"What you learn in life is that, no matter how gifted you are… your success is not just dependent on yourself. Everybody gets what's called ... a break. It's a mentor, somebody who recognizes you. Who wants to move you ahead. Who wants to help you. And your obligation is to do the same for other people.

"It doesn't have to be mega stuff. I do mega things. I do stuff that changes things. But you can help just one person and their life will change, and you'll feel better for it."

Speak up

In 1978, then 29-year old Schwarzman advised Tropicana during a $488 million merger with Beatrice Foods, at the time the second largest deal of its kind. On the day it was announced, Schwarzman received an early morning phone call from prominent New York investment banker Felix Rohatyn.

Schwarzman tried to impress upon his scholars the same lessons Rohatyn had given to him:

"He said, 'Steve, congratulations. You've entered the world of the grownups. Here's your obligation: When you see something that isn't right, speak out. Write something. Don't be scared. No one will ever encourage you to write anything that takes on the conventional opinion when you know you're right and convention is going the wrong way. You must be brave. You must do that because you have the capability.'

"Now, I'm not 29 anymore. And I haven't forgotten that."