Who: Pete Peterson is the co-founder of the giant private equity firm the Blackstone Group. He's the less ostentatious half of its founding duo (Steve Schwarzman being the other half) as well as a philanthropist, author, and outspoken economic conservative.
Backstory: 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 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 payday.
Keeping score: 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 active in the public sector. He's served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and he was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations until 2007. (He's now chairman emeritus.) 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 who has spent three decades railing against the federal deficit. He addressed his political and economic opinions 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 also the author of a memoir entitled The Education of an American Dreamer, which was published in 2009.
In addition to talking endlessly about the dangers of a federal deficit, Peterson also devotes time to his charitable foundation. He established The Peter G. Peterson Foundation in 2008 with proceeds from Blackstone's IPO, starting the non-profit off with a $1 billion endowment.
Personal: 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 live in a Fifth Avenue duplex that they purchased from media mogul David Geffen in 2007 for $37.5 million. He and Cooney also have homes in Water Mill and Vero Beach, Florida.
For the record: Peter Carey ("PC") Peterson, the horrible high school student who appeared on the short-lived reality TV series NYC Prep, is his grandson.
True story: 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.
Full Name: Peter George Peterson
Date of Birth: 06/05/1926
Place of Birth: Kearney, Nebraska
Undergrad: Northwestern University
Graduate: University of Chicago
Residence(s): New York, NY; Water Mill, NY; Vero Beach, FL
Filed Under: Finance, Philanthropy, Moguls