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Friday, March 11, 2022

A Conversation on Leadership with Blackstone Group President Jonathan Gray

Dean Heather Gerken and Blackstone President & COO Jonathan Gray

Dean Heather Gerken and Blackstone President & COO Jonathan Gray.

The Chae Initiative in Private Sector Leadership hosted its first speaker event, “A Conversation on Leadership,” with Dean Heather K. Gerken and Jonathan Gray, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Blackstone Group on March 8.

Gerken began the conversation by asking Gray to share what leadership means to him. Gray described leadership as having a goal in mind and rallying a group to achieve it. He also talked about the importance of operating with integrity, showing humility, and not only getting buy-in from one’s team, but giving them the tools needed to reach the goal.

Over the course of the conversation, Gray spoke to the capacity-filled room about leadership, risk-taking, global challenges, and career opportunities in the investment world.

While discussing how he approaches crises, Gray reflected on events surrounding Blackstone taking Hilton Worldwide private — the largest investment in Blackstone history. Approximately 12 months after the deal, Gray said, the 2008 financial crisis occurred. Revenue was declining in Blackstone’s real estate and private equity business, newspapers were reporting about the financial loss, and the firm was facing legal challenges. It was during that time Gray began to use the phrase he concludes every “Blackstone TV” meeting with: “stay calm, stay positive, and never give up.”

Professor of Law John Morley ’06, the Faculty Director for the Chae Initiative, said the event “gave students a chance to reflect on the traits of character and strategic judgment that make for effective leadership.”

Gray also answered questions from students ranging from how to pursue investment careers to striking a balance between a private sector career and philanthropy.

In his final remarks, Gray told students to try to find balance in their lives as they develop their careers. He encouraged them to build a life and family where they have love and support and someone who will help them during dark moments.

“This was a rare opportunity to see and hear from a leader who talked openly about taking risks, and about tackling seemingly insurmountable global reckonings,” said Mary Herrington, Executive Director for the Chae Initiative. “I think students took away from the event not only that knowledge of the nuts and bolts of finance is important, but also that, equally, being a broad-minded thinker who values difference, diversity, world travel, well-rounded reading, and balance in life is also vitally important.”  

The Michael S. and Alexa B. Chae Initiative in Private Sector Leadership, a part of The Tsai Leadership Program at Yale Law School, provides focused educational and professional development to Yale Law School students who aspire to nontraditional careers and leadership roles in the private sector.