The Real Deal New York

Inside Jon Gray’s ascent at Blackstone

“He’s that right combination of somebody you want your daughter to bring home when she’s going on dates, somebody you trust with your money, and somebody with steel balls.”
March 18, 2018 12:53PM

Jonathan Gray. (Credit from left: University of Miami)

Jonathan Gray is known for making big bets and being kind of a nice guy.

It’s a winning combination that his colleagues say is the reason as he’s now next in line to lead Blackstone Group after a recent promotion, according to Bloomberg.

As his former boss, Thomas Saylak, put it; Gray is that guy “you want your daughter to bring home when she’s going on dates, somebody you trust with your money, and somebody with steel balls.”

Or, as Jeff Blau, CEO of Related Companies who has known Gray for nearly 30 years, describes it, Gray is a charmer of those who might otherwise dismiss him.

“He has a disarming personality and comes across as calm,” Blau told Bloomberg. “He’s been able to, from a very young age, interact with older owners of businesses who could easily view him as some young whippersnapper they don’t want to deal with.”

Before being named president and COO of Blackstone, Gray headed up the firm’s real estate arm, which, as of last year, had $115 billion worth of assets under management and turned a $1.5 billion pre-tax profit — the highest by a long-shot of all the firm’s investment divisions, according to Bloomberg.

Gray’s success can be epitomized in two mega deals that were as risky as, ultimately, they were profitable: buying Sam Zell’s commercial portfolio, Equity Office Properties Trust, for $39 billion in 2007, and the Hilton chain for $26 billion. That Gray pulled it off is testament to his strategy: “He studies and understands macroeconomic trends,” Blau said to Bloomberg. “Through all that research, he comes to a position on a city, an industry, or an asset type, and bets big on that. It enables him to put out a huge amount of capital.”

Credited as leading innovator of real estate financing, Gray will be a key part of the private equity firm hitting CEO Stephen Schwarzman’s target of $800 billion assets under management within five years. [Bloomberg]Erin Hudson