Power of the City: On Top of Mt. Sinai – Ellen Schwartzman

Original Publication: New York Woman, September 1, 1986

I can never sleep the last few weeks before the party. I’m up at 4 a.m. writing and rewriting my page in the souvenir journal, making lists, rearranging things. Some people’s secretaries call two or three times wanting to know where their bosses are, asking for a diagram of the room. There can only be 12 tables around the dance floor. I love trying to appease them – it’s such a challenge. I love that detail work. I do most of the work, but my husband, Steve, comes in for the big picture. He has a good instinct for what sells and what doesn’t. This year I lost seven pounds. Sometimes I wish I weren’t so organized.

Ellen Schwartzman, 37, of Park Avenue, East Hampton, and Montego Bay is a petite brunette who chain-smokes her way through a description of that night of nights every May when she chairs the Mt. Sinai Medical Center Crystal Ball. This year, when it was announced in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria that the 1,100 revelers had given $1 million to Mt. Sinai for medical research, Ellen Schwartzman, clad in bridelike white lace with gold trimming by Emanuel of London, gasped with joy. The dinner had been announced with trumpets, and she had more than tripled her 1985 total of $360,000 and had even gotten her picture on the Times

style page. (Arthur and Carol Ochs Sulzberger were honorary chairpersons.)

That million was precious, the social equivalent of a $100 million deal her investment banker husband might make as chairman of the Blackstone Group, a new Wall Street private investment banking firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Working for and donating to charities is still the fastest way to rise socially in New York and Wall Street is so hot these days with both deals and scandals that there are nights when it appears there is new money to burn.

Asked to comment on whether going out night after night on the charity circuit helped her husband’s business, Schwartzman pleaded ignorance, saying only, “Steve really likes to work a room.” 

Certainly it is no secret where the support for the Crystal Ball is coming from. “I hate to say Wall Street, it sounds so exclusionary,” says Schwartzman when she explains who took the 63 tables, at $5,000 and $10,000, for the ball of ’86, “but when you chair an event you turn to your friends.” Friends like Henry Kravis of Kohlberg, Kravis, and Roberts, leveraged buyout specialists, Tom Strauss, a managing director at Salomon Brothers, and Steve Robert, chairman of the board of Oppenheimer Co. “The three of them sent out 250 firstname letters asking our friends to donate,” says Schwartzman, whose first rule of successful ball giving is being personal. “People don’t react to cold invitations. I sign all my own letters. I care so much about personal contact.”

Ellen Schwartzman is also obsessive about detail. “I pack a week before I take a trip and I hate packing. I live with my datebook. My kids’ activities are well planned.” She turns to the business section of the Timesfirst thing in the morning and makes it clear that her marriage is her career. “I am a working partner. I know everything about my husband’s work, his clients, his ups, his downs. I’m very definitely a supporter. When an issue arises in his work, we discuss it. We spend most of our time talking about Steve’s day.” She pauses and quickly adds, “Or my day.” Has she ever thought about having her own career? “I don’t allow myself to be tempted.” 

Steve and Ellen Schwartzman have been married since 1971. He is a former Philadelphia street kid who went to Harvard Business School. She is the daughter of a very rich Dayton, Ohio, mobile home components manufacturer, a graduate of Northwestern, and the former social chairman of Kappa Kappa Gamma, who instead of enrolling at Harvard Business School herself, got a job there as a course assistant. And that’s where she met Steve, grading his papers. “I always knew I’d marry Steve. It was just a question of his realizing he’d marry me.” Like Ellen Schwartzman’s father, Steve Schwartzman made a lot of money fast. In 1984, when Steve was 37 and a senior partner at Lehman Brothers, Lehman was acquired by Shearson American Express; Steve made $6.1 million. Ellen later helped her husband decide to leave Lehman to begin a new company with former Lehman chairman Pete Peterson.

“Ellen is a professional wife,” says Ken Auletta, author of Green and Glory on Wall Street, the Fall of the House of Lehman. “She has her charities, but the basic thrust of her day is dedicated to her husband’s career. Maybe she’s not appointed by anyone, but she is a campaign manager.”

The campaign can be as taxing as running for office. It begins with schools and shelter. The two children, Zibby, 10, and Teddy, 7, are safely ensconced in the right schools. In November, the family will move into a very grand new Park Avenue apartment with a dining room that seats 60, purchased from RCA chairman Thornton Bradshaw, reportedly for almost $3 million. And then there are the East Hampton home and the house in Montego Bay to maintain, plus mad trans-Atlantic dashes every six weeks to confer with London decorators. “I’m getting so tired of working on shelter,” Schwartzman sighs.

It can also get very tiring going to all their friends’ pet galas. “If you can’t attend a friends event, you send a contribution. There’s certainly a lot of wealth today in New York, so that’s OK” The next big party Schwartzman is planning is Steve’s 40th birthday. He was born on February 14th but that cannot be the date of the party. “Nobody is in New York in February,” Ellen Schawartzman says.

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.