Wall Street firms famously love to hire renowned CEOs, ex-presidents, retired generals and famous coaches to give inspirational talks to senior management and rank-and-file employees. As a philanthropist and the co-founder of The Carlyle Group—one of the world’s largest private equity firms with $221 billion in assets under management, David Rubenstein has attended his share of these events only to find some of the speakers “not the most scintillating.”
“I kind of came up with the idea; maybe I could make it a little livelier if I interviewed them. Just thinking I could add in some humor,” Rubenstein tells Forbes of the inspiration for his latest book How To Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers.
Based on dozens of interviews he has conducted with chief executives, politicians, thought leaders and industry trailblazers in the past five years, Rubenstein wants readers to see the full spectrum of assets and liabilities in leaders, including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Oprah, who inspired Rubenstein to be a better listener. “Hopefully, you’ll have better leadership out of all this,” he says, aiming to inspire younger generations to be leaders themselves.
“I’m getting up there in years and what is going to be one of the legacies I can leave to people and my children? Maybe I can have a couple of books,” says the private equity billionaire, who published his first collection of interviews, The American Story, last year. An insatiable reader who reads “six newspapers a day, at least a dozen weekly periodicals, and at least one book a week,” Rubenstein believes that a lifetime of curiosity is essential for a good leader.
For those hoping to fast-track their way to the top, there is no shortcut to becoming a leader, Rubenstein says. Reflecting on his 2017 interview with Nike cofounder Phil Knight, he writes that Knight’s original vision to start an athletic shoe company was hardly the only factor in his success. It was also Knight’s willingness “to put in the long hours—and to suffer the occasional failures and crises—to make this vision a reality, and in recent years to turn the operation over to experienced managers who could further build the company.”
In addition to the interviews, Rubenstein also lists twelve pillars for being a good leader: luck, desire to succeed, pursuit of uniqueness, hard work, focus, persistence, persuasion, humility, credit-sharing, ability to keep learning, integrity, and failure. (Rubenstein, who is worth $3.2 billion, admits that his biggest business mistake was selling Carlyle’s $80 million investment in Amazon shortly after its IPO in 1996. He says that stake would now be worth about $4 billion.).
Finances aside, 2020 has been a devastating year for billions around the world who have turned to leaders—in politics, business, sports, and entertainment—for clarity and hope. Rubenstein believes those who understand humility and rise to the occasion will be the ones remembered for their actions, such as late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Tony Fauci is in a league by himself,” Rubenstein says. “He’s been swatted down by lots of people, and some people criticize him for lots of reasons, but he’s stayed in the arena and he’s fought for what he believes are really, really good principles.”
Another leader who has had to step up in 2020 and was interviewed by Rubenstein last year is NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “Who would not be upset when people are getting shot in the back or are killed for no reason that seems apparent to anybody?” Rubenstein says of the league-wide strike following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “I think the world has recognized that you can’t ignore the protests of players just because they’re athletes. Now, everybody realizes it’s probably a mistake to do what [the NFL] did in terms of not letting [Colin Kaepernick] come play again.”
One name that didn’t make the cut for Rubenstein’s new collection is Donald Trump. “I did interview President Trump before he was the president at the Economic Club of Washington, and that’s where he told me he was going to run for president,” says Rubenstein who thought the interview was too dated to be included in the book. “I was surprised. I didn’t really believe he was going to do it. And I didn’t think he could pull it off. He did.”
Unlike Trump, the Washington, D.C-based Rubenstein doesn’t imagine himself in the political arena anytime soon. “I’m still a youngster by the standards for people running for president so maybe I’m a little bit too young to run right now,” the 71-year-old investor says. (Trump is 74 years old and Biden is 77.) “But to be very serious, I think there are a lot of people who are probably younger, and probably would do a better job than I would do.” Hopeful about the near future, he says the country will have a fresh start in 2021 following a Covid-19 vaccine and the elections.
Recalling a recent conversation he had with Shark Tank judge and billionaire Mark Cuban, Rubenstein says he expects people are going to create great companies post Covid-19—those who prioritize diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, and social impact as well as profits. “If you’re ever thinking of doing something entrepreneurial,” Rubenstein says, “do it sooner rather than later.”
This article was written by Deniz Cam for Forbes.com