Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group LP, sold stationery as a Yale undergraduate, making enough money to buy a stereo, on which he played the Four Tops and the Beatles, he recalled the other night at a reception for the Oxford-Pershing Square Graduate Scholarships.
Remembering the anecdote, and aghast at the cost of tuition these days, I headed to the New York Philharmonic’s season-opening gala to ask what others did to make a dime in school.
“I was the Beta Sandwich Man,” said real-estate developer Richard LeFrak. He sold grinders, milk and brownies in the freshmen dorms at Amherst.
His wife, Karen LeFrak, recalled babysitting a professor’s children. On this night, she had grander babysitting duties, as chairman of the Philharmonic’s special-events committee, overseeing the comfort of 850 guests at a gala that raised $2.9 million.
Bobby Tudor, chairman and chief executive officer of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., and one of the gala’s co-chairmen, worked for the Ivory Coast Embassy in Washington one summer. The stint in diplomacy came in handy after college when he played professional basketball in Austria for two years.
Antonio Quintella, a managing director at Credit Suisse AG, a major sponsor of the Philharmonic, said he was a show jumper.
Daria Foster, managing partner at Lord, Abbett & Co., was a head resident in an all-girls dorm. “It defrayed college expenses and it taught me that I could manage people,” Foster said.
Kenneth Buckfire, CEO of Miller Buckfire & Co., said he produced jazz concerts at the University of Michigan. “We had Ella Fitzgerald, which made enough money that we could pay for less-known acts -- we had the Talking Heads in 1978.”
Wilbur Ross, founder of WL Ross & Co. and another Yale man, parked cars at the Monmouth Park Jockey Club in Oceanport, New Jersey.
“My parents contributed $500 to $600 a year, the rest was scholarship and what I earned,” said Bruce Kovner, chairman of Caxton Alternative Management LP, as he walked down the aisle to his seat in Avery Fisher Hall, where fellow Harvard alumnus Yo-Yo Ma was set to play.
“By the end I was working for the president of the university with an office in Harvard Yard,” Kovner said.
Bert Wells, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, taught freshman calculus at the California Institute of Technology. “It paid my tuition,” Wells said.
“I slung hamburgers once in a while,” said Peter May, president and founding partner of Trian Fund Management LP. It was fun money he used to go on dates.
Arriving at the post-concert dinner in a tent at Damrosch Park decorated with giant vases of orange orchids, Adrienne Arsht, chairman emeritus of TotalBank, said she had an internship at a florist, during which she learned how to dye chrysanthemums green.
In walked John Paulson, president of Paulson & Co. and Oscar Schafer, chairman of Rivulet Capital LLC, talking about the concert.
“It was the best “Bolero” I’ve ever heard,” Paulson said of the Ravel finale.
That number followed Osvaldo Golijov’s “Azul” for cello and orchestra, featuring Ma rocking out with a hyper-accordion player and a percussionist whose instruments included a bright-yellow sound hose that he twirled rapidly.
Schafer said he worked as a classical-music DJ at Harvard.
Paulson said he took time off from New York University to manufacture children’s clothing.
“I made samples, and I sold them to Bloomingdale’s, and they sold six dozen and ordered more,” Paulson said.
He called his company John John Importers. For boys he made shirts and pants, for girls, jumpers and dresses.
Gary Parr, deputy chairman of Lazard Ltd. and the chairman of the New York Philharmonic, said he worked in a factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, making crackers. The experience helped him pay tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught him that “I wanted to continue to get an education,” he said.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)