Thursday, March 05, 2015 at 12pm

Only Nice People Need Apply Says Harvard MBA

Interpersonal skills central to Harvard MBA's company culture

Stephen Schwarzman graduated with a Harvard MBA back in 1972, before going on to cofound private equity firm, Blackstone Group in 1985, via a stint as head of Lehman Brothers’ global mergers and acquisitions team.

Blackstone Group, together with its subsidiaries, now employs more than 700,000 people, according to a report in CNN Money.  So, it’s safe to say that Stephen Schwarzman ought to know a few things about recruitment. His words at a Wall Street Journal leadership event this week should therefore make interesting reading to those who decry the finance industry’s tendency towards ruthlessness above all else:

“To be hired at our place and work with us you have to be nice. I don't like people who are not nice,” the Harvard MBA alumnus said.

Stephen Schwarzman emphasizes value of interpersonal skills

What does he mean by ‘nice’? Well, it seems Stephen Schwarzman is keen to stress the value of interpersonal skills - ‘soft skills’ based on personal traits rather than technical knowledge (he’s not alone – the QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report consistently shows that employers place a high premium on such skills, and are not always satisfied with their hires in this regard.

“They can be very, very smart, but they are the kind of person you wouldn't want to spend time with or expose your people to. They may fit somewhere else, but they don't fit with us,” Blackstone Group’s CEO said in reference to the type of applicant who might be turned away for their perceived lack of interpersonal skills.

Of course, this comment also reinforces the point that organizations are loath to recruit people who might not fit within a company’s culture, especially if this culture is closely tied in to its success. 

 “To make a culture of very smart, fast-moving people you can't have political monkey business going on,” Schwarzman said at the event.

Record profits in 2014 for Blackstone Group

The Harvard MBA certainly speaks from the viewpoint of success – at the end of last month, Blackstone Group reported record profits for the second year running, with 2014’s figure of US$4.3 billion representing a 24% increase on that of 2013. Stephen Schwarzman himself took home US$656 million in dividends and pay, according to Bloomberg Business, while Jon Gray – head of Blackstone’s real estate operations – came away with US$205 million.

When asked about the value of an MBA at this week’s event, Schwarzman conceded that Gray – a graduate of the Wharton School at bachelor’s level – didn’t really need one because he had a ‘gift’. However, the Harvard MBA expressed his belief that the degree can stop young executives from hitting a wall a few years into their career.

Main tag

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).