Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Terminal Patient: Is Mike Bloomberg's Return Bad for Bloomberg?

From Der Spiegel, Dec. 2:

Since Michael Bloomberg retook the reins of his empire, he has laid off top journalists and embarked on a radical restructuring program. The multibillionaire's leadership has become imperious and unpredictable -- out of fear for the future of his life's work.
In the end, the call of deliverance never came -- the call which, in the final days of Michael Bloomberg's term as New York City mayor, would have told him: The world at large needs you.
For 12 years, Bloomberg governed the most important city in the world. After that, no office seemed out of reach for him: World Bank president, UN secretary general, US secretary of state. There was even talk of him running for president. The multibillionaire and media mogul, a luminary among politicians, was mentioned in the same breath as men like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. By December 2013, the only question seemed to be which office he would choose.

Bloomberg had expected "someone would call him and offer him a job," says a former senior executive who knows the one-time mayor personally. But then nothing happened. Bloomberg, 73, experienced the same anticlimax as any top manager or politician who is constantly in the spotlight, seven days a week, 18 hours a day. Once that comes to an end, so too does the magic. What ensues is a vast sense of emptiness.

He kept himself busy for a few months as a full-time philanthropist, sponsoring the development of solar-powered lighting for Africans through his foundation and donating hundreds of millions of dollars. But is that enough to fulfill a man accustomed to being in command?
And so Michael Bloomberg did what he had until then categorically refused to do. After a year of upscale idleness, he returned to the helm of his financial and media empire. "When nothing else seemed to work, he asked for the keys back so he could get back into the driver's seat," says his former senior executive.

Out of a longing for control and concern over his life's work -- or perhaps it was a just mixture of boredom and ambition -- the multibillionaire has since been presiding over a restructuring like no other in the history of the $9 billion concern. Bloomberg replaced nearly all of the top managers on the journalism side of the business and laid off more than 80 editors. Entire divisions were closely examined, and that in a company that had been raking in estimated profits of $3 billion and whose vocabulary until that point did not include the word "save."

The Future of Journalism?
The radical change of course has raised questions about a business model that, at least in the US, had been widely regarded as the future of journalism. It was a model whereby high-quality journalism, of the kind that furthered democracy, was financed by other business activities. Other proponents of this model include Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who took over the time-honored Washington Post. But the case of Bloomberg shows that such a construction only works as long as the patriarch wants it to.

Bloomberg isn't a traditional media company like the New York Times or the Financial Times. Journalists at the company have always played a subordinate role. What made the company its riches was a device that once had about as much charm as a gray, plastic Commodore 64 and today has been reduced to a black keyboard with lots of colorful buttons. It is the "Bloomberg Terminal," a computer system for bankers on Wall Street or at the London Stock Exchange.

The terminal spits out prices for government bonds and raw materials; it knows the position, load size and speed of container ships at sea; and it lists the fortunes of CEOs, including their yachts and private jets. More than 60 billion pieces of market information are processed by the Terminal every day and access costs more than $20,000 per year, per user. At the moment, there are about 325,000 subscribers.

The terminal is Michael Bloomberg's brainchild and life's work. After the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers fired him in 1981, the then-39-year-old used his $10-million severance package to found his own company. The terminals did everything but print the money themselves, and they made Bloomberg the 14th richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $35.5 billion....MUCH MORE