“The basics of commerce don’t change: You’ve got to have something that people need, something that they can’t get elsewhere. And the more they can’t get it elsewhere, the more they need it.”
Michael Rubens Bloomberg was 39 years old when he first heard the words “you’re fired”. The general partner at Wall Street Investment Bank Salomon Brothers was given a $10m severance package and told to pack up his things one Saturday morning in August 1981.
As Bloomberg himself says in his autobiography, that day he essentially heard, "here's $10 million; you're history.” For many folks, the bitter taste of redundancy would soon be replaced by the sweet tang of early, wealthy retirement. But not this Boston-born Harvard grad. Instead of becoming history, Bloomberg decided to make it. Two months later, the company that would come to be known as Bloomberg L.P. was formed.
Relying on the basics of commerce as stated above, Bloomberg realised that he could provide the world’s biggest financial institutions something they couldn’t get elsewhere: financial news, data and information quicker than anyone else. Soon the very Wall Street that had ruthlessly spat him out were clambering to get their hands on his Bloomberg terminals.
Merrill Lynch opened the floodgates, installing 22 terminals and investing $30m. By 1990, no investment firm worth their salt could afford to be without one as 8,000 were installed and Bloomberg terminals became every financier’s bionic hand.
But it wasn’t just the tech leading the way for Bloomberg – it was content. Having the vision to shine a spotlight firmly on financial news allowed a wire news service, a global TV network, a radio station, websites and numerous magazines to thrive and dominate.
In the way that Steve Jobs and Apple would later come to convince the world it needed products they’d never before heard of, Bloomberg had the world of finance in his thrall. If he said something was worth having, Wall Street dare not have it.
Worth an estimated $40 billion, Bloomberg regularly features in top ten lists ranking the world's richest. But, much like that Saturday in August 1981, retirement still shows no sign of arriving. Quite the opposite in fact. The 75-year-old has spent the last few years in politics and philanthropy. To no-one’s surprise, he made a success of both.
As New York Mayor since 2002, Bloomberg was twice re-elected – in 2005 and 2009 – and earned plenty of praise for his efforts to lead the city of New York during the turbulent years following 9/11. Declining a city salary in favour of a $1 annual remuneration for his services, he even had his home phone number listed in the city’s White Pages directory. Commuters often saw him taking the subway to work.
Ignoring persistent speculation that he would one day run for President, Bloomberg dedicated the initial months that followed the end of his role as mayor to philanthropy. Projects ranged from working with the Gates Foundation to help eradicate polio, to targeting anti-gun programs in the US and efforts to reduce overfishing in Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines. Bloomberg is estimated to have given $3.3 billion to charitable causes in his lifetime.
Not bad for a guy who was made redundant at 39.
As for now? Well, by the end of 2014 Bloomberg went full circle and once again took the post of CEO at the company he began all those years ago, now an undoubted global institution. Despite initially claiming he had no interest in coming back, the hunger and appetite for returning to the top of the game remains.
And who can blame him.
Despite a shrinking financial sector, Bloomberg terminals now number over 320,000 – up 50,000 since 2008. And while newsrooms dwindle elsewhere, Bloomberg’s team of reporters and editors continues to grow. Even now, despite the wealth of technological advancements and increasing digital rivals, one thing remains constant: Michael Bloomberg still has something that people need, and can’t get elsewhere.
“Don't be afraid to assert yourself, have confidence in your abilities and don't let the bastards get you down.”Michael Bloomberg