Steve Schwarzman speaking at the 2019 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 19. 2019.

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone CEO and one of the world’s best investors, learned early in his career that everyone makes mistakes. His biggest one as an investor was “disastrous.”

Speaking Thursday at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor, Schwarzman told the story of the worst investment he ever made.

In the mid-1980s, Blackstone made its third-ever investment in Edgcomb Steel, a steel distribution company. Schwarzman said the person pitching Edgcomb as an idea told him: “‘I know this company. I’ve worked with them for years. They’ll give us an exclusive. Here’s the multiple.'”

Schwarzman liked the idea. However, one of Blackstone’s partners at the time warned him this was a bad investment. The partner told him after hearing what was going on that Edgcomb “was going to go bankrupt.”

“I said ‘Why is that?’ He said they look like they’re making money, ‘but it’s just inventory profits,” Schwarzman recounts. “Steel goes up; steel goes down. When it’s going up … they’ll do really well. That’s where we are now. When it goes down, it will all reverse and you won’t be able to pay your principal in interest and it will go broke.'”

“In my infinite wisdom as a 37-year old, full-of-himself but half-scared person, I went with the first guy,” Schwarzman said, noting that Blackstone lost all its equity in Edgcomb shortly after. “We had no process. It was our third investment,” he said. “It was horrible. It was disastrous.”

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One of Blackstone’s clients then summoned Schwarzman and berated the now famous investor. “I was about to cry.” After that, “I said: ‘This will never happen again.'”

In hindsight, that dreadful experience served as a turning point for Blackstone and Schwarzman. Blackstone is now one of biggest private-equity investors in the world. The company manages more than $470 billion.



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