FIRE IN HIS BELLY, AMBITION IN HIS EYES MICHAEL BLOOMBERG COULD HAVE SAT ON THE MILLIONS HE MADE AT SALOMON. INSTEAD HE BUILT A MEDIA EMPIRE THAT GIVES WALL STREETERS CRUCIAL INFORMATION IN A FLASH.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – By the time you get to the end of Bloomberg by Bloomberg, you may find that you admire Michael Bloomberg almost as much as he admires himself. After all, when Bloomberg was cut loose by Salomon Brothers in 1981, he could have taken his $10 million partnership settlement and hung out for the rest of his life; maybe bought a place in Maine and one in the islands, and played the market to keep himself occupied. (Imagine wading into stocks with all that dough in 1981!)
But as we learn, Bloomberg was constitutionally incapable of sitting idly on a pile of money, no matter how big. He was 39, an excellent age for an entrepreneur--not so old that you can't imagine starting over, not so young that you don't ever think about dying. He had in spades the qualities he identifies with the "doers" of the world, "the lean and hungry ones, those with ambition in their eyes and fire in their bellies and no notions of social caste, who go the furthest and achieve the most."
And so instead of kicking back, Bloomberg fired up his internal engines. First he bought his wife a sable jacket because, he says, "I was worried that Sue might be ashamed of my new, less visible status..." Then he made an initial deposit of $300,000 in a corporate checking account and set off on what became a wildly successful company-building adventure--creating jobs (today Bloomberg L.P. employs 3,000); adding to (not just rearranging) the world's store of wealth; muscling his way into the news business; compounding his fortune; becoming in time "if not a household name, at least a synonym for success"; and ensuring "that someday I'll have a long obituary in the New York Times."
Part of what attracts you to Bloomberg's book is wanting to comprehend that journey; a large part of its appeal is that you can. For unlike so many other fortunes made on Wall Street during the Decade of Greed, Bloomberg's has little to do with financial alchemy. He got his start peddling an actual product--a box, screen, and keyboard set that was both a proprietary delivery system for raw financial data and, significantly, a tool for analyzing the data in ways that heightened the alchemists' magic powers. Bloomberg collected from Wall Street traders a one-time site setup fee plus a monthly service charge on every installation. It was classic entrepreneurship, the computer-age equivalent of selling gold pans to forty-niners. Today Bloomberg terminals sit on some 75,000 desks in trading rooms all over the world, generating (at $1,200 per month) a billion dollars in annual revenue.
Of course, if that's all there was to Bloomberg's story, we wouldn't be reading it in a book. Fortunes come and go, but Bloomberg has risen to the next level. He's a public person now, practically a "mogul" (the quotation marks are his), having leveraged his number-gathering-and-delivery business into a mini media empire that goes beyond merely reporting on financial markets. The news division, built from scratch by co-author Matthew Winkler, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, today has 70 bureaus around the world and competes in print, radio, and television with Dow Jones, Reuters, and CBS.
Budding entrepreneurs will find plenty of inspiration as well as some useful information in Bloomberg's tale. For example, he believes that as his employees rise up the ladder, they shouldn't expect to work less and take more vacations. Explains the hard-driving Bloomberg: "You're more valuable, you get paid more, and your coworkers should get more out of you."
But as you might expect, getting at the nuggets involves wading through an awful pile of egotistical fluff. I wonder if maybe Bloomberg isn't jumping the gun just a bit, coming out now with his autobiography. Possibly if Bloomberg cast a larger shadow, we'd care about his near misses involving disabled helicopters ("If I'd not kept altitude ... history might have been different." History?) or be interested in his claim that "I was one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in that organization's history."
Bloomberg is not without a sense of irony. We know that from the quotation marks he puts around the word "mogul," as applied to himself; as well as from the afterword, which asks, "The question I know you've been pondering is: Why did he write this book?" And the answer? "I have something to say." Absolutely, Bloomberg. Just don't expect us to read every word. This one's a skimmer.