Michael Bloomberg: Fintech’s People Person
“We never made the error that so many others have: mistaking their product for the device that delivers it.”
In August 1981, it seemed like Michael Bloomberg’s professional life was ending. The partners of investment bank Salomon Brothers were gathered on a Friday night at Tarrytown Conference Center. The firm’s executive committee told them about the impending merger with commodities trading firm Phibro (the former home of Marc Rich).
John Gutfreund, Salomon’s managing partner, told Bloomberg it was “time to leave.” Bloomberg, who headed the firm’s information technology department, was stunned that “after fifteen years of twelve-hour days and six-day weeks” his time at Salomon was over.
The good news? Phibro was paying a premium to buy out his partnership stake. At age 39, Blomberg was out of a job but had $10 million in cash.
I would have probably retired to a life of travel, writing, leisure, and philanthropy. But not Bloomberg. He assembled “four guys and a coffee pot” and used his nest egg to build the world’s dominant financial information company.
“Salomon Brothers did me the two greatest favors in my life,” he said. “They hired me and they fired me.”
Today, after three terms as mayor of New York City and a short run as a presidential candidate, at 79 years old, Bloomberg is still in business. In his autobiography Bloomberg by Bloomberg he asked rhetorically why he didn’t “cash in, take some money off the table, play it conservatively, relax a little?”
“Real entrepreneurs never do. Real builders are so focused (a.k.a. one-dimensional) and dedicated, they’d have a nervous breakdown after two weeks of sitting around. Their challenge – even their reason for living – would be gone.”
His company dominates the market for financial information. “People have predicted the demise of Bloomberg for years,” Marc Rubinstein wrote. “But Bloomberg’s a tough device to dislodge. It retains prime real estate on its users’ desks and it’s a social network and it’s a luxury good.” Byrne Hobart analyzed the value of its exclusive social network: “the software product determined who would join the network, but the network is what keeps users there.”
It took Blomberg decades to dislodge the industry’s behemoths through incremental innovation, relentless drive, and focus on his customers. This is his story.
“If you're going to succeed, you need a vision, one that's affordable, practical, and fills a customer need. Then, go for it. Don't worry too much about the details. Don't second-guess your creativity. Avoid overanalyzing the new project's potential. Most importantly, don't strategize about the long term too much.”
Getting started (the early riser)
Four men and a coffee pot
Selling a no-brainer
Winning with speed
Michael and the goliaths
Always add more value
In this piece I’m quoting from Bloomberg’s biography Bloomberg by Bloomberg and articles from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Forbes. Unless attributed to someone else, quotes are by Bloomberg.