From ‘whiz kid’ to president

Hamilton ‘Tony’ James, the newly appointed president of The Blackstone Group, helped build up DLJ’s influential merchant banking business.

Hamilton James, who today was announced as the successor to The Blackstone Group's president, Stephen Schwarzman, is one of the foremost architects of successful Wall Street franchises.

Over a Wall Street career that has spanned 29 years, James has risen from an investment banking associate fresh out of Harvard Business School to the top of three different firms:  Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Credit Suisse First Boston and now, The Blackstone Group.

Eighteen years ago, the Wall Street Journal profiled Hamilton “Tony” James as one of the brash young “whiz kids” that were, literally, taking over the takeover business. In between chartering Learjets at 5 am and wondering about the cramped confines of his five-bedroom East Side co-op, the then thirty-five-year-old head of DLJ’s M&A department was quickly making a name for himself in the New York financial world.

Beginning at DLJ in 1975, James quickly rose to head of the firm’s global M&A department before founding DLJ Merchant Banking in 1985. The buyout group soon became one of the most successful private equity shops on Wall Street and its first institutional fund, raised in 1992, closed on $1 billion.

James, who was also instrumental in building the investment bank’s strength in the junk bond and leveraged finance markets, became chairman of the firm’s entire banking group in 1995 and was elected to DLJ’s board of directors in 1996.

This run of success paid off handsomely when DLJ was sold to CSFB in 2000, a merger that James helped plan and execute. At the time, James’ stake in DLJ was worth approximately $100 million and he was reportedly offered a retention bonus valued at almost $40 million over three years.

James spent two years at CSFB as chairman of global investment banking and private equity before joining The Blackstone Group in November 2002 as vice chairman.

James, 53, was believed by insiders to be the heir apparent to the firm’s co-founders, Schwarzman and Peter Peterson, when he arrived at the prestigious New York firm. In today’s announcement, Schwarzmann, 57, will retain his position as chairman and chief executive officer, while Peterson, 78, will assume the newly created title of senior chairman.

In his tenure at Blackstone, James has worked on some of the firm’s largest acquisitions, including the €3.1 billion ($4.1 billion) public-to-private takeover of German chemical maker Celanese and the $4.3 billion buyout of water services company Ondeo Nalco. The Celanese deal has already proven fruitful as Blackstone recouped a $500 million dividend less than six months after its initial investment of $650 million.

Despite a career marked by big deals and power brokering, James was described by one colleague as amiable and unassuming. When he arrived at Blackstone, James reportedly replaced the traditional walls in the executive offices with glass panels. The purpose: to create a more congenial working environment.

The investment banker’s softer side also expresses itself in different ways, particularly in the number of charities and institutions to which he dedicates his time.  James is or has been a trustee of The Second Stage Theatre, The Brearley School, Trout Unlimited and Choate School and he is a former chairman of the