Blackstone leaders ignore politics for a night to end cancer

stephenscharzman

Elizabeth Warren probably wouldn’t have felt welcome at Cipriani Wall Street Monday night.

Earlier in the day, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate went after Blackstone Group and other private equity firms, claiming they had “shamelessly” profited from the 2008 housing crisis. Blackstone countered that its purchases of mostly vacant and foreclosed houses had lifted up neighborhoods and created value for pension plans.

By evening, the investment firm’s top executives were tucking into sea bass to support a philanthropy of one of their own.

“It’s going to be a long race,” Blackstone Chief Executive Officer Steve Schwarzman said when asked about Warren on his way to sit next to Blackstone President Jon Gray’s mom.

Many guests acknowledged frustration over Warren, but weren’t going to let the 2020 race distract from the feel-good story of the night: here was a Blackstone executive, a billionaire at that, who with his wife created an initiative that is saving lives.

Jon and Mindy Gray founded the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania seven years ago to focus on the gene mutations that increase risk for breast, ovarian and other BRCA-related cancers. The Grays have given $55 million, and Blackstone colleagues have chipped in more, to fund research that has led to FDA-approved therapies prolonging life and pay for genetic counseling that has helped families navigate medical decisions.

“We’re just trying to give back and make a difference,” Jon Gray said as friends and co-workers mobbed him to say hello. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate and we hope to translate that good fortune and really advance the research. Personally, I like to focus on the positive, on the ability to effect change, and that’s what we’re doing tonight.”

The Grays are determined that everyone who carries the gene mutation has a chance to find that out and act on it. “Let’s make this the last generation with BRCA-related cancer,” Mindy Gray said.

The Grays also know that a benefit in New York needs to be fun and stand out from hundreds of others. One of their tricks is a jeans dress code, which gets both men and women into skinny denim. Well, most everyone: Schwarzman wore fancy business attire on top and baggy pale denim on the bottom. They may have even been acid-washed, and those rips may have even been intentional.

For a more cohesive and winning look -- sophisticated head to toe, that is -- there was Nina Garcia, the editor in chief of Elle magazine and a Project Runway judge, wearing a fitted denim suit by Derek Lam 10 Crosby. Having learned she has a BRCA mutation, Garcia wrote about it and is now helping the Basser Center get more Latino men and women to test for the mutation.

The event raised more than $8.5 million, with guests including Blackstone’s Giovanni Cutaia, Ron Bernstein and David Blitzer; David Roth, head of real estate investments at Ares Management; Paul Hilal of Mantle Ridge; and lawyers Jon Mechanic, Ken Rosh and Scott Kobak, whose daughter, a sophomore at FIT, wore jeans she made herself, with a quilted flourish on the lower leg.

The next day Blackstone again defended its role in the real estate market from Warren’s criticism.

Bloomberg News