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Private equity boss confesses to liking hires with 'high pain threshold'

But does it hurt?

Blackstone CEO and chairman Steve Schwarzman is currently out on a promotional tour for his  ‘What it Takes’ book, and when it comes to recruitment, he says likes people who can take pain and are mentally balanced.

The overriding message from the book is that Schwarzman remains an arch-capitalist, red in tooth and claw.   While some of his peers in financial services and private equity have ruminated about the future of free market economics and are trying to appear ‘woke’ in an attempt to attract Gen Z, Schwarzman’s book is a love letter to capital.

He’s also got little time for people who lack ambition or drive and claims he only hires ‘10s’ when it comes to talent.  He’s often said that he wouldn’t get a job at his own firm but there is one quality in particular he says he’s looking for if you want to work at Blackstone.

 “I tend to like people who are athletes only because you can take pain. If you’re a good athlete you push yourself to a point where it’s not pleasant,” he said in a interview with Yahoo Finance.

Schwarzman’s admiration of athletes led to him donating $2.5m to the USA Track & Field Foundation in support of ‘elite athletes’ in 2017.

There has long been a close link between sport and business, with CEOs always interested in learning how to gain an incremental edge.  And there has been a steady flow of talent from sport to the finance industry.  In particular, Goldman Sachs offers “athlete internships” and recently recruited Simon Gerrans, a former professional cyclist, to its foreign exchange trading desk in London.

Goldman recruits sportspeople for their resilience and teamwork and while there’s no evidence to suggest it’s better to have played in the NBA or to hold an MBA, those qualities are certainly needed to put up with the long hours and gruelling schedule that a career in finance demands.

But never mind working for banks, sports stars are increasingly becoming investors in both early-stage tech companies as well as participating in IPOs. Disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong invested in Uber’s public listing, while basketball star Carmelo Anthony, set up Melo7 Tech Partners six years ago, and this year exited from one of his investments when ride-sharing app Lyft IPO-ed.

Tennis superstar Serena Williams has been investing since 2014 and this year she launched Serena Ventures, which has invested in more than 30 companies, according to

Perhaps this explains Schwarzman’s charm-offensive towards athletes. If he can get them on the payroll, they won't compete against him for investments.

When it comes to his own recruitment style, Schwarzman likes to back his instincts, rather than using complex modelling.  “I’m trying to feel how smart they are, how stable they are how curious they are and usually I can do that by just looking into their eyes.”  That is not always the best way and can lead to snap judgements and prevent firms looking at other qualities. For example, Bernie Madoff was known for his ineffable charm and stiff handshake.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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AUTHORDavid Rothnie Insider Comment

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