The grandson of immigrants, Michael Bloomberg was born in 1942 in Boston. When he was three, his family settled in the blue-collar suburb of Medford. His father, William, worked as a bookkeeper for a small dairy “six or seven days a week, all his life,” recalls Bloomberg, who often accompanied his father to work on Saturdays. As a youngster, Bloomberg would ride the freight elevator up and down and play with office equipment while waiting.
Bloomberg’s mother, Charlotte, was an unusual woman for her time. A 1929 graduate of New York University, she was hired by the same dairy where his father worked, but she quit after they married and became a full-time wife and mother. Michael Bloomberg describes his mother—who died in 2011 at the age of 102—as practical and caring. She insisted that he and his younger sister, Marjorie, wait until their father came home so that the family could eat dinner together. She set the dinnerware out on a tablecloth each night and used serving dishes, rather than simply fixing plates from the stove.
Bloomberg once asked his mother why they ate so formally each night. She told him the best should be reserved for the most important people—their family. Her message, he came to understand, was that his family members should take care of each other. “It really was a cohesive, happy, sharing unit,” says Bloomberg. “From my parents, I learned hard work, intellectual curiosity, and the ambition to strive relentlessly for the goals I set.”
Although he was an able student, most of Bloomberg’s early education bored him. In his senior year in high school, he took two honors courses in history and literature, and he felt for the first time that his studies challenged him. Outside the classroom, he was an active Boy Scout. “Being a Boy Scout brought together my sense of community with my ambitions of personal accomplishment. I loved it,” he recalls. “I savored earning every merit badge and took pride in achieving every rank. I was one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in that organization.”
Bloomberg spent entire summers away at camp. His parents could afford to pay for only two weeks, so he paid the rest by working at odd jobs—shoveling snow, cutting lawns, and selling Christmas wreaths door to door. He credits his time away at camp with helping to make him self-sufficient and teaching him how to live and work well with others.
Another childhood interest of his was the Boston Museum of Science, where Bloomberg went on Saturday mornings to hear free lectures. “Each week, for two hours, I sat spellbound,” he says. “Those instructors taught me the value of intellectual honesty and scholarship years before college.”
In high school, Bloomberg worked after class and on weekends and summers for a small electronics company in nearby Cambridge. He attended Johns Hopkins University, majoring in electrical engineering, and paid his tuition by taking loans and working as a parking lot attendant. While at Johns Hopkins, he served as president of his fraternity, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, and class president. But during his junior year, Bloomberg’s father died suddenly. A survivor of rheumatic fever as a child, Bloomberg’s father had emerged from that illness with a weakened heart. Bloomberg was unaware of the precarious health of his father, whose death greatly saddened him.
Contemplating what to do after graduation in 1964, Bloomberg felt his skills were more suited to management than engineering. Most of his classmates were going on to graduate school, and so he applied to and was accepted at Harvard Business School.
“My two years at Harvard were well spent,” he says. “I learned the basics of accounting, marketing, production, management, control, finance, and behavioral science.”
Shortly before finishing his MBA, Bloomberg followed the advice of a classmate and applied for a job with Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. He was hired as a trading room clerk. Later he transferred to the equities department, where he discovered he was a natural salesman. By 1973, he had become a partner. “To say that I fit into Salomon and loved the industry is an understatement,” says Bloomberg. “I reveled in the work every minute of the day.”
But in 1981, Bloomberg was fired from the only full-time job he had ever known—after having worked for Salomon Brothers for 15 years and having put in 12-hour days. The brokerage had been bought by another firm, and Bloomberg received a $10 million buyout. He was 39 years old, and although he could have lived off his money from Salomon, he never considered retiring. He also rejected the idea of working for another firm. Instead, he decided to start a company that would offer services to financial organizations. With $300,000, Bloomberg launched Innovative Market Systems. “As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to know what I don’t know, get access to the people who do know, and then study hard,” he says.
Bloomberg’s company developed what he originally called a Market Master terminal, which provides real-time financial news, market data, and analysis. Merrill Lynch became his first customer when the company installed 22 such machines, which publicly became known as “the Bloomberg.” In 1986, the company was renamed Bloomberg L.P. By 1988, it had installed about 5,000 terminals. Within a few years, other products, including Bloomberg Tradebook (a trading platform), the Bloomberg Messaging Service, and the Bloomberg Newswire were launched. As of early 2016, Bloomberg L.P. has 327,000 subscribers to its financial news and information service in 150 countries and employs more than 19,000 people in 192 locations worldwide.
In 2001, Bloomberg beat the odds and was elected mayor of New York City. During his 2002–13 term in office, he cut the city’s crime rate by more than 34 percent and created jobs by attracting new investment and supporting small business growth. He implemented ambitious public health strategies, including a smoking ban in restaurants and bars, and he expanded support for arts and cultural organizations. His education reforms drove up graduation rates by more than 25 percent.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Bloomberg’s policies helped New York avoid the level of job losses that many experts had forecast and that other cities experienced. At the end of 2014, Bloomberg re-assumed his old position of CEO at Bloomberg L.P.
“To succeed, you must string together many small incremental advances—rather than count on hitting the lottery jackpot once,” Bloomberg advises. “Trusting to great luck is a strategy that is not likely to work for most people. As a practical matter, constantly enhance your skills, put in as many hours as possible, and make practical plans for the next few steps. Then, on the basis of what actually occurs, look one more move ahead and adjust the plan. Take lots of chances, and make lots of individual, spur-of-the-moment decisions.”
A strong believer in free enterprise, Bloomberg says, “America really is the land of opportunity and home to more startup enterprises than any other country. The United States has a culture that prizes innovation, its social hierarchy is built around merit, and it rewards the risk-taker.” He adds, “There are many reasons why some succeed and others don’t. Three things usually separate the winners from the losers: time invested, interpersonal skills, and plain old-fashioned luck.”
Bloomberg has always believed in the power of philanthropy to change people’s lives for the better. To date, he has donated more than $1.6 billion to a wide variety of causes and organizations. In 2010, he contributed more than $279 million to 970 charities. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked him second on its list of the 50 most generous people in the United States. The five key areas of Bloomberg Philanthropies are the arts, public health, government innovation, education, and the environment. His parents instilled the principles of public service and giving back from a young age, and those same principles have guided Bloomberg throughout his life.