It was all the buzz in New York last week: A 60th birthday celebration even the Upper East Side elite had never seen before. A party so glitzy and grand, it led many to ponder why grown men spend so much time and money to mark their round-number birthdays.
Such was the case last week when Blackstone buyout boss Steve Schwarzman assembled a few hundred of his oh-so-closest friends at the not-so-cozy Park Avenue Armory to feast on canapés and lobster in honor of his three-score years on the planet. It was an ode to high finance and high-living, topped off with a special performance by Rod Stewart — Patti LaBelle even did the honor of singing "Happy Birthday.”
Think of it as it as a cross between a coronation and a bar mitzvah (albeit one with a Cardinal in attendance — New York's Cardinal Edward Egan was among the guests.) Also, remember the date. For if history is any guide, soirees of this sort tend to be end-of-an-era moments, if only in retrospect.
Remember the Manhattan's winter of '07: the Schwarzman-fest, which came after Blackstone's completion of the biggest leveraged buyout ever ($39 million dollars for Equity Office Properties), was a celebration of success — for Schwartzman is a dealmaker nonpareil at a time when private equity is all the rage. There was a time when such accomplishments and wealth accumulation might be hidden under a bushel, but now is obviously not such a time.
Surely, Mr. Schwarzman has earned the right to throw any party he wishes, but the over-the-top nature of the event calls to mind other ill-timed bashes that presaged some nasty financial hangovers.
The 50th birthday shindig for financier Saul Steinberg back in August 1989, is the gold standard against which other larger-than-life fetes will always be measured. Back then, society tongues wagged when guests encountered a party scene adorned with real life models posing as subjects of Steinberg's favorite Old Masters. Steinberg had the foresight to toast: "Honey, if this moment were a stock, I'd short it."
Indeed, the Steinberg bash marked the end of 1980s merger mania. It wasn't long before the deal making stopped, the country slipped into recession and the barbarians retreated from the gate.
Equally emblematic is the now infamous 40th birthday party former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski arranged on the island of Sardinia for his now-estranged wife Karen. Who will ever forget the ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David, or the concert by Margaritaville singer Jimmy Buffett. The date of that $2 million dollar extravaganza? June 11. 2001 — three months before 9/11, six months before the collapse of Enron.
Yes, as is evident now, Karen Kozlowski's Sardinian soiree foreshadowed her husband's epic fall — a fall of Shakespearean proportions. The party also punctuated the end of the era of CEO excess. Sure, most CEO's still take home a pretty penny, but its now the hedge fund honchos and the private equity partners that are moving up the Forbes 400 list.
Which brings us back to birthday boy Schwartzman. Right now, the private equity landscape he dominates is still going strong. His Blackstone Group did more than $100 billion in deals last year and hopes to raise another record-breaking new fund in 2007.
But there are also clouds on the horizon. With stock market averages hitting new highs nearly every day — the price advantage is shifting away from firms like Blackstone and back to the strategic corporate buyers. Already in 2007, private equity's share of the total mergers and acquisition pie has been on the decline.
Surely Schwarzman's Park Avenue party was a night to remember for the lucky few hundred who attended the event. Let's hope for the rest of us, we won't remember the evening for entirely different reasons.
Terry Keenan is anchor of Cashin’ In and is a FOX News Channel business correspondent. Tune in to Cashin' In on Saturdays at 11:30am and find out what you need to know to make your money grow and keep what you already have!