David Rubenstein, the public face of Carlyle, who spends his free time and money on missions such as repairing the Washington Monument after an earthquake, rescuing the Magna Carta from the auction block for the National Archives and funding the panda research program at the National Zoo, is not counting down. He stands, owlish and impassive, in Nasdaq’s fishbowl studio, seeming slightly stricken by the clamor of a soundtrack that gallops like a techno version of “Chariots of Fire.”
The action is being beamed around the world, and a seven-story video screen on the front of the building splashes the proceedings onto the square outside. But Rubenstein and co-founders William Conway and Daniel D’Aniello stay beyond camera range. The last place Rubenstein wants to be is seven stories tall in Times Square at the moment the market certifies him, somewhat redundantly, as a billionaire.
Seven, six, five . . .
Egged on by bubbly Nasdaq producers wearing headsets, the voices counting down for the cameras belong to a half-dozen high school sophomores and executives connected with Junior Achievement, a favored charity of Carlyle’s. By shining the spotlight away from itself, it’s almost as if, at this culmination of Carlyle’s emergence from a past reputation of opaque, insider-power connections, the firm were attempting to go public as privately as possible.
Four, three, two, one . . .
The sound marks the symbolic start of trading and the symbolic opening of a new chapter for 25-year-old Carlyle — and for Rubenstein, 62, who has charted his own trajectory from obscurity to public man-for-all-causes. He has done it with a paradoxical combination of grand gestures grounded by the self-effacement and self-deprecation of someone who, in important respects, still feels compelled to work as hard as he can to amount to something.
To Rubenstein, there is always more to do — at Carlyle and away from Carlyle.
“I have always looked at things from the perspective of, how does this fit in the context of what am I doing on the face of the earth, and what am I doing to justify my presence here?” he says later. “Moneymaking was never anything to me. I was happy never making money; I just was happy doing things I liked. But I fell into the money thing. I now don’t feel guilty about it, but I am determined to give away the bulk of it and enjoy doing it.
“My biggest concern now is, I’m 62, and how many more years can I go at this pace?”
Rise of a bookish child
Nobody who knew him saw this coming — not former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke and the guys from the old Baltimore neighborhoods, not Jimmy Carter and his aides in the White House, not the Wall Street pooh-bahs who disdained ex-feds as salarymen with no business sense.