According to David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, Alfred Nobel was reading the obituaries in 1988 when he came across his own. His brother Ludvig had died and the newspaper had gotten the name wrong. Seeing his own name in this obituary made Alfred realize that he had not done enough to give back to society. In response, he came up with the Nobel Prize.
“I always say to people, think about this, if your obituary was going to be published tomorrow, would you be happy with what’s in there?” asks Rubenstein. And, “if you had a chance to write your own obituary, what would you write about yourself? And if you have 10 more, or 15, or 20 more years to live, how would you want that obituary to be different than it is likely to be today?”
After a long and successful career in business and philanthropy, Rubenstein reflects on the meaning of success, both personally and as a business, what he looks for in hiring people who are destined to be leaders, and how we all should develop a plan to give back to our communities.
Rubenstein was one of the first business leaders to be a part of The Giving Pledge, a movement of philanthropists who commit to give most of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes.
Be intellectually curious and persuasive
To start, Rubenstein says he looks for specific attributes when hiring young professionals. First, a person must have reasonable intelligence. They do not have to be a genius but must be willing to work hard. Rubenstein stresses that leaders need to have the ability to persuade people, not only through good communication, but by example.
He looks for people who want to be leaders, who have a high degree of integrity and know how to share the credit.
He adds that it is important for people to be intellectually curious and like to exercise their brain. He says, “Thirty percent of the people in the United States who graduated from college never read another book for the rest of their life. And that’s because they just think that they got their degree; they don’t need to read again. If you keep learning more and learning more, you will have enough knowledge so that you can be very helpful, and you can succeed.”
Rubenstein sees a person’s business life in three parts: First you are getting your education and early training, while in the second part you are coming into your own as a professional. And the third part is when you receive the benefits of your work, such as financial, emotional or professional rewards as you near retirement or in post-retirement.
Rubenstein says that we should have a plan to know what to do with our success and give back to society in some way.
Giving back, what do with your success
For Rubenstein, one of his passions is educating Americans about the history and heritage of the United States, “both the good and the bad.” To that end, he purchased the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. He put them in places so people could see them and learn more about American history. He also has donated more than USD600 million to repair historical sites, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Mount Vernon and Monticello.
Rubenstein created a TV series called “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer to Peer Conversations,” where he talks with leaders of major American companies and focuses specifically on leadership traits and the path each person took to create their own success. He recently released a book called The American Story that profiles his conversations with historians about presidents and other prominent figures in American history.
The big problems of today
Rubenstein believes that the two biggest problems the world must face is climate change and income distribution so that wealth is better spread to people around the globe.
“We have 7 billion people on the face of the earth, and 1.5 to 2 billion people do not even have internet access, let alone other kinds of things,” says Rubenstein. “A lot of people are still living on a dollar or two a day.”
He adds that we also need to find ways so that all people can be treated equally and with dignity. “We have a long way to go and I don’t think all of these problems going to be solved during my lifetime, but hopefully, we’re beginning to make some progress.”
Better ways to measure business impact
Rubenstein predicts that companies need to and will soon find a way to better measure their impact on society. He thinks that impact investing, which seeks both a social and financial return, will continue to gain momentum. He mentions as proof the January 2020 announcement by Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, about the firm’s focus on climate change as a defining factor in determining a company’s long-term financial prospects.
While today’s businesses still measure success through well-known parameters, Rubenstein believes that companies will devise a numerical initiative to measure impact and that it will be coming soon. “I think in the next 10 or 15 years we’ll come up with a better way to measure impact so that there’s some effect ratio or some number which you can use just the way you do in other kinds of business areas.”
Watch the full interview with David Rubenstein here: