Legend has it with a phone in his hand, his tie undone to allow himself to breathe as the heart was pulsing, and his temples sweating, Michael Bloomberg was being watched by the quiet wolves of Salomon Brothers. Looming in a tight circle behind him, the men in their suits from the most prominent Wall Street firm in the ’80s were silently observing as the rising star of the investment bank was closing one of the most important deals of his brokerage career. As the receiver went down and Bloomberg’s smile signalled that the mission had been accomplished, Salomon’s controllers left the trading floor as quietly as they had appeared. Then, their mark of approval catapulted Bloomberg - now appointed as a ‘partner’ – to the top floor of the bank’s skyscraper shaping the Manhattan skyline.
The harder you work the luckier you get.
A FRESH START
The young Harvard educated banker, however, did not really savour the amenities of a corner office (and a well-off economic package) as he would soon find himself thrown out of the jaw-dropping high-rise panorama. It wasn’t a matter of bad luck or redundancies. It was just an end of a chapter in life, after 15 years at Salomon, only to open on a new, and bigger, one. Michael was at a crossroads: he has an awkward idea in mind. He needs money to fund it. A 10 million Dollar compensation package he received for his sacking would just be the initial capital. He would end up building an empire both in business and in politics.
You must first be willing to fail — and you must have the courage to go for it anyway.
ON A VALENTINE’S DAY
Michael Bloomberg was born on 14 February in Boston, the most European city in US. The year is 1942: Pearl Harbour brings America into war for the first time since the Civil War in the 19th Century. He comes from a refugee Jewish family whose east European ancestors had escaped the horror of World War I. William Henry Bloomberg and his wife Charlotte are always praised by their son Michael as the most influential people in setting his life on the right course. William was a bookkeeper for a dairy company who made sure the family always gathered at the dinner table to eat together and share their stories of the day. “My parents taught me about hard work, honesty and sacrifice”, Michael said in a documentary revealing that there wasn’t much money in the family so, as a boy, he had to do ‘odd jobs’ while in high school studying for his electrical engineering degree. In the golden Sixties he was admitted at Harvard Business School where he would rub shoulders with the most privileged elites and business magnates sons. He would become one of them decades later.
GOLDER THAN GOLD
In 1981 he was fired by Salomon Brothers: at 39 the average man on the street would feel disoriented and scared. For Michael it was “the best thing that has ever happened to me”. This was his first big job, although initially he was assigned to the securities brokerage’s vault, allegedly counting money in short pants, so hot it was in there. Then he managed to climb the Wall Street ladder as a bank executive. He was overseeing equity trading and sales before gaining control of the firm’s information systems. This would be his golden ticket to a future of wealth and power that started the same day Salomon Brothers slammed the door in his face, making him redundant after being acquired by Phibro Corporation.
If you don’t encounter setbacks in your career, if you don’t have doubts and disappointments, let me tell you, you’re not dreaming big enough
He wasted no time. Right after leaving Salomon, he developed an idea: an electronic trading platform enabling companies to access all real-time financial data, analytics and ground-breaking information. At the time, what seemed an awkward and useless project was in fact a gigantic enterprise both in scope and technological challenges. At the beginning of the Mighty Eighties, internet was still an obscure military tool, mobile phones looked like gigantic bricks as Gordon Gekko showcased in the iconic Oliver Stone movie, and Personal Computers were just a nerd thing, as the Commodore Vic 20 made its debut on shop shelves. Bloomberg started a data service company he called Innovative Market Systems. Come December 1982, while the Ronald Reagan America is at odds with Russia over Star Wars space program, the ‘Market Master Terminal’, which would be later known worldwide as Bloomberg Terminal, was released to deliver financial data instantaneously on Computers, in a variety of usable formats.
WALL STREET, AGAIN
The greatest opportunity of his life was served on a large and very long mahogany table. Again, it was a merchant bank. Not Solomon, but Merrill Lynch trading desks. The third biggest Wall Street firm (after Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers) became Bloomberg’s first customer, skyrocketing the fortune of a 40-something entrepreneur. 40 years on, Bloomberg Terminals sit on over 325,000 desks of the world’s most influential decision makers. In the stylish and innovative offices of Bloomberg News over 19,000 media experts from 176 countries bring the most relevant financial information to the global market.
We will go forward… we will never go back. We will rebuild, renew and remain the capital of the free world.
FROM DATA TERMINALS TO NEW YORK’S COMMANDER
September 11, 2001: a gigantic cloud of dust, debris and horror covered the city of New York, engulfing the whole world. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that has changed Western world forever, took Bloomberg on a rather dramatic twist as well. Republican Rudi Giuliani, the then Mayor of the city that never sleeps but which was now shock-stricken, moved empathetically among the rubbles while the city was coming to terms with an unprecedented wound. The caucuses for the Mayor of New York were to begin on that very 9/11 but obviously had to be postponed. To stand more chances, Mister Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, had decided to run as a Republican and so when the ‘new hero’ Giuliani backed him as his successor, Bloomberg's political success was sealed. He became the 108th New York Mayor and went on to secure three consecutive mayoral terms until 2013.
Don’t be afraid to assert yourself, have confidence in your abilities and don’t let the bastards get you down.
AGAINST THE ODDS: DONALD TRUMP
“You have been a great Mayor, this guy is fantastic …” Words of praise from no other than Donald Trump bounced off the grassy golf field where the two magnates would play together. Bloomberg on his part reciprocated dearly: “...but if there is anyone that has changed this city it is Donald Trump”. It all sounds like the kind of soppy banter good friends often indulge in, except in 2019 the relationship between the 8th richest man (Bloomberg with 53.4 billion dollars) and the 275th (Trump, 3.1 billion dollars), according to Forbes, would turn sour. From friends to rivals the two powerful tycoons were now competing for the highest office, the White House, waging a bitter if not nasty political war that they fought with record expenses on a campaign for a presidential primary. Come March 2020 however, Bloomberg hit the brakes and having won only 61 delegates, dropped out of the race to endorse Joe Biden instead.
Progress is not inevitable. It’s up to us to create it.
S FOR SCANDALS, PH FOR PHILANTHROPY
With money and power come scandals. Michael Bloomberg is no exception. Powered by the #MeToo movement, historical allegations of sexist comments, lawsuits, gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Bloomberg headquarters served a real blow to Mike’s political career. The most undesired present the billionaire could receive on his 48th birthday (which will haunt him for many more anniversaries to come) was a booklet containing a catalogue of sexist remarks attributed to him, produced by Elisabeth DeMarse, Bloomberg’s former chief marketing officer. In one of his quotes the NYC Mayor refers to the British Royal Family in these terms: “What a bunch of misfits – a gay, an architect, that horsey faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.” This is what came out of the billionaire’s mouth as he compared “a good salesperson” to “the guy who goes into a bar, and walks up to every gorgeous girl there, and says, ‘Do you want to f---?’ He gets turned down a lot – but he gets f----- a lot, too!”.
Bloomberg’s stellar career is constellated by bad jokes, lavish parties as well as generous philanthropic donations via his Bloomberg Philanthropies, which in 2022 invested 1.7 billion $ around the world. Both his daughters Emma (1979) and Georgina (1983), whom he had with his ex wife and now best friend Susan Brown, head Bloomberg Philanthropic and are active with NGOs that fight poverty and focus on education for children. Over his lifetime, Bloomberg (now worth an estimated 94.5 billion $) has given 14.4 billion to philanthropic causes and plans to donate his business empire to his philanthropic organisations in what could be the largest private contribution ever. Feeling guilty, anybody? Or is Philanthropy just a polite and socially acceptable way to get a conscience clean?