Schwarzman, Santa to Catholic-School Kids, Recalls Jimmy Lee

(Bloomberg) -- On Monday night, Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive, gathered several members of the firm’s management committee for dinner at Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental. Tony James, David Blitzer, Bennett Goodman and Joe Baratta and their wives filled one table, while Schwarzman and his wife sat one table over.

David Blitzer, Joe Baratta and Bennett Goodman

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

There were a few hundred others in the room, too, including Schwarzman’s brother Mark, for the Inner-City Scholarship Fund’s 40th annual benefit, where the Blackstone boss was honored with the James B. Lee Jr. Lifelink Award. The event raised about $2 million.

The Fund provides scholarships to inner-city New York Catholic schools, where about 70 percent of those enrolled are at or below the poverty line, according to Executive Director Susan George. The organization recently raised $125 million for an endowment ($40 million of it from the Schwarzmans) to increase the number of students on scholarships to 10,000 from 7,000.

Christine and Steve Schwarzman

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

At the lectern, a tuxedo-clad Schwarzman joked about the dress code being different for non-Catholics as most other men wore business suits. At least he matched the formality of his wife, Christine, who wore a red lace Escada gown and whom he credited for his introduction to the organization.

As for Christmas outfits: “I put on an elf hat, the one with the big pom-pom at the end," Schwarzman said in an interview, describing his “not full-on Santa" attire for a Blackstone holiday event where he gives out prizes like trips. “It’s a lovely, fun night and it’s terrific to get everyone together in the holiday spirit."

Dick Cashin and Tony James

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

David Blitzer, who sort of shares a name with a famous reindeer, confirmed the existence of Schwarzman-as-elf, and said it’s Baratta who dresses as Santa.

Like Santa, the Schwarzmans exchange letters with the kids they fund, including Yamilet Andrade, a junior at Cathedral High School who’s been writing to the couple since she was in fifth grade. She can most recently report that she’s enjoyed the billiards club and achieving first honors.

Schwarzman said they review the students’ report cards. “If they start slipping, we’ll write them a little note and say, ‘Hey, how are you feeling?’ Or, ‘Hey, that math score is down four points -- wake up!’"

Table decor

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Schwarzman also used his remarks to pay tribute to the legendary JPMorgan Chase & Co. dealmaker Jimmy Lee, the namesake of the award, who died last year.

Lee was head of syndication at Chemical Bank at a time when the JPMorgan predecessor firm “had hardly anything to syndicate," Schwarzman said. Blackstone became one of Lee’s big private-equity clients. “We did almost everything with him for about a 10-, 12-year period," Schwarzman said.

“This was a guy who could not understand the concept of losing," Schwarzman said. “He was like a great runner. He could go through the wall of pain that you needed."

Schwarzman also noted Lee’s loyalty.

“Jimmy has extended more credit than anyone else in the world," Schwarzman said. “But what was important wasn’t the immense amount of money, because usually if you know what you’re doing, somebody will give it to you. The thing about Jimmy is once he believed in you, he would stick with you through any storm."

Ted, Christie, Tony and Kaley de Nicola

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, helped present Russ Carson and Tony de Nicola with an award on behalf of their firm, Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. Sister Ann Veronica Bivona, the principal of St. Margaret Mary School in the South Bronx, delivered the invocation before the meal of tomato-dusted jumbo prawns, beef tenderloin, and desserts including apple torte and chocolate verrine.

Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP, is president of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund.

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