Exclusive Tony James Looks Beyond Blackstone, Would Consider Top Job In U.S. Government

Tony James arrives as a panel member for the breakout session at the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 (CGI) in New York, September 23, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Tony James, President of the Blackstone Group, arrives as a panel member for the breakout session at the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 (CGI) in New York
Thomson Reuters
By Greg Roumeliotis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Blackstone Group LP's No. 2 executive Tony James is considering taking a role outside the world's largest alternative asset manager, including seeking a top job in a future U.S. government, according to people familiar with his thinking.

James, 63, has not disclosed when or whether he will step down from being president and chief operating officer at the firm. The sources stressed that senior Blackstone executives see him as fully committed to his current role and do not expect his resignation in the coming months.

Yet James has been quietly preparing the ground to step down at some point, grooming leaders at each of Blackstone's major divisions as possible successors, the sources said. The move would be the biggest change in Blackstone's leadership since co-founder and Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman, 67, hired James in 2002.

Reuters has learned that James was offered the job of commerce secretary when President Barack Obama reshuffled his cabinet two years ago. He turned down the previously undisclosed offer because he wanted the post of Treasury secretary or national economic adviser, one of the sources who was briefed about the offer said. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Democrat, James wants to become more involved in U.S. politics and he is a backer of Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to seek to be elected U.S. President in 2016, though she has yet to declare whether she will run.

However, James sees his chances of a cabinet position in any Clinton administration as slim because he has not cultivated his ties with her as much as he did with Obama, the sources said. He has no plans to run for office himself, they added.

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A Clinton spokesman offered no immediate comment. A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment.

James' mulling of his next step sheds new light on succession planning at Blackstone, which has almost $300 billion in assets under management, spanning real estate, private equity, alternative credit and hedge fund investments.

As chief operating officer, James oversees the day-to-day running of the New York-based firm. His successor is expected to effectively run Blackstone and eventually succeed Schwarzman, who has already delegated many of the firm's operational decisions to James.

POSSIBLE SUCCESSORS

James' most likely successor is seen by Blackstone investment staff to be Jonathan Gray, the global head of Blackstone's real estate team. But the sources stressed head of private equity Joseph Baratta, head of credit investments Bennett Goodman, and head of tactical opportunities David Blitzer are also in contention. Blackstone declined to comment on their behalf.

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