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Bloomberg: Big vision, risk, momentum

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

When he became a media darling this year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was clearly testing the waters for a presidential run. Whatever his future, Bloomberg has decidedly changed the face of both business and government.

His secrets:
  • He controls his life story. Fired from Salomon Brothers, a firm he loved, Bloomberg started his own financial information company that changed Wall Street.

  • He exceeds expectations. Building his firm from nothing to $20 billion, of which his personal share amounts to about $13 billion, Bloomberg defied naysayers with a product (“rivers of data”) and its outward expression (“the Bloomberg” computer terminal) that everybody wants. Likewise, he took over as mayor of New York on Jan. 1, 2002, with a city in deep hurt and a $6 billion deficit. He brought it back from the brink.

  • He takes risks. The new mayor had two choices to deal with the budget: raise taxes or cut services. For him, it was a no-brainer. He jacked up property taxes, figuring that low crime, good transportation and clean streets are fundamental to tourism. As his approval ratings plummeted to about 30%, he tripled the city’s marketing budget and put real marketers in a nonprofit firm he started called NYC & Co. Last year, the city pulled in 44 million visitors, up from 35 million in 2002. His goal: 50 million by 2015.

  • He welcomes complainers. Bloomberg sees his city as a company, voters as customers and city employees as talent. On being called a “technocrat,” he says: “What was I hired for?”

    His most practical achievement: A 311 hotline to troubleshoot glitches in city services from trash to power lines. Since the hotline was established, emergency 911 traffic is down by 1 million calls, wait times for building inspectors fell from 40 days to less than a week and the city saw a crackdown on rats and noise.

    New Yorkers now give Bloomberg a 70% approval rating.

  • He understands the power of images. Three examples: (1) He rides to work on the subway. (2) He heaved a moribund film office into the dustbin and replaced it with a team that’s generated $2.4 billion in new film-making business in less than two years. (3) He makes budget presentations himself, using simple charts and tables.

  • He rolls over setbacks. Denied his bids to build a football stadium and host the 2012 Olympics, Bloomberg pushes on. “In business,” he says, “you reward people for taking risks.”
—Adapted from “The Bloomberg,” Carol Loomis, Fortune, and “The CEO Mayor,” Tom Lowry, BusinessWeek.

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