David Rubenstein, Co-Founder of The Carlyle Group, on Lessons Learned, Jeff Bezos, Raising Billions of Dollars, Advising Presidents, and Sprinting to the End (#495)

Illustration via 99designs

“Honor your parents.”

— David Rubenstein

David M. Rubenstein (davidrubenstein.com) is co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm with $230 billion under management.

David is chairman of the boards of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, and a regent of the Smithsonian Institution.

David, an original signer of the Giving Pledge, has made transformative gifts for the restoration or repair of the Washington Monument, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, National Archives, National Zoo, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

David is host of The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations on Bloomberg TV and the author of The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians and How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers.

David is a graduate of Duke University and the University of Chicago Law School.

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#495: David Rubenstein, Co-Founder of The Carlyle Group, on Lessons Learned, Jeff Bezos, Raising Billions of Dollars, Advising Presidents, and Sprinting to the End


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Want to hear another episode with someone who’s spent time studying White House power dynamics? Listen to my conversation with biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, in which we discuss her firsthand accounts of working with LBJ, the greatest separator in leadership, how Abe Lincoln turned enemies into friends, how to have civil discourse in a politically polarized nation, underrated leaders, overcoming procrastination, and much more.

#335: The Life Lessons and Success Habits of Four Presidents — Doris Kearns Goodwin



  • Connect with David Rubenstein:



  • When he was in his teens, what did David aspire to be? [06:35]
  • Who was Ted Sorensen, and when did he enter the picture? [08:33]
  • Why do some of the best speechwriters in the history of politics seem to be extremely young, and how accurate is it to say that Ted Sorensen was JFK’s “intellectual blood bank” in his 30s? [10:26]
  • Viewing his career in law as a stepping stone into the world of politics, how did young David take criticisms that maybe he wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer? [12:45]
  • How did David end up as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Carter administration? What did his first month working at The White House look like, and how did he learn to fulfill the duties expected of him? [14:27]
  • In hindsight, what does David consider the best decisions he had made up to this point in his career? [19:40]
  • David considers speaking, reading, and writing well to be crucial basic skills for anyone with the ambition to make something of themselves. What would be his methodology for teaching these skills to a college freshman class? [21:56]
  • What’s David’s process for giving a compelling, action-packed speech without relying on notes? [23:01]
  • Why — and at what age — did David decide to become an entrepreneur, and how might his life have turned out differently if Jimmy Carter had been reelected for a second term? [28:32]
  • Deciding to go into business for himself, David started a buyout firm. What does a buyout firm do, and why was this such a booming business in the late ’70s and early ’80s? [32:35]
  • What are the potential risks of a private equity deal, and how does David mitigate them? [37:39]
  • How did David and his partners arrive at the innovations that drove the success of the Carlyle Group? [43:11]
  • Described as a virtuoso of private fundraising, did David begin Carlyle with a global, Fidelity-style approach in mind? Why did he embrace the role of company fundraiser when it was traditionally something the industry delegated to third parties? Furthermore, how did Carlyle leverage its association with DC insiders to achieve brand recognition (and in what ways did this backfire when these associations operated in the political realm)? [46:21]
  • When Carlyle was implicated in the court of public opinion as being a behind-the-scenes player in orchestrating the war in Iraq, how did it affect David? [49:33]
  • What are some of the most common mistakes David sees novice fundraisers make, and why is it so hard to learn the ropes without making these kinds of rookie mistakes? [50:52]
  • What’s the origin story of the Carlyle Group name? [54:33]
  • How much was David trying to drum up during Carlyle Group’s initial round of fundraising, and how did he secure it in spite of no longer being a White House insider? [56:17]
  • David says: “If you have a good track record, you can raise an infinite amount of money.” But what does a good track record look like, and how did David differentiate Carlyle from other firms in its fundraising efforts? [58:02]
  • How did Carlyle compensate the company’s fundraising staff in a way that would retain their services and incentivize them to excel? [1:00:37]
  • What lessons did David learn from Jeff Bezos after interviewing him for his book How to Lead, and what deal does he wish Carlyle had made with him early on? [1:01:46]
  • What lessons and impressions did David glean from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg? [1:05:45]
  • On the interview format as being a fairly modern innovation, why it’s a shame Johnny Carson couldn’t have interviewed Henry VIII or Alexander the Great, and the insights we might gain from listening to less-recognized voices. [1:07:51]
  • As someone who’s spent time among the world’s most powerful, David weighs in with his impressions of how power manifests itself in the halls of policy — and how it becomes more than just status, but a form of currency in certain circles. [1:10:37]
  • What books about power — its beneficent uses and malevolent abuses — does David recommend? [1:13:13]
  • Does David read fiction? As a voracious reader who aims to make it through a high volume of books each year, what’s the criteria for the ones that make it to his shelf? Does he ever give up on a book that doesn’t quite capture his interest, or will he soldier through it to the end? [1:16:40]
  • How does David think we can best address and correct the widespread problem of illiteracy — a major source of recidivism and income inequality? [1:21:20]
  • David’s advice to new parents who are financially successful but don’t want to raise kids who are complacent or entitled. [1:23:44]
  • At age 71, what fears, regrets, and hopes does David spend time thinking about? In what ways might we honor our parents if we still have time to do so? [1:27:16]
  • Must-do bucket list items. [1:32:24]
  • Called “Clark Kent in a suit and tie” on 60 Minutes, what acts of patriotic philanthropy make David proudest? [1:34:06]
  • What would David’s billboard say? [1:38:05]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:38:46]