philanthropic purpose

In practicing ‘patriotic philanthropy,’ David Rubenstein aims to educate Americans about their history

The Carlyle Group co-founder was speaking at the New Orleans Book Festival

Speaking at the New Orleans Book Festival on Thursday, philanthropist and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein said he engages in “patriotic philanthropy” — efforts that have included funding the restorations of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

“I also try to do a lot to give back to the country, what I call patriotic philanthropy, which is to … remind people the history and heritage of our country,” Rubenstein said in conversation with Gary Ginsberg. “So I fixed the Washington Monument. Buy the Magna Carta, buy the Declaration of Independence and put it on display. Why? Well, because when people see these things in person, it makes them learn more about our country than they do.”

Rubenstein graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with the hopes of going into government and politics, he explained to Ginsberg. After graduating, Rubenstein served as advisor for lawyer Ted Sorensen, but soon realized he wasn’t suited for law. At 27, Rubenstein shifted his career focus and went to work as deputy domestic policy advisor for President Jimmy Carter. 

“You should experiment with many different things in your career, because it’s very unlikely that you’re going to find … what you want to do when you’re very young,” Rubenstein said.

“More likely [than] not, you’ll experiment, you’ll find different things. And hopefully, by the age of your mid-30s, you’ll find the thing that you really want to do, and that will be your passion in life.”

Rubenstein said he thought he would work in government and politics his whole life. “I had no interest in making money. I had grown up with no money. My parents made about $10,000 a year … and investing was not something I had an interest in,” Rubenstein said. 

Rubenstein, said that “one of the greatest pleasures” of his life was “growing up without having a lot of wealth and expectations.”

For Rubenstein, his introduction to finance followed a six-month period of unemployment. After Carter’s loss to Reagan in 1980, he said it was difficult to find a new job because no one wanted to hire a Carter White House aide. 

“I didn’t want to tell my mother that her only child was unemployable, so I kept saying I had some of these job offers, I didn’t know which one to take,” Rubenstein said. 

Six months later, Rubenstein received a job offer to practice law once more. “I realized again, I wasn’t very good at it. And so I read about Bill Simon, who was secretary of the Treasury, who bought a company called Gibson Greeting Cards from RCA, put in a million dollars of his own money and made $80 million in 18 months,” Rubenstein said.

Seemingly more promising than law, Rubenstein said he tried to form the first buyout firm in Washington, D.C., to do leverage buyouts. After an unsuccessful first attempt to recruit a private equity team, Rubenstein and two other partners launched their own private equity firm, The Carlyle Group, in 1987.