What the 38th Wealthiest American Did When Harvard Rejected Him

What the 38th Wealthiest American Did When Harvard Rejected Him

Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman.

Image credit: Stefan Wermuth | Reuters
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Long before he started rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Blackstone CEO and cofounder Stephen Schwarzman was an anxious teenager waiting to hear back from his first-choice college, Harvard University.

But the success that would often grace Schwarzman's life in later years failed him that day: He ended up on Harvard's waiting list.

So the young Schwarzman gave Harvard's dean of admissions at the time a call to let the university know it had made a mistake.

"I thought that they had made an error, or if they hadn't made an error, at least they weren't satisfying my objective," Schwarzman said during Bloomberg anchor Betty Liu's podcast, "Radiate."

Liu suggested that most people would have accepted the decision.

"Well, I'm not good with defeat, and if I have a vision of something I'd like to do, I like to pursue it," Schwarzman responded. "And if you don't achieve that objective, you find another way," Schwarzman continued. "And I guess the Chinese would say they know where they're going, they just don't know how they're going to get there. And so it's like something going down a stream and there's a rock, the water goes on either side ... You don't know which side you'll be going, but you know you will get downriver, right.

"And so I tend to look at things from an imagination point of view of how I would like something to work."

Schwarzman, now worth $11.6 billion, decided that he had a goal, or a "worthy fantasy," to go to Harvard, which was being blocked by an obstacle, the waiting list. He had to find a way around it.

"So it was quite natural for me to want to call them to try and figure out how could I just --" Schwarzman said, trailing off.

But instead of giving Schwarzman a definitive answer, the dean politely responded: "Thank you for the call. I don't normally talk with applicants and I'm sorry to tell you that no one will be getting off of the waiting list. It's not about you, it's just we've had so many acceptances that we won't be taking anyone."

So the person who is now the richest man in private equity went on to attend Yale University, to which he donated some $150 million in May. He did graduate from Harvard Business School in 1969.

Later in Schwarzman's life, he received a good-natured note from the Harvard admissions dean he had phoned, which said something along the lines of: "I think we made a mistake."

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