By Mike Spector
Real-estate guru Jonathan Gray heads Blackstone’s largest business, chairs the board of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., just became a billionaire on paper and is in line to one day run the world’s largest private-equity firm.
But he’s also notable for something he doesn’t have: an M.B.A.
The 43-year-old Gray, who heads Blackstone’s $79 billion real-estate group, doesn’t hold a master of business administration, the classic graduate degree in business peppered on the resumes of countless Wall Street executives all the way down to first-time employees in the financial-services industry.
He isn’t alone: Joseph Baratta, who runs Blackstone’s $66 billion private-equity group, also rose through the ranks at the firm with only an undergraduate degree. David Blitzer, who heads Blackstone’s “tactical opportunities” group, doesn’t hold an M.B.A. Like Mr. Gray, he did receive an undergraduate degree from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school, among the U.S.’s most prestigious business programs.
Mr. Gray joined Blackstone for a two-year analyst program in 1992, and executives later encouraged him to attend business school and then return to the firm. Mr. Gray, with the support of some colleagues, turned down the advice and joined Blackstone’s then-budding real estate group.
The senior-most executives at Blackstone all hold M.B.A.s. Stephen Schwarzman, the firm’s co-founder, chairman and chief executive, graduated from Harvard University’s business school, as did his main lieutenant, Blackstone President Hamilton “Tony” James. Blackstone’s finance chief, Laurence Tosi, also has an M.B.A.
At Blackstone, “all that matters is ability, and that comes in many forms,” said Peter Rose, a spokesman for the private-equity firm.
When it comes to the financial services industry, large Wall Street investment banks tend to hire two to four times as many undergraduates as applicants with M.B.A.s, said Scott Rostan, founder and chief executive of Training The Street Inc., a firm that teaches financial analysis to employees at banks and government agencies, among other places.
That approach sometimes carries over to private-equity firms, he said.
“It’s not unusual that some senior executives, especially at a unique firm like Blackstone, would not have M.B.A.s because [the firms are] extremely successful at promoting and developing from within,” Rostan said. Many private-equity firm hires come after a couple of years experience at an investment bank, he said.
A scan of founders and top executives at the large, publicly-traded private-equity firms that compete with Blackstone shows a mixture of people with and without M.B.A.s. But for the masters of the universe who founded their firms, the degrees are more common than not.
KKR’s Henry Kravis holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University. His cousin and co-founder, George Roberts, is a law-school graduate.
Apollo co-founders Leon Black and Joshua Harris graduated from Harvard’s business school. Marc Rowan, another Apollo founder, received an M.B.A. from Wharton.
Carlyle’s David Rubenstein graduated from University of Chicago’s law school. His two co-founders, William Conway and Daniel D’Aniello graduated from business schools at University of Chicago and Harvard, respectively.