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Blackstone Co-Founder Peter Peterson Dies

The 91-year-old titan and billionaire led some of the most powerful institutions in U.S. finance.

  • By Leanna Orr

Peter G. Peterson, the legendary financier who reached the pinnacles of Wall Street and American commerce, reportedly died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91. 

The Council on Foreign Relations confirmed the death of its chairman emeritus, who had led the organization for 22 years. CFR president Richard Haass called Peterson "an extraordinary individual who left an enduring mark on the worlds of business, government, philanthropy, finance, and ideas," in a tweet Tuesday afternoon. 

Perhaps Peterson's greatest success — co-founding the Blackstone Group with Stephen Schwarzman in 1985 — rose out of the lowest point in his career. 

Peterson had returned to the private sector after a year as President Richard Nixon's commerce secretary, joining Lehman Brothers as vice chairman in 1973. 

He and the firm became locked in an internal battle, II reported: investment bankers versus traders, Peterson versus capital markets chief Lewis Glucksman. The two adversaries briefly shared leadership of Lehman as co-CEOs, but the power struggle continued. 

Ultimately, Glucksman outmaneuvered Peterson, forcing him out in September 1983 and taking sole possession of the chairman and CEO roles, according to a 2005 II profile by Justin Schack.

Two years later, Peterson and a younger former colleague, Schwarzman, founded their own mergers and acquisition advisory. Blackstone grew to become the world's largest alternative investment firm, managing $434 billion as of December 31, 2017. 

[II Deep Dive: Pete Peterson's Fiscal Summit: The World According to Bill Clinton]

Schwarzman led the firm day-to-day as CEO, which he continues to do, while Peterson served as chairman until retiring at the end of 2008. “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Pete Peterson," Schwarzman said in a statement to Institutional Investor. "One could never ask for a better partner than Pete. He was endlessly creative and unafraid of doing new things. He was a source of limitless wisdom and good judgment, and a true entrepreneur at heart. Pete led an incredible life, leaving a lasting mark on both Blackstone and the broader world."

During and after his career at Blackstone, Peterson branched out into public policy, taking a leadership role at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing books, and becoming a prominent voice against rising national debt in the U.S.

"Peterson is the paragon of a smooth corporate titan," Ken Auletta wrote in his 1986 bookGreed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of the House of Lehman. Even as he held top positions at enormously powerful firms, he had interests beyond the boardroom. 

At Lehman, "Peterson was Mr. Outside," according to Auletta. "Peterson accepted and enjoyed an ambassadorial role" and has an extensive social life outside of Lehman. "He enjoyed attending an art or theatre opening, an elaborate East Side dinner party." Nevertheless, the author said, "his ability to attract new business staggered even his detractors." 


Updated with comment from Stephen Schwarzman.

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