Peter Peterson, cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Blackstone Group and former CEO of Lehman Brothers, spoke with students on January 21 as part of the Silfen Leadership Series. He served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Richard Nixon from 1972 to 1973. The event was co-sponsored by the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics.

Peterson is a vocal advocate of deficit reduction and founded the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to promote non-partisan education and research for economic issues. In his presentation at Columbia Business School, he elaborated on his views of the long-term fiscal challenges ahead for the United States, which he said included entitlement spending, current accounts and savings deficits, and healthcare costs.

“We need to get rid of the notion that we will grow out of these problems,” he warned. “If we don’t demonstrate to foreign lenders that we’re going to take significant action [on our debt], they will be forced to raise interest rates.” Peterson also strongly advocated for education and the mobilization of younger generations to play a bigger role in economic decision making.

Peterson answered questions from the audience, including one on the future of private equity. “They desperately need for credit to open up,” Peterson said. “Otherwise it’s not much of a leverage business.”

Photo courtesy of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation