Pete Peterson is senior chairman of the Blackstone Group. He's the less ostentatious half of its founding duo (Steve Schwarzman being the other half) as well as the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The son of a dishwasher from Greece, Peterson received an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1951 and worked in advertising before joining the consumer electronics company Bell & Howell in 1958, rising to the post of CEO. Peterson transitioned to politics in the early 1970s, joining Nixon's White House as an assistant to the president and serving as Secretary of Commerce for a year. Following Nixon's resignation, Peterson rejoined the corporate world, taking a senior post at Lehman Brothers in 1972. He helped revive the storied firm over the course of the 1970s, merging it with Kuhn, Loeb in 1977 and serving as chairman until he was ousted by Lehman co-chief Lew Glucksman in 1983. Two years later, Peterson teamed up with Steve Schwarzman, his youthful protégé; they formed Blackstone by putting in $200,000 each.
For years, Peterson was known as the public face of the firm, the financier and statesman who advised politicians and CEOs alike. Over his storied career he sat on the boards of nearly a dozen companies, including Sony, Federated Department Stores, Black & Decker, General Foods, and RCA. Now in his 80s, Peterson remains one of the most well-traveled senior statesmen on the political-business nexus, although he's largely retired from the firm he helped found. It's his brash, attention-seeking partner, Steve Schwarzman, who runs the mammoth private equity firm day to day and keeps it humming along. Not that Peterson is necessarily complaining. In June 2007, Schwarzman led Blackstone through an initial public offering that raised $4.13 billion for the firm and earned Peterson a $1.88 billion pay day.
Peterson is the 147th richest man in the U.S. according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion.
On the side
Since his days working under Nixon, Peterson has remained extraordinarily active in the public sector. He has served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and he remains chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he's held since 1985, when he took over from David Rockefeller. A member of countless commissions, panels, and study groups—the Institute for International Economics, Concord Coalition, National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Public Agenda Foundation, among others—Peterson is a lifelong Republican. But as a staunch fiscal conservative, he's also been a vocal critic of George Bush's economic policies, which he addressed in his 2004 book Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. Peterson is the author of a number of other policy-oriented books including Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America—and the World, which was published in 1999.
Peterson has been married to his second wife, Joan Ganz Cooney, since 1980. With his first wife, Sally, he has five children: four sons and a daughter, Holly Peterson, the socialite-cum-author who wrote The Manny. Peterson and Cooney formerly inhabited the River House on Sutton Place. In 2007, Peterson paid $37.5 million for David Geffen's former duplex at 810 Fifth Avenue. He and Cooney also have homes in Water Mill and Vero Beach, Florida.
Pete's surname wasn't always Peterson. His father changed the name from Petropoulos when he arrived in the U.S. from Greece. "Petra" means stone in Greek and "Schwarz" means black in German, which is how Blackstone got its name.