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2011 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Michael R. Bloomberg

Mayor, City of New York
Founder and Owner,Bloomberg, L.P.

"Three things usually separate those who are successful from those who aren’t: time invested, interpersonal skills, and plain old-fashioned luck."

The grandson of immigrants, Michael Bloomberg was born in 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts. By the time he was three, his family settled permanently in Medford, a blue-collar suburb of Boston. His father worked as a bookkeeper for a small dairy. Michael often went to work with his father on Saturdays, taking the freight elevator up and down and playing with office equipment while waiting.  Michael recalls that his father “worked six or seven days a week all his life.”

Michael’s mother, an unusual woman for her time, was a 1929 graduate of New York University. She was hired by the same dairy where Michael’s father worked, but quit after they married and became a full-time wife and mother. Michael Bloomberg describes his mother, who is now 103 years old, as practical and caring. She insisted Michael 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. Michael remembers asking his mother once why their family ate so formally each night. She told him the best should be for the most important people—their family. Her message, he came to understand, was that his family members should take care of each other.  In talking about his family, Michael said, “It really was a cohesive, happy, sharing unit.” He describes what he learned from his parents in saying, “as a child, from them 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 Michael’s early education bored him. During his senior year in high school, he took two honors courses in history and literature and felt for the first time that his studies challenged him. Outside the classroom, he was an active Boy Scout. He says of that time, “Being a Boy Scout brought together my sense of community with my ambitions of personal accomplishment. I loved it. I savored earning every merit badge, took pride in achieving every rank.  I was one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in that organization’s history.” Michael spent entire summers away at Scout camp. His parents could afford to pay for only two weeks so he paid the remainder of the fees 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 Michael went on Saturday mornings to listen to 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, Michael worked after class and on weekends and summers for a small electronics company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He attended Johns Hopkins University, where he majored 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, Michael was stunned when his father died suddenly. A survivor of rheumatic fever as a child, Michael’s father emerged from the illness with a weakened heart. Michael was unaware of his father’s precarious health, and his father’s death greatly saddened him.

When he began contemplating what he would do after graduation in 1964, Michael 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, he 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 Michael Bloomberg. “I reveled in the work every minute of the day.”

Unfortunately, in 1981, he was fired from the only full-time job he’d ever known. He had worked for Salomon Brothers for 15 years, and put in 12-hour days. Salomon Brothers had been bought by another firm, and Michael 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. He had a vision of where he wanted to go with his business, and he deposited $300,000 into a corporate checking account to get Innovative Market Systems going. In starting his business, he says, “As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to know what I didn’t know, get access to the people who do know, and then study hard.”

His 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, installing 22 of the machines, which publicly became known as “the Bloomberg.” In 1986, the company was renamed Bloomberg, L.P. By 1988, 5,000 terminals had been installed. Within a few years, other products, including Bloomberg Tradebook (a trading platform), the Bloomberg Messaging Service, and the Bloomberg Newswire were launched. Today Bloomberg, L.P. has more than 275,000 subscribers to its financial news and information service in 161 countries and employees more than 11,000 people worldwide.

In 2001, Michael Bloomberg beat the odds to become mayor of the City of New York.  In office, he has cut crime more than 34 percent and created jobs by attracting new investment and supporting small business growth.  He implemented ambitious public health strategies, including the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, and expanded support for arts and cultural organizations. His education reforms have driven graduation rates up by more than 25 percent.  When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the Mayor’s policies helped New York City avoid the level of job losses that many experts had forecast and that other cities experienced.  And over the past year, New York City has accounted for 10 percent of the nation’s job growth. 

When talking to young people and offering advice, Mayor Bloomberg says, “To succeed, you must string together many small incremental advances—rather than count on hitting the lottery jackpot once. 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, based on 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 American free enterprise, Mayor Bloomberg says, “America really is the land of opportunity and home to more start-up 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.”  The Mayor also says, “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.”

Michael Bloomberg has always believed in the power of philanthropy to change people's lives for the better. That's why he has committed so much of his time, energy, and resources to the causes he believes in. 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 number two on its list of the 50 most generous people in America. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ five key areas of focus 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 him throughout his life.