Peter Peterson has some interesting stories to tell in his book The Education of an American Dreamer. Not the least of them is the tale in which our friend Pete cashes out his stake in the Wall Street giant BlackRock, to the tune of over 1 billion dollars. In a single wire transfer. That’s billion with a ‘b’.
But seriously, by the time you get to that part, it’s mostly a footnote. This man’s life took him on a fascinating path through high-rise positions in advertising, manufacturing, government, and Wall Street.
It’s always interesting to watch the steps unfold in a person’s story of success. So often, it can be defined by chance encounters, matters of luck, or just a few difficult decisions. In Pete’s case, there were certainly those moments. But I think there are a few underlying themes to his rise as a whole.
One, he was a great analyst. When he entered advertising, he broke apart the business, opened it up, studied it, quantified it. He didn’t study how other people were doing advertising, he studied advertising itself, and saw it in novel ways. He spotted trends and took action. In every role forward, he brought that skill.
Two, he talked about it. He gave a lot of speeches and presentations, and published a lot. He mostly did this out of interest. But it brought the attention of folks who shared his intellectual passions. In his early career, that audience turned out to have a lot of industry leading people who hired him into ever higher positions in corporate America.
Three, he maintained a lot of relationships. And a big contact list begets a bigger contact list. Many of those relationships came as a result of number two above. But rather than just keeping a big rolodex full of contacts that wont be contacted, he developed life long friendships and alliances with a lot of those chance encounters. This habit turned out to be one of his biggest professional assets.
Check out his book for all the details, told with a refreshing humility and self-deprecating humor you might not expect from a billionaire.