Stephen Friedman ’59 has achieved incredible success in his distinguished professional career, in investment banking, private equity, and government service. Like many wrestlers, Friedman gives the sport credit for providing him with a foundation for his achievements.
A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame, and the EIWA Hall of Fame, Friedman compiled a 23-1-2 career dual record with the Big Red, making the EIWA finals three times and winning the championship as a senior in 1959.
“Wrestling was hard work and, for me, stressful, but not nearly as demanding or as scientific as the training of today’s wrestlers,” Friedman said. “Most important, it required discipline, which I had little of at the time. Having to show up every day, rather than socializing, as I’d have preferred, training, making weight, setting goals, all was preparation for pushing oneself in other areas in later life.” His experiences in Ithaca also prepared him for the future in another, very important way. “Cornell’s principal role in preparing me for later life was introducing me to a very cute co-ed, now my wife and partner of 62 years [Barbara Benioff]; mother of our 3 children and grandmother of 7.” The two got married right after graduation and while Friedman attended Columbia Law School, he continued his training on the mat at the New York Athletic Club. “I won the important freestyle wrestling tournaments, including the 1961 National Championships at 73 kg, along the way defeating the men who represented the U.S. in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics (including Doug Blubaugh who won gold in 1960),” Friedman said. He also captured a gold medal at the 1961 Maccabiah Games. The success on the mat continued into his professional life. Friedman joined prestigious firm Goldman Sachs in 1966 and continuously moved up the ladder, retiring as Chairman in 1994. In 2002, President George W. Bush tapped Friedman as his principal Economic Advisor and Director of the National Economic Council. After serving in this role for two years, Friedman chaired the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Intelligence Oversight Board. As Friedman describes it, he was “acting as [the President’s] eyes and ears on the intelligence community. This was an active consultative role on management of the FBI, CIA and the rest of the intelligence agencies.” Following his government leadership roles, Friedman was the Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and he returned to the Goldman Sachs Board before retiring from it at age 75. But he didn’t retire overall. In fact, Friedman is currently the Chairman of Stone Point Capital, a private equity firm. “We’ve had good results," he said. “And as a result are currently on our ninth fund.” Indeed, Friedman has had stellar results for decades. And his generosity and vision changed the wrestling landscape at Cornell -- and nationwide. In 2003, the Friedman Wrestling Center opened as the first stand-alone wrestling facility in the country. The multi-million dollar project, with the lead gift given by Stephen and Barbara Benioff Friedman, provided the Big Red with a 15,000 square foot building with first class training and weight room areas, a study lounge, locker room, huge practice space, and competition arena.
It became the gold standard in the wrestling community and as a result, several other top wrestling programs followed suit, creating their own dedicated facilities. In 2022, the Friedmans once again provided the lead gift to ensure Cornell has the nation’s best. A more than 5,000 square foot addition was added to the Friedman Center, with state-of-the-art enhancements including a Gallery of Champions with interactive displays of Cornell wrestling past and present, a second wrestling room, a locker room similar to those at power football programs, a dedicated hydrotherapy room, an enhanced weight area, a top notch sauna, and a lounge with large screen televisions, food and beverages, and ping pong tables. The Friedman influence on Cornell wrestling remains more than 60 years after his graduation - and he relishes his strong connection to the program and the university. “My involvement with Cornell wrestling since graduation has been very gratifying, with outstanding results achieved by the athletes under coaches Koll and Grey, with great support from [Athletic Director] Andy Noel,” he said. “They’ve proven that with dedicated leadership it’s possible for an Ivy team to recruit and develop national level excellence.”
And that excellence, like with Friedman, extends into the professional world.