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Blackstone’s ‘Studs’ to exit, ushering in a new era

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John Studzinski, an international dealmaker who became a fixture at Davos, a human-rights advocate and an advisor to the Vatican, is leaving Blackstone.

In an interview, Studzinski, 62, said he’s ready for “some new challenges” after 12 years at the New York-based firm, including the past three as vice chairman of investor relations and business development. His departure, at the end of the month, was announced to employees Thursday in a memo from CEO Stephen Schwarzman.

“John has made a significant mark across the firm globally,” Schwarzman wrote.

Studzinski made his reputation in London and on Wall Street — earning the nickname “Studs” — as an investment banker, initially with Morgan Stanley and later at HSBC. But Blackstone is not the same partner-owned firm that Studzinski joined in 2006 as head of its restructuring and merger-advisory unit.

A younger cadre of managers led by new President Jonathan Gray is moving up, and many veterans like Tom Hill, who built Blackstone’s hedge fund group, are moving on. The business Studzinski was hired to run was spun off three years ago.

“I certainly could have stayed,” said Studzinski, who as vice chairman focused on sovereign institutions and wealthy families. “It’s a bit like cutting back branches on a tree: You need to encourage new growth.”

A gifted networker, he counted Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi and activist investor Bill Ackman among his clients. At Studzinski’s annual dinner at the World Economic Forum, guests found themselves sharing fondue with Banco Santander Chairman Ana Botin one year and New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger the next.

“What I liked was he wasn’t tied to any one industry or to a point of view that would maximize banking fees but rather was interested in getting to the right solution for the company and in the truth,” Nooyi said in an interview. “He’s unusual.”

During the financial crisis, he tackled one of the most challenging assignments of the period — the restructuring of American International Group. He chose to stay at Blackstone after the 2015 spinoff of its advisory business and repurposed his dealmaking skills. He courted new sources of capital outside the U.S., forging ties with billionaire families, including the Rothschilds, the Swarovskis and the Olayans, as well as Japan Post Bank and the government of Norway.

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“I went from being a very focused M&A banker to someone who learned a lot about investing,” Studzinski said. “If you’re going to go to school, what better place than Blackstone.”

Today, he devotes much of his own money and time to combating human trafficking and modern slavery. He served on the board of Human Rights Watch for 15 years and is now vice-chair emeritus.

A devout Catholic, Studzinski has counseled the Vatican on transparency and other matters. In April, a choral work he commissioned was performed in the Sistine Chapel.

Studzinski said he’s too young to retire and is evaluating offers in finance. He insists he won’t return to investment banking or compete with Blackstone.

“No one is more willing to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice to help make things happen or resolve an issue,” Gray said in an email. “We are really going to miss him.”

Bloomberg News