PETER, THE PROBLEM SOLVER

The Blackstone Group's senior chairman and co-founder, Peter Peterson, is apparently not content with having helped advance the stature of an industry now at the cutting-edge of finance. The former Secretary of Commerce and Assistant to the President for International Affairs under former President Richard Nixon has now set his sights on loftier goals: fixing US socioeconomic and policy issues that are “untouchable politically”.

Peterson has joined a handful of industry professionals to have launched eponymous charitable foundations, among them KKR's Henry Kravis, Warburg Pincus' Lionel Pincus, Lightyear Capital's Don Marron and Summit Partners' Roe Stamp.

But Peterson's pledge to fund his organisation with at least $1 billion over the next several years is a departure not only because of its size – Kravis' foundation is reportedly the biggest among private equity pros currently, with assets around $80 million – but its mission. It is not likely to back the usual charity suspects like museums, hospitals and universities.

Led by David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States for almost the last decade, Peterson's foundation says it is targeting economic challenges in the US including: unaffordable healthcare costs; the growth of federal entitlement programmes like social security; “unsustainable and gluttonous” energy consumption; an “uncompetitive” education system; trade and budget deficits coupled with low savings rates and increasing foreign debt; and “the threat to our collective future from the proliferation of nuclear warfare materials”.

“I have been around a very long time, and I have never seen so many simultaneous challenges that I would describe as undeniable, unsustainable and virtually untouchable politically,” said the 81-year old Peterson in a statement. “We've reached the make-or-break point in American history. These problems have reached tidal proportions and festered for more than two decades due to political irresponsibility – now is the time to put politics aside and put the country first, and begin to solve these problems with courage and clarity.”

Peterson had already founded a nonprofit, non-partisan international economic think tank, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, more than two decades ago.

But the Peterson Foundation intends not only to promote policy solutions but to raise public awareness to help solve what it characterises as “the most critical social, economic and environmental problems that threaten the nation's economy and imperil the American way of life for future generations”. It plans to use policy advocates, field educators and digital media to help engage youth and their parents, business leaders and media and is in the process of considering various grants.

It has already awarded a grant of an undisclosed size to the grandly named The Concord Coalition for the Fiscal Wake-up Tour, a group holding public forums around the country to highlight US fiscal challenges. And in partnership with Warren Buffett, it has also awarded a grant to Sam Nunn's Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit initiative led by former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn that works to reduce threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

QUOTABLE
“You have to buy when people are petrified. And you have to be right.” Oaktree Capital chairman Howard Marks talking about distressed investing at the Columbia Business School private equity and venture capital conference in February.

“They talk too fast, they're too slick.” Adams Street Partners CEO T Bondurant French in a Business Week interview, referring to the “New York hotshots” who can intimidate the “Middle America CEO”. He added that buyout firm Madison Dearborn, by contrast, was “just as sharp, and there is less arrogance”. Adams Street is a regular Madison Dearborn investor.

“The last few years we have been fully invested and that's been very good. The last four to five years have been a golden period for investment management. Everybody has been a genius.” Tony Tan, deputy chairman of Singapore's Government Investment Corporation (GIC), in an interview with the Financial Times. In anticipation that there would be fewer geniuses in the coming period, Tan said GIC took the decision in Q2 last year to “move towards a more conservative portfolio, liquidating part of our equity holdings and moving into cash which is something which we have not done for many years”.

“I don't think our LPs pay us to do social work.” Terra Firma's Guy Hands on keeping philanthropy separate from private equity, speaking at the Wharton private equity conference.