Park Fellows alumni spotlight: Kate Rubenstein, MBA ’05
Kate Rubenstein, managing director at Blackstone Credit and COO of Blackstone Private Credit Fund and Blackstone Secured Lending Fund, sat down with me to discuss her career path and key takeaways from her time as a Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow and a Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management MBA student.
Rubenstein began her career in brand management and joined GE Capital upon graduating from Johnson. She joined Blackstone in 2015 and has been a key leader across multiple platforms and initiatives within the firm’s alternative investment platform, including the creation of GSO Advantage (now Blackstone Credit Advantage). Rubenstein cited experiences as a Park Fellow as integral to developing her leadership style and Professor Risa Mish as a key resource during and after her time at Johnson.
Q: Can you talk about being tapped for your most recent roles given the professional brand you had established within Blackstone?
Rubenstein: In my GSO Advantage role, there were two motions that I suspect put me on the radar for what became the Blackstone Advantage role in Portfolio Operations. First, I wanted to understand how my counterparts in other Blackstone businesses (Private Equity, Real Estate, etc.) were working to drive value creation efforts with their respective portfolios so I could adopt or adapt what made sense for the credit portfolio. To do this, I went about identifying who those counterparts were, built those relationships, and ultimately created a cross-business group that met quarterly to share ideas. In setting this up, I had already begun to build the fabric of the internal network.
Second, in order to effectively sell the products and services from the credit portfolio into the other Blackstone portfolios with as little friction as possible, I needed, and therefore created a tool to help navigate and connect the full set of companies (whether, for example, by similar type of company or across a value chain). So, when the Portfolio Operations team ultimately carved out of the Private Equity business to become a stand-alone team that worked across the entire firm, and Dave Calhoun, the head of Portfolio Operations at the time, determined he needed someone to focus on both integrating his team across the firm and cultivating a community across all portfolio companies, he called me. It’s hard to know the full picture of what’s in someone’s mind, though. Maybe the two motions I described were only seen by me and it was as simple as having established a good working relationship with Dave and his team.
In coming back to Blackstone Credit, management knew me and my style already, and had a role in mind for me. While I was thrilled by the opportunity to get to work with this team again, I didn’t think I was qualified for this role and had a million reasons why I wasn’t the right person (not the least of which was that I had never thought about most of the things they were asking me to think about). I asked them, in short, what the heck they were thinking. Apparently, they trusted I would be able to learn quickly and they needed a “pusher” with my style. The term “pusher” was new to me in this context, and while I aspire to be a strategic and thoughtful person who brings people along, in fact, there is a lot of truth to the descriptor.
Q: How did your experiences as a Park Fellow help you develop your leadership style and provide opportunities in your post-MBA career?
Rubenstein: I will never forget the first time Clint Sidle [former director of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program] introduced our Park class to the term “servant leadership.” The idea of focusing on the growth and well-being of others landed well with me. It ultimately translated effectively into sales, too, where listening closely to customers and working to solve their problems helped build important trust.
The Park program was hugely influential. I credit my foundation in leadership skills entirely to the Park experience. Having awareness of your own leadership style, how other people react to you, and being able to adapt your style is an important framework. That skill development is a lifelong journey but gaining awareness of the framework in the first place and then getting started through things like the 360 Evaluations and ongoing discussions in safe environment with my Park group completely changed how I understood myself and the impact I could have within an organization and the community at large.
And from a service standpoint, I continue to enjoy my work as a member of Blackstone’s Charitable Foundation Leadership Council and as a board member of Let’s Get Ready, an organization that helps low income and first generation to college students get into and graduate from college.
Q: What advice do you have for students who aspire to be the kind of leaders that drive organizational change within their post-MBA firms?
Rubenstein: I’ve found that a large part of successful organizational change requires behavioral change, and driving behavioral change is largely an EQ skillset. Several things come to mind:
Candor: First and foremost, be candid about the current state. For example, the best of the three CEOs when I was in my brand management role held a town hall to tell us we were bleeding money and to share his perspective on the path out. We all knew things weren’t working and it was so refreshing to hear someone finally name it and have a plan for how to fix it. People are smart, they know when something’s up. Moreover, they will fill an information vacuum with speculation, and what they fill it with will most certainly be worse than reality.
Honoring efforts: It’s important to honor that people have been doing their best, and often Herculean amounts of work, within the current context—it’s not a personal judgement or reflection on any individual. The system needs fixing so people can do their best work more effectively.
Stakeholder engagement: If you can anticipate the objections, take them off the table. To the extent possible, invite people who will be affected by the contemplated change to have some voice in the execution of the plan. In my experience, people are eager to drive the change when empowered to be part of the thought process and they will help highlight and avoid changes that may have unintended consequences.
Whether originating loans at GE, driving adoption of the Advantage Program, or helping to scale the private credit platform, I’ve always thought about helping people want the help.
Q: What advice do you have for students who want to emulate a similarly influential leadership style?
Rubenstein: What I like about the Park Program is that it helped us understand our authentic styles, so I’d say it’s an individual journey to authentic leadership. But if I had to pick one thing on the influencing front, it would be to build trust with regular direct two-way feedback. Feedback is a gift. It’s important to learn how to give and receive direct and candid feedback in real time. I believe people want to work with people who have a vested interest in their growth and development.
Conversely, people only give feedback if they think that the recipient will take it and do something with it, so it’s on each person to earn that gift. I like to give both constructive feedback and positive feedback regularly (not always at the same time) since people frequently take their innate strengths for granted and don’t necessarily appreciate them as assets. If you have the two-way trust, bring people into the thought process, and help them see their role in shaping the way, they will be right alongside you for the journey.