It’s a milestone year for the Blackstone Group Inc. (NYSE: BX), which transitioned from a publicly-traded partnership to a corporation on July 1. Most recently, the New York firm announced on Sept. 11 the final close of its latest global real estate fund. With $20.5 billion of total capital commitments, Blackstone Real Estate Partners IX is the largest real estate fund ever raised. Mergers & Acquisitions spoke with Stephen A. Schwarzman, the firm’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, on the occasion of his new book, What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, published by Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, and released on Sept. 17. Schwarzman, who is speaking at the Economic Club of New York on Sept. 18, shared his perspective on the private equity model, its resilience during recessions and how the industry has evolved over three decades. Read the full story: "Complete control" is the beauty of private equity, says Blackstone's Stephen A. Schwarzman. Mergers & Acquisitions seeks nominations for the fifth edition of the Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A. The deadline is Oct. 14. To be considered, candidates must be women who are outstanding dealmakers both inside and outside of their firms. Evidence of influence in the broader M&A industry is essential. When nominating a candidate, please explain how she outperforms her colleagues at her firm and in the industry. Please provide examples of deals she has led, initiatives she has launched and other instances that show evidence of her influence in the middle market. An important guide to what we're looking for can be found in the dealmakers we've honored in previous years. See profiles of, and Q&As with, past honorees here. TO NOMINATE A CANDIDATE, CLICK HERE. DEAL NEWS Oak Hill Capital is buying a stake in wealth management firm Mercer Advisors from Genstar Capital and Lovell Minnick Partners. Genstar will remain involved with Mercer as a strategic partner. Mercer manages more $16.5 billion in assets across 44 offices. Advisors to Mercer include: Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), Moelis & Co. (NYSE: MC) and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. Advisors to Oak Hill include: UBS and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Gordon Pointe Acquisition Corp. (Nasdaq: GPAQ) is merging with Hall of Fame Village. The combined company is creating an entertainment-based destination around the pro football hall of fame in Canton, Ohio. Advisors to Gordon Pointe include: B. Riley FBR and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Advisors to HOFV are: Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. and Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. Centerbrige Partners has acquired a majority stake in GoHealth, a health insurance marketplace, from Norwest Equity Partners. William Blair advised GoHealth. Comvest Partners and Crystal Financial-backed-pawn store chain operator Smart Financial has acquired 19 pawn shops across Illinois, Iowa and Texas. The company now owns and operates 87 stores. Highview Capital-backed National Fire & Safety has acquired Elite EPS, a full-service fire sprinkler contractor. Westide Capital Group has bought Watermans Crossings Apartments, a 337-apartment community in Tampa, Florida. Thomas Cook Group Plc has filed for Chapter 15 court protection in the U.S. as part of a broader debt restructuring for the U.K. travel agent. The company’s Chapter 15 petition was filed in the Southern District of New York, court papers dated Sept. 16 show. Law firm Latham & Watkins is representing the company, according to the documents. Chapter 15 of U.S. bankruptcy law shields foreign companies from lawsuits by U.S. creditors while they reorganize in another country. The filing may also trigger the payout of default insurance on Thomas Cook debt. Read the full story by Bloomberg News: Thomas Cook files for U.S. bankruptcy protection. PEOPLE MOVES Jon Donnel was hired by financial services firm B. Riley Financial Inc. (Nasdaq: RILY) as a managing director where he is concentrating on business valuation, investment appraisal and financial planning for companies and lenders in the oil sector. Donnel was most recently with Weatherford International plc. Alan Jones has joined alternative asset management firm Intermediate Capital Group as a senior managing director. Previously with Morgan Stanley, Jones is responsible for building ICG's North American private equity business. Mateja Maher has joined law firm Sidley Austin as a partner. He was previously with Campbell Lutyens and focuses on private fundraising along with secondary transactions. Niki Mangos has been hired as chief technology officer at private markets asset management firm Hamilton Lane (Nasdaq: HLNE). Mangos was previously chief information officer at Brandywine Global Investment Management. David Misch has joined advisory firm Livingstone as a partner and head of sponsor coverage. Misch was previously with Wells Fargo Securities (NYSE: WFC). Nicole Rosciano has joined financial services company Hilco Global as vice president, chief human resources officer. She was most recently with IRI. FEATURED CONTENT Bank M&A has been soaring, creating the perfect backdrop for Piper Jaffray’s announced acquisition of Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP. “There has been a lot of consolidation in the bank space,” Piper Jaffray CEO Chad Abraham told Mergers & Acquisitions. “But there are still 5,000 banks, and we expect the pace of consolidation to continue.” Piper Jaffray is determined to be the market leader in all the industries it does business in. The Minneapolis-based boutique investment bank currently dominates some of the sectors it serves, especially healthcare. With the acquisition of New York-based Sandler the renamed firm Piper Sandler will instantly become a leading investment bank in financial services, a sector Piper has sought to expand in for several years. For analysis of the deal, see Counting on bank M&A: Why Piper Jaffray bought Sandler O'Neill. Activity and urgency characterize the current dealmaking environment, say investment bankers and other M&A advisors interviewed by Mergers & Acquisitions. After a record-breaking 2018, forecasts for 2019 remain bullish. Advisors point to a lot of cash that must be deployed by strategic buyers and private equity firms alike; a healthy U.S. economy; and low interest rates. Competition for high-quality targets has never been more intense, especially for technology providers, they report, which means sellers are commanding high prices. It all adds up to a sellers' market. Read the story: 8 M&A advisors urge closing deals now, while economy stays strong. The New York Yankees are in first place in the American League East division and have one of the best overall records in Major League Baseball. Alex Rodriguez is best known as the former Yankees star who hit 696 home runs over the course of his 22-year baseball career, but today he’s making a name for himself as an investor as the founder and CEO of A-Rod Corp. One recent example: While serving as a guest judge on CNBC’s Shark Tank, Rodriguez backed Ice Shaker, an insulated bottle maker founded by former National Football Leaguefullback Chris Gronkowski. Rodriguez talked about his life off the field at EisnerAmper’s 4th annual Alternative Investment Summit. Among the topics discussed: Rodriguez’ childhood as the son of a single mom; his investment thesis, which shares much with other middle-market investors; how he’s helping singer/dancer/actress Jennifer Lopez (to whom he became engaged in March) transition her business initiatives from licensing her brands to owning them; and how one day he just might buy a baseball team. Read the full story: A-Rod talks Ice Shaker, NRG eSports, J. Lo & maybe buying a baseball team. Looking for a glimpse of what’s to come in the private equity industry? Meet Mergers & Acquisitions' 2019 Rising Stars of Private Equity. As the PE industry undergoes a generational shift, and many firm founders retire, it’s well worth getting to know these emerging leaders, including Branford's Austin Collier, Sterling Partners' Shawn Domanic and Summit Partners' Sophia Popova. For profiles and video interviews, see Meet Mergers & Acquisitions' 2019 Rising Stars of Private Equity For Q&As, see 10 Rising Stars of Private Equity tell their tales. To celebrate deals, dealmakers and dealmaking firms, Mergers & Acquisitions produces three special reports every year: the M&A Mid-Market Awards; the Rising Stars of Private Equity; and the Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A. For more on the timeline and nomination process for each, see Special reports overview: M&A Mid-Market Awards, Rising Stars, Most Influential Women. EVENTS ACG Boston and ACG Connecticut are hosting the 5th Annual ACG New England Fall Conference at Gurney's Newport Resort & Marina in Newport, Rhode Island Sept. 17-18. Exponent Women is hosting a fall rooftop networking session at RSM in New York on Oct. 7. M&A East is taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia Oct. 22-23. Third Annual Women in Alternative Investments Career Forum is taking place at the New York Hilton on Nov. 8.