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Schwarzman on end of Trump advisory group: CEOs came under 'excruciating pressure'

Julia La Roche

Private equity chief Stephen A. Schwarzman, the founder of $545 billion Blackstone Group (BX), applauded the impact of an advisory group that gave business advice to President Donald Trump — and expressed some regrets over why it broke up.

Weighing in on Trump's impact on the economy, the billionaire mused about what could have happened if the Strategic and Policy Forum he once led stayed together.

"I think the most important thing that was achieved was the reduction in regulation. And there were some other important things from the tax perspective," Schwarzman told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week.

"But that sets the stage for longer-term growth in a way that wouldn't happen if you hadn't have made those changes,” he added.

Even after the forum ended, Schwarzman has remained in contact with the Trump administration. He's been actively involved in the ongoing trade talks between the U.S. and China. He also plays a role in trade talks between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

During a meeting at Trump Tower in November 2016, Schwarzman said the then-president-elect — whom he had known socially for years — asked him to put together a group of 25 business leaders for the Strategic and Policy Forum.

The premise behind the group was so the CEOs could "tell him where he was going in the wrong direction and suggest other ways," Schwarzman explained.

The group was devised as “an open forum where you could give input, you know, if you didn't agree, fine. If you agree, fine,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“And that's a precious kind of attribute to have in government because usually when you disagree with the president or a prime minister — it doesn't matter which country — you can do that one or two times,” he added.

“By the time you do it the third and fourth, you become in less favor. So this was a good structural thing to have,” Schwarzman said.

Hit by Charlottesville backlash

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman listens at left as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with business leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In August 2017, after Trump's polarizing statements on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, pressure began to mount on the members of the forum. Schwarzman explained a number of big company CEOs came under pressure from “very unhappy” employees and customers.

Forum members began expressing to Schwarzman that they were "under excruciating pressure" and their association with the administration was hurting their business.

"And for me, there's an easy decision. Why should you do something that's hurting your business?” he asked.

“This is supposed to be a good thing, not turn out to be a bad thing for you. And so we decided the best thing to do was to end the group," Schwarzman said. "On the other hand, the purpose of the group was a good thing for the country because it was bipartisan."

In his new memoir, "What It Takes," Schwarzman writes that his "biggest regret" from this experience is that "this smart, committed group representing the best of American business could have done so much to help the administration and the country.

He added that “...sparks in a combustible atmosphere can lead to widespread collateral damage. We all wanted to befriend the situation, to have a voice at the table in the discussion of how to improve life for all Americans, but our engagement in that capacity was no longer possible."

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Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.