Peter Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group and former U.S. commerce secretary, died Tuesday at the age of 91.
Peterson co-founded Blackstone with Stephen Schwarzman in 1985 and turned it into a global private equity behemoth (today, the company is America’s largest private landlord).
“I always wanted to get into Wall Street and do what I am doing now — invest,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “I was experienced enough to realize that the real money was made on investments rather than in selling your body by the hour.”
Peterson retired from Blackstone in 2008, a year after the company’s $4 billion IPO that netted him $212.9 million.
“One could never ask for a better partner than Pete,” Schwarzman in a statement. “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. On behalf of the firm and its more than 2,000 employees, we extend our deepest condolences to the Peterson family.”
Born in Nebraska to poor, Greek immigrant parents, he started his career at advertising firm McCann-Erickson, before rising to CEO at camera maker Bell & Howell. In 1972 he became commerce secretary under President Richard Nixon, but was fired after a year. Nixon questioned the loyalties of a man who liked to hang out with journalists and Democrats.
He then became chairman of investment bank Lehman Brothers and helped guide it through a rough patch in the 1970s. After 11 years at the firm he left amid a power struggle with his co-chairman Lewis Glucksman and took Schwarzman, at the time a managing director at Lehman, with him.
In recent years he wrote several books on fiscal responsibility, including the 2004 bestseller “Running on Empty.” He has criticized Democrats for overspending and Republicans for excessively cutting taxes at the expense of future generations. “I remain a Republican,” he told Businessweek in 2004, “but the Republicans have become a far more theological, faith-directed party, not troubling with evidence.”
Peterson also made a sizeable donation to the Institute for International Economics, which now carries his name.