Yes, that Steve Schwarzman. The billionaire co-founder of The Blackstone Group, whose lavish 60th birthday party at the Park Avenue Armory – where Patti LaBelle sang him Happy Birthday, and guests dined on stone crabs that cost more than First Round’s rent – proved to be no laughing matter for private equity’s critics.
Schwarzman was recently the main speaker at the 66th Alfred E Smith Memorial Dinner (‘Al’ to the uninitiated, was a three-time governor of New York who became the first Catholic to run for president, albeit entirely unsuccessfully, in 1928) – and he entertained the assembled throng with a rarely-glimpsed gift for light comedy.
He explained, for instance, how New York mayor Michael Bloomberg helped him impress his prospective (Catholic) mother-in-law by sending him two tickets to an audience with Pope John Paul II – proving that Bloomberg was “not just a great mayor, but a great wingman”.
He also picked out Bank of America CEO Bryan Moynihan, who was sitting near the stage. Moynihan’s brother Patrick, he informed the crowd, runs a Catholic boarding school in Haiti. “Their parents must be so proud to see two of their boys running under-funded non-profit organisations,” quipped Steve, to roars of approval from the audience (although perhaps not surprisingly, given how much money B of A has lent his company over the years, the Blackstone chief promptly apologised).
News International boss Rupert Murdoch was also among his targets: “I know Rupert is upset he can’t be here tonight, but after I read some of my jokes over the phone to my mother, Rupert called and told me I had some pretty good material.” Happily, his audience seemed to get the UK phone-hacking reference.
Schwarzman also had a nice line in self-deprecation. “I look around at this audience – hundreds of New York’s most influential people, dressed to the nines, all in one room – and I think to myself: is it my birthday again already?” And despite his success, he’s still a “regular down-to-earth guy”, he insisted; if there was a particular book he fancied, for example, he would “go to my local library, check out the book and leave my name… carved into marble at the entrance to the building”.
Who said buyout guys weren’t funny?