Blackstone’s Lean Team is a Dream Team

In the competitive world of finance, only the fast and the strong survive. As others turn to third-party architects, one small, but efficient in-house team is helping Blackstone beat its competition.

Peter Peterson and Stephen Schwarzman only had two employees when they opened their small mergers and acquisitions firm in 1985. Over the past three decades, however, the partners grew the company into Blackstone—one of the world’s leading investment firms. To this day, the organization has $367 billion in managed assets, about 2,200 employees, and 20 offices worldwide.

Blackstone has a proud legacy of starting new businesses and pursing constant growth. The company is broad and diverse, working in private equity, real estate, hedge funds, credit, and other areas. Blackstone can leverage deep expertise and allocate resources to exploit new investment opportunities in regions both foreign and domestic. Although these activities elate shareholders, they present significant challenges for Anthony Riccio, Blackstone’s senior vice president of facilities and construction management.

Simply put, he’s the firm’s one-man in-house design and construction team.

Riccio’s job is simple to describe, but difficult to accomplish—he must adapt to a high-growth company’s ever-changing needs, carefully matching standardized work spaces to numerous business requirements. He must allow for privacy and provide consistency. Most importantly, he has to work quickly. If Blackstone wants to open a new business unit to pounce on an investment opportunity, leaders don’t want to wait two weeks.

A perfect blend of skill and energy helps Riccio succeed. He joined Blackstone in 2008 after logging eight years at Lehr Construction Corp., where he managed projects worth more than $31 million.

He’s been in the industry since 1985 after earning a bachelor of science in construction from Arizona State University and an AAS in civil engineering from Westchester Community College.

“If a business leader wants to open a new office in Mumbai, I can send him dozens of layouts before lease negotiations are complete. We can open up offices as fast as they can lease them.”

Riccio works with two key consultants who help him with CAD drawings and architectural details. Together, they form the small, but mighty team responsible for any alteration to a Blackstone property. The team might change the table height in a New York conference room one day and resize all workstations in Singapore the next. To do the job, Riccio constantly monitors his phone and e-mail for work requests. In doing so, he embodies multiple roles. He’s part project manager, part estimator, and part negotiator. Business leaders at Blackstone benefit from Riccio’s institutional knowledge.

“If they want to make a modification in London or Sydney, I know the exact dimensions and can provide an immediate solution, because I’ve been involved with every office Blackstone has on a global basis,” Riccio says.

He and his consultants handle all aspects of projects in-house. They know every measurement, option, material, dimension, and detail.

The organizational structure increases Riccio’s efficiency and helps him change current spaces or open new ones faster than his counterparts at other companies. In a typical year, Riccio will complete about eight capital projects—and he has tracked every one since 2008.

“If a business leader wants to open a new office in Mumbai, I can send him dozens of layouts before lease negotiations are complete,” Riccio says. “We can open up offices as fast as they can lease them.”

He helps his colleagues consider furniture options and evaluate other components so he can immediately move into procurement once the lease is signed.

There are about a dozen growing business units that make up Blackstone, and much of Riccio’s work involves accommodating growth and finding space for new employees. He keeps workstations and other key pieces in stock to allow for quick changes and can often be found crunching numbers on his computer or laptop.

Blackstone’s modular workstations come in two sizes that he can alter to increase density, but every change causes a chain reaction. If Riccio adds workstations, he might have to remove open spaces or amenities. He might convert a traditional conference room to a lounge-like space, pair a growing business group with a smaller unit to ease congestion, reconfigure work spaces, or replace corner offices with break-out rooms.

Curiosity also helps Riccio succeed in the high-stress environment. He likes to read industry news and attend trade shows. Once every quarter, he tries to visit some of New York City’s top product showrooms.

“I want to know what top vendors are selling the most of,” he says. “I don’t care who they are selling it to; I just want to know what people are using the most.”

He returns to Blackstone with that new information ready to inform his design choices. The company’s leaders have always preached the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective because they know that companies—like investments—must perform well over a span of many years. An effective in-house design and construction team plays an important part in meeting that goal. Riccio helps Blackstone maximize human resources to act on changes in the marketplace.

In doing so, he has the company prepared to continue its legacy of success.