What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence

by: Stephen A. Schwarzman (0)


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.

The Quotes

Investors are always looking for great investments. The easier you make it for them, the better for everyone.

When people ask me how I succeed, my basic answer is always the same: I see a unique opportunity, and I go for it with everything I have. And I never give up.

“The best executives are made, not born. They absorb information, study their own experiences, learn from their mistakes, and evolve.”

The Reviews

Great to read about one of America's best financiers in a time where the economy looks bleak. This book advises others to take on a different perspective on entrepreneurship and I think reading about his life when he was younger was very inspirational.

Extremely valuable content for anyone that wants to succeed

Trying to be objective as possible here: It’s essentially a biography mixed in with tidbits of advice. For other financial readers, it reminds me of a mix between Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker (for the entertaining story) and Ray Dalio’s Principles (for the sage advice). Some complain that it’s not really a biography, that stories are non-chronological (which honestly it is, Steve just jumps from one topic to another - Maybe talking about Blackstone in one paragraph to then talking about personal events in another, but they’re all generally chronological. Sometimes he does do flashbacks); Others say that it’s not really a hand guide of “What it Takes” and, therefore, the book is mislabeled.In my opinion, Schwarzman’s What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, is a good mix between a traditional biography, in-depth business stories that are engaging, and valuable pieces of advice here and there. Honestly, what else is it supposed to be? I haven’t heard Schwarzman is planning on writing another book, so this was the single piece of writing to capture all of his life. Simply put, I loved it. I started it over the Thanksgiving holiday and finished it that Sunday. I honestly had a difficult time putting it down.Some say Schwarzman is pompous throughout the writing, and I have to concur - to a certain degree. One has to remember that Steve grew up fairly humble in Philadelphia, helping his parents run their linens store as a kid before they were able to move to a better part of the city and, in-turn, send Steve to a better public high school in the district. Having done very well academically and attending States for Track, he would attend Yale since he was rejected by Harvard. That was 1965. Later on in the book, Steve references things that most people wont be able to experience in their life: Meeting heads of state, taking flights to places like Egypt for an important dinner, and quite literally creating his own University.While I can see the point of view as this coming off as pompous, if I had Steve’s life, I would have written the book the same exact way. Not many people get to experience such unique events, so it makes sense to document them. Besides, Schwarzman quite literally worked for it all himself. Who wouldn’t want to talk about their successes when they grew up poor and is now one of the wealthiest people alive?If you’re looking for a great business book that’s engaging, easy to read, filled with good advice, and reaffirms that the American Dream is alive, then Steve Schwarzman’s What It Takes, is it.

If you are looking for a very readable book that will give you insights into how Steve Schwarzman built a half trillion dollar investment business, the China equivalent of the Rhodes scholarship, and became the confidant of US presidents, all starting from a middle class upbringing in Philadelphia, this is it. You will take away lessons that you can apply in your business or personal life. If you are looking for a detailed history of Blackstone and private equity, you will find some elements here, but this is not what this book is about really.In full disclosure, this review is written with a direct and personal perspective, as I have known Steve through work at Blackstone, informing how I think about the book. It is genuine – written in the same voice as Steve’s weekly talks at Blackstone’s Monday morning meetings, except the book describes many of the most interesting episodes in his life, rather than just the last seven days.Steve’s book captures what made Blackstone succeed. When I joined the firm, I was struck by how we were a market leader in private equity, real estate, hedge fund capital, and restructuring, even though the various businesses were separately run. What did they have in common that made them succeed? I learned over the years that it was Steve’s focus on hiring 9s and 10s, a culture of integrity and performance, and providing a meritocratic environment free of politics. “What it takes” covers all of these topics in detail - for example providing detailed advice on how to interview to find the best employees.The book is structured as a series of anecdotes. This makes the book a much easier read than a traditional biography would have been. In addition, each chapter has a lesson, in total it amounts to 25 rules for success, each of which is brought to life by a corresponding experience in Steve’s life. One of them is to go for very ambitious goals, not small ones. “Worthy fantasies”, as Steve calls them. Steve’s recent projects, including the MIT AI institute, Oxford’s new humanities center, or Schwarzman Scholars each are examples of the theme of setting extremely ambitious goals, and going for it with everything you have.I highly recommend “What it takes” to anyone curious about Steve’s life or interested in learning about the ideas and lessons that made him succeed.

As I always do, I got into this autobiography looking for those by-the-roadside gems of advice you can only glean from living through it.And I got plenty.Learning from the 35,000ft finance view, I greatly appreciate lessons in business interpersonal relationships and investment tips & tricks.I especially loved the deal making advice borne of decades of mega deal experience. Learning about identifying market cycles, when to get in on bottomed-out market cycles, how Blackstone evaluates each deal (a rigorous process I must say), among others.At the end of the book, there’s a list of 25 lessons for business & life. If you don’t read anything else in this book, hit that list. It literally summarizes the most pivotal parts of the book.If you’re looking for a fireside chat w/ a brilliant mind, keen to learn about an entrepreneur’s life & worldview, pick this up.Be ready to bear w/ a few chapters of philanthropic work, working w/ Trump & China that may bore some.

I liked this book.

Best boom

This faucet is nice and heavy. A lot nicer than I expected and matches the sink faucet I got perfectly

Pretty and sturdy

I love my little water faucet. It keeps me hydrated . I love it’s shape!

Beautiful product-works great withfrench country kitchen

Great quality product

Love love love my new faucets.

"call this-did that" type of book. Stephen is a good sportsman in his youth, hardworking, very proactive with good communication skills. Good for him. I personally have none of those qualities.I guess you can read 100 such books, and all they do is fulfill your curiosity and makings you seem as if you are getting wisdom that will make you a success.

Mr Schwarzman story is quite impressive and inspirational. I was impressed with his capacity to turn difficult situations into learning and growth opportunities and thrive. Being humble to learn and kind to others. He is an example to be followed.

Love it !

What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence
⭐ 4.6 💛 2810
hardcover: $2.12
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