Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

What the 38th Wealthiest American Did When Harvard Rejected Him 'Well, I'm not good with defeat,' explains billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, who is now one of the richest men in private equity.

By Lucinda Shen

This story originally appeared on Business Insider

Stefan Wermuth | Reuters
Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman.

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."

Lucinda Shen

Writer

Lucinda Shen is a writer for Business Insider. She has written on topics including business, politics, education, arts and culture.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Growing a Business

Want to Expand Your Market Overseas? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Global Logistics in 2024

With rising geopolitical tensions and changing market conditions it can be hard for businesses to navigate supply chain logistics even in a post-pandemic world. Here are three tips from the CEO of an international customs brokerage.

Business News

Elvis Presley's Granddaughter Fights Graceland Foreclosure, Calls Paperwork 'Forgeries'

The 13.8-acre estate was scheduled to be sold in a public foreclosure auction on Thursday. Presley's granddaughter and heir, Riley Keough, is fighting to save Graceland in court.

Business News

Kickstarter Is Opening Up Its Platform to Creators and Making Big Changes to Its Model — Here's What's New

The company noted it is moving beyond traditional crowdfunding and making it easier for businesses to raise more money.

Business News

Target Is Lowering Prices on Thousands of Items — Here's Where You Can Expect to Save

The news was announced ahead of Target's Q1 2024 earnings call, expected to occur Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.