David Rubenstein grew up in modest home in Baltimore, the son of a post-office worker who made $7,000 a year. Neither of his parents finished high school or graduated college. But this, he told an audience at the Washington Ideas Forum Wednesday, was his great advantage, because "when you realize you have to do something on your own, you work harder."
Rubenstein is known both for his financial acumen and for his philanthropy—he, like Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, has signed the Giving Pledge, and aims to give away almost all of his $3.1 billion fortune before he dies. But his success in the private equity world only came after a period spent as a lawyer and a stint working in public policy for the Carter administration, where, he said, "I managed to get inflation to 19 percent and the country didn't want me to stay." After feeling that he wasn't particularly gifted in either of those fields, he started the Carlyle Group, then the first buyout firm in Washington, and now one of the largest private equity firms in the world. This success finally gave Rubenstein the opportunity to do what he'd always hoped to—to give back to the nation that he credits for enabling his success. "I don't think I could have done this in other countries," he said.