Billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman, the founder of $545 billion Blackstone Group (BX), holds degrees from Yale and Harvard Business School.
But if he were applying today, he doubts that his own firm — which boasts a highly selective acceptance rate of less than a percent — would hire him. Why not?
“Because my grades,” he told Yahoo Finance in an interview at his offices.
“I wasn't a summa cum laude or magna cum laude. I wasn't even a cum laude,” he joked. “So there are different modes of learning, and, you know, I'm not so bad at some of this stuff.”
Of course, that's not all Blackstone looks for when looking for “10s,” as he likes to call the ideal candidates.
"I think it's important that we look at different factors here at the firm," Schwarzman said. "The conservative way is, always hire the brightest person. I think it's important to be involved in student government of some type or a club or something where you demonstrate leadership.”
He also said that he gravitates toward applicants “who are athletes only because you can take pain. If you're a good athlete, you push yourself to a point where it's not pleasant.”
Schwarzman was a track star in high school and president of the student council. But at Yale, he quit the team — and found that he was unprepared academically.
Socially, though, he did well and was inducted into the secretive and prestigious club Skull and Bones.
After graduation, he accepted a job at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette in 1969. Within months, he was packing for training camp for the Army Reserves, then left for Harvard Business School.
He spent the next several years climbing the ranks at Lehman Brothers as a star mergers and acquisitions banker. He founded Blackstone in 1985 with Pete Peterson.
‘Feel how smart’ a candidate is
In his new memoir “What It Takes,” Schwarzman noted that a slim 0.6% of candidates are accepted to work at Blackstone.
He also takes the time to interview candidates and often pulls an interesting highlight from their résumé to discuss.
“I'm trying to feel how smart they are, how stable they are, how curious they are. And usually, you can do that by just looking into their eyes,” he stated. Schwarzman said he has a unique way of engaging with would-be Blackstone employees.
“Sometimes I'll walk in a room and talk about what I was just doing if it's exciting. And if they recoil with fear because it's a different situation, they probably won't be able to handle things that come at them in an unpredictable way,” he explained.
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.