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“He has figured out how to have followers”: A top dealmaker on Trump’s leadership

August 31, 2020, 1:34 PM UTC

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David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of the private-equity shop Carlyle Group, has had an admittedly self-serving epiphany about successful leaders.

Many, like himself, surged in the second and third phases of life, the times focused on building up the skills of a career and then reaping the benefits. They were not the hot shots of the first phase: class presidents, captain of the football team, and so on.

“It may be a rationalization for my inability to be as successful in the first third of my life as I wanted to be,” he says. “Later, when I got more successful, I looked back at all these people who were so successful early on. None of them turned out to be so successful by conventional standards.”

Rubenstein’s new book, How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers, is out this week. It’s a compilation of some of the interviews he has done for the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and his Bloomberg TV show Peer to Peer. Rubenstein is an affable and purposely unthreatening interviewer, and the tidy chapters in his book are digestible distillations of his chats with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Condoleezza Rice, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others.

“The point of the book is really this,” he says. “How did they do it, and can you get any lessons from them? Particularly for young people. They are looking for heroes. Can you learn anything from them?” He has distilled the qualities that make great leaders into a baker’s dozen of attributes, including desire, a strong work ethic, ability to focus, persistence, having a humble demeanor, and integrity.

The current president of the United States shows up only in passing, and I ask Rubenstein to assess Donald Trump’s leadership. He says that he did interview Trump, though he didn’t include it in the book. “In the green room, he said, ‘Ask me anything you want, but ask me if I’m going to run for President.’ And I said, ‘Donald, president of what?’”

I expected Rubenstein, who worked as a young lawyer in the Carter administration, to rate Trump’s leadership poorly. Instead, he flashes diplomatic skills honed from a lifetime inside the Beltway, where he started Carlyle.

“I didn’t want to make the book about if you’re like Trump or you’re different from Trump,” he says. “I set out the qualities of leadership in the book, and he has some of them. To be a leader you have to have followers. He has figured out how to have followers.” 

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


The future is going to be weird. I don't know if one lived in a straw house, one in a stick house, and one in a brick house, but three little pigs were the star of Tesla CEO Elon Musk's Neuralink event on Friday. “In a lot of ways it’s like Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Musk said, as brain recordings from one of the pigs with the device implanted were displayed on a big screen. Fitbit sounds kind of basic for Elon, but fear not, the conversation quickly veered in sci-fi territory. “You can store your memories as a backup," Musk said. “You can potentially download them into a new body or a robot body.” Maybe that will help stop future Russian hackers trying to steal Tesla data?

Game over. As permitted by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Apple on Friday made it impossible for Epic Games to keep any of its own games in the iPhone app store, including Fortnite, though it did not cut off Epic's Unreal Engine, the software underpinnings of many other publishers' games. Wonder if that will have any dampening effect on the active blackmarket for stolen Fortnite accounts?

The eyes in his head see the world spinning 'round. Another difficult apology from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week. The social network failed to take down posts from "Kenosha Guard," the self-proclaimed militia group calling for armed patrols, until after an Illinois teenager killed two people at protests. Zuckerberg said Facebook had made “an operational mistake” because the page had been flagged at least 455 times before the shootings but moderators left it up.

You're not my homeland anymore. Some permanent economic fallout from the pandemic: Pinterest will pay $90 million to get out of a multi-year commitment to lease almost 500,000 square feet in a new San Francisco office development called 88 Bluxome. "As we analyze how our workplace will change in a post-COVID world, we are specifically rethinking where future employees could be based," explained Pinterest CFO Officer Todd Morgenfeld.

Breaking up is hard to do. Finally, a response from China on all the TikTok mishugas. While President Trump wants a quick forced sale with a big cut for the U.S. Treasury, China on Friday tightened its export controls in a way that may require ByteDance to get government permission to sell to an American company.


The doctor's visit went largely virtual during the pandemic. Associated Press reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar takes a look at what went right and wrong and how much "telehealth" will continue in the future. Fraud could be a problem.

“Policymakers seems to be in a rush to pass legislation, but I think it is worth taking a little more time,” said Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “Fraud is one big area that policymakers need to be cognizant of.”

Fraud-busters agree.

Telehealth is so new that “we don’t have at this point a real sense of where the huge risks lie,” said Andrew VanLandingham, a senior lawyer with the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office. “We are sort of in an experimental phase.”


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It was so sad to hear about Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman's death from colon cancer last week. Disney's Marvel Studios posted a sweet tribute video, and Michele Norris, founding director of The Race Card Project, had a moving essay on Boseman's cultural impact.

Aaron Pressman