Bloomberg’s money machine
Editor-at-large Carol Loomis first met Michael Bloomberg in 1970, when she wrote a feature story about Salomon Brothers, where Bloomberg was a trader and, later, a partner. That upstart Wall Street firm eventually fired Bloomberg, freeing him to pursue a path that led him to financial data mogul-dom, three terms as mayor of New York City—and now a run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Loomis captured the arc of Bloomberg’s career for Fortune in this 2007 cover story, which depicts the rise of the namesake company whose success made it possible for “Mayor Mike” to propel himself into the ranks of presidential contenders.
After he had been ignominiously fired from a firm he loved, started a financial-information company that almost no one thought had a chance—and then triumphantly watched it change the landscape of Wall Street—Michael Bloomberg forecast how The New York Times would cover his death. His success, he said in 1998, flashing the ego that is one of his trademarks, ensured him “a long obituary.”
And that was before he was twice elected mayor of New York City, a job that he holds today and that has won him approval ratings George W. Bush would die for. Now, with Bloomberg’s second term as mayor due to end in early 2010 and his 65th birthday just past, the question is what Mayor Mike will do next to embellish his obit.
One sure answer is philanthropy, for which he has both billions of dollars and a passion. But speculation has grown about another possible career path: a run for the presidency. In a recent conversation with Fortune, Bloomberg coyly volunteered the line, “… assuming I’m not living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” In the next breath he waved that off as “not very likely.” Even so, a man doesn’t voice such a thought unless he’s thinking he may run.
We can’t know, therefore, the final dimensions of this big life. But for the sake of competitive drama and the celebration of a unique business model, we can step back and take the measure of the money machine called Bloomberg LP, which stands as a monument to the founder’s creativity and drive.
Bloomberg LP is a private business, nearly 68% owned by Mike (which is what we’ll usually call him to distinguish him from the enterprise). It is a Wall Street juggernaut that has pummeled competitors and changed the way financial information is provided to customers.
The secret: a sharp focus on delivering an ever-improving product and backing it up with unremitting attention to customer service. The company has also been a mother lode for Mike. It gave him the wealth to run for mayor, would let him single-handedly fund a campaign for President if he chooses to run, and will pave his road to large-scale philanthropy.
As mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg doesn’t officially run the company now, and he has said he won’t return to it (though few think he has retired from masterminding its large decisions). Instead, it is in the hands of an intensely loyal and close friend, Peter Grauer, 61, a former Wall Streeter who serendipitously met Mike in the late 1980s when both were chauffeuring young daughters to equestrian shows and who became executive chairman of the company soon after Mike was elected.
At Grauer’s side at the top are three seasoned Bloombergers: Alexius “Lex” Fenwick, 48, a Briton whose title is CEO but who is really the company’s operating head and chief salesman; Thomas Secunda, 52, who helped Mike start the company, owns some of its stock, and reigns as product guru; and Matthew Winkler, 51, who runs the company’s extensive journalism operations. These four are noncelebrities in the business world, not well-known at all.
Which hardly matters, because many, many thousands of people know—and loads are even addicted to—Bloombergs. There are 250,000 installations of this product around the world, for each of which customers typically pay $1,500 a month. On the floors of large financial institutions, there will usually be seas of Bloombergs, used for trading, research, investment banking, arbitrage, you name it. But they can turn up anywhere: on the desks of attorneys, in the homes of private investors, in the offices of central bankers – and certainly at City Hall in New York City. (Even a BlackBerry can access the product.)
As a shortcut, customers and insiders often call installations simply “the Bloomberg” or a “terminal”—and for convenience, we will too. At its heart, though, the product has little to do with hard goods. Rather, it is a subscription service that sells financial data, analytic software to leverage the data’s usefulness, trading tools and news (electronic, print, TV, radio). All of this is accessible through a color-coded Bloomberg keyboard that pops the desired information onto a computer screen, either your own or one Bloomberg provides. (You can also set up your computer to use the service without a Bloomberg keyboard.)
The central fact about Bloomberg’s new headquarters in midtown Manhattan is that it is nonhierarchical, having no private offices; all employees, from the brass on down, sit in long rows of terminal-laden desks. The surround is modern art, exotic flowers, 22 fish tanks filled with rare specimens and expanses of light and color. The company’s international offices are high style too. All the spaces, says executive Fenwick, are “meant to dazzle.” And the corporate culture is as distinctive as the décor.
As the visuals suggest, Bloomberg LP is itself a specimen of wealth – though you couldn’t prove that by the sparse financial data it releases. Mike Bloomberg didn’t help the flow of information by turning down Fortune’s request for a face-to-face interview, talking for only about ten minutes on the phone. His company, however, not only made its top people available for long interviews but also supplied Fortune with a string of revenue figures that it has never before made public. These numbers go nowhere but up and for 2006 show approximately $4.7 billion in revenues. That would place the company at about No. 475 on the Fortune 500, not bad for an operation that got started only 25 years ago.
Beyond that, Bloomberg LP is smashingly profitable. Fortune’s estimate, derived from many interviews outside the company as well as in, is that the company’s 2006 operating profits (that is, before taxes) were about $1.5 billion. That put the company’s operating margin a bit above 30% of revenues. That margin doesn’t match Microsoft’s (about 37%), but it is way above Apple’s, which has been running under 15%. And none of Bloomberg’s most visible competitors in financial information—Dow Jones, Reuters, and the Thomson Financial unit of Thomson Corp.— have operating margins that reach 20%.
Mike Bloomberg is enormously and justifiably proud of Bloomberg LP. He nonetheless recently considered selling it. A sale, of course, would sweep in the other shareholders, who include (a) a few people who started the company with Mike and (b) Merrill Lynch, which helped finance it along the way and owns 20% of it (a large fact that goes completely unmentioned in Merrill’s financial statements).
But having tight control, Mike engaged last year in small discussions with at least a few possible buyers. Among them were private-equity firms that are rolling in cash and would no doubt kill to get hold of this property.
However, the proprietor emerged from his excursion deciding not to sell just now, giving no further explanation. The news sent waves of jubilation through the company’s offices, since few think another owner could match Mike. In particular, the television staff at Bloomberg—650 people—breathed sighs of relief, because the perception is that new private-equity owners would immediately cut expenses by exiting the costly TV business. Mike Bloomberg, on the other hand, has always thought TV good for the Bloomberg brand.
In any case, there is a pointed question to be asked of Mike about his sale explorations, and Fortune asked it in a phone conversation with him in January: “Considering how proud you are of this company, could you really sell it to a private-equity firm?” And he answered, “No, I couldn’t.”
All that noted, we can estimate what Bloomberg LP might bring in a sale. Assuming operating profits are indeed $1.5 billion, and assuming also that terminal sales will keep rising – there was a gain of 26,000 in 2006 – a price of $20 billion might be not only possible but close to a floor. Amounts above that seem entirely feasible.
And even at $20 billion, Mike Bloomberg’s stake would be worth more than $13 billion – which is a far sight above the $5.5 billion that Forbes has just accorded the mayor in its billionaires’ list. (To give credit where it’s due, both CNBC and a New York City newspaper, The Sun, pointed out last fall—obviously to no avail—that Forbes has been underestimating Mike Bloomberg’s wealth.)
Battle of the business news providers
One sticky fact about the $13 billion or so: Right now it’s in the company, not handy if Mike were soon to decide he needed cash for a campaign or philanthropy. So how to create liquidity? The probable answer is debt. Mike may not as yet have taken any on, but a source close to the company says he surely will.
Another way to think about the value of Bloomberg LP is to compare it with what its publicly traded competitors are worth – and there are some shocks in this information. Thomson Corp., the former newspaper chain that transformed itself into an information provider in fields ranging from health to finance, has a market value of $27 billion. Reuters, the company most comparable with Bloomberg in product and revenue size, is down at $11 billion. And Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones – ready for this? – is at $3 billion.
The Dow Jones vs. Bloomberg saga is a stunner. In 1982, when Bloomberg the company entered the scene as a gnat, Dow Jones was America’s uncontested and proud king of financial information. It had the Journal and the Dow Jones ticker and also a glimmer that the future was technology.
So in the late 1980s, Dow Jones bought a leading electronic product, Telerate, for about $1.6 billion. But Telerate simply supplied financial information to its customers – period. As they say at Bloomberg, “Telerate didn’t do anything with the data,” never providing the software that would magnify the usefulness of its information. And in 1998, struggling with both Telerate operating losses and shareholders furious about them, Dow Jones sold the company to Bridge Information Systems for $510 million, more than $1 billion less than it paid.
Last year Dow Jones had revenues of $1.9 billion – against Bloomberg’s $4.7 billion. Dow Jones’s operating profit was $105 million – against Bloomberg’s estimated $1.5 billion.
The Wall Street Journal, even after its recent physical downsizing, remains a premier product. But in the annals of business, the fall of Dow Jones from its financial-information throne and the rise of Bloomberg must be counted one of the great competitive turnabouts in history.
The Reuters vs. Bloomberg battle is still being waged. Reuters, based in London, is a journalistic long-timer, having first made its mark in delivering news by using carrier pigeons in 1850 to outrace the trains running between Brussels and Aachen.
Over the 150 years that followed, Reuters struggled commercially, but a pivotal modern moment came when it formed a joint venture with an American computer-terminal company in the 1960s and began sending its customers statistical data about equities. It also exploited the Bretton Woods elimination of fixed exchange rates by making itself the primary facilitator of foreign-currency trading. So just when Mike Bloomberg was starting his company, Reuters was engaged in a technological metamorphosis of its own.
Yet it severely underestimated its new rival. A 2003 book, “Breaking News: How the Wheels Came Off at Reuters,” written by two former Reuters journalists, Brian Mooney and Barry Simpson, says the company “failed first to notice and then to head off the challenge.” Mike Bloomberg, the book reports, was widely viewed within Reuters as an arrogant trader, devoid of the ability to build a real company.
Reuters was itself sometimes blasé about management, intentionally hoarding some of its best people for the newsroom rather than putting them in the executive suite. Later, at the end of the 1990s, Reuters shuddered in embarrassment when the FBI investigated whether it had stolen Bloomberg trade secrets. The case was ultimately dropped. Its biggest effect, the speculation goes, may have been to dim Reuters’ enthusiasm for battling Bloomberg to the wall.
The events of 9/11 and the accompanying business downturn staggered both companies, but Reuters in particular went into a spin that led to painful losses in 2002 and 2003. Today it has a well-regarded American CEO, Tom Glocer, who has been working to fix the company by greatly simplifying its product line and shedding noncore operations.
Meanwhile, the revenue picture is generally one of Bloomberg relentlessly closing the gap. In 2000 Reuters was more than twice the size of Bloomberg, which had revenues of $2.5 billion. In 2006 the two companies were virtually tied, at $4.7 billion.
So just how good a company is Bloomberg? Tellingly, speaking to Fortune, both Reuters’ Glocer and the CEO of Thomson Financial, Sharon Rowlands, volunteered their admiration for what Mike Bloomberg has created.
But perhaps the most powerful testimonial comes from current Bloomberg chairman Grauer, who previously headed private equity at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette and considers himself “a student of companies.” Never mind that he has to be somewhat prejudiced; rarely does one hear a chairman speak of his business in such lofty terms. “I would put us,” he says, “as one of the great companies of the world. We have changed the way our customers do business. We have democratized the flow of information and leveled the field for people, particularly the buy side of the business. And I have never seen a company whose people are as acutely aware of working for a global organization. Our customer service around the world is seamless.”
‘Here was the future’
How Michael Rubens Bloomberg built this marvel was part vision and part random events. Bloomberg had thrived as a trader at Salomon Brothers during the 1970s, loving the place, then made an enemy who got him banished to run the firm’s rudimentary computer systems. Soon after, Salomon took itself public by merging with Phibro – whereupon Bloomberg and a few other Salomon partners were declared surplus. The only silver linings for Mike were that he had stored up computer knowledge and was leaving with a bundle of Phibro-Salomon securities worth around $10 million.
Recruiting a few friends to join him, Bloomberg conceived a company that would supply computerized aid to Wall Street firms and other financial operations that traded fixed-income securities. There would be rivers of data (providing, say, all the specs of a corporate bond), analytic tools that would allow users to manipulate the data (calculating, say, the relative value of government bonds vs. corporate ones) and for the processing of transactions, systems that tightly linked traders with their back offices.
It was brave new stuff, and the complete package certainly didn’t come into being overnight. But by 1982, Bloomberg’s company – then going by the name Innovative Market Systems – had landed its first order, from Merrill Lynch, and was on its way.
Bill McElroy, a veteran bond buyer who now works for a Manhattan investment advisor and treasures his Bloomberg, remembers seeing a sales presentation of the product at a hotel in the early 1980s. He says, “They had an old IBM Selectric typewriter hooked up to a terminal, the hotel switchboard kept messing up the presentation, and everything worked abominably. It was primitive. But you could just see it: Here was the future.”
He and other buy-siders went on to indeed identify Bloomberg as a great leveler, because it sharpened their knowledge of bond values to the point they could hold their own with sell-side traders (who meanwhile lamented the transparency that the new product brought to the market).
“And then,” says McElroy, “Bloomberg just kept adding more stuff,” which is like saying the Pilgrims were followed by many more immigrants. From its start in bonds, Bloomberg gradually poured in data and analytics on commodities, equities, foreign securities of all kinds, energy, mortgage-backed securities, derivatives, mutual funds, real estate, hedge funds, foreign exchange. Its oceans of information today include earnings estimates, SEC filings, merger and acquisition facts, legal documents and data on 1.3 million people.
Yes, you can search on Google for people. But a Bloomberg can give you a quick-and-dirty rundown that, at its best, will provide address and phone, year of birth, education, employment history, news stories about your subject, compensation when that’s public, maybe some family details. If you’d next like to e-mail that person, and maybe send him a raunchy joke that would get you in trouble on your corporate system, you can send it on the Bloomberg e-mail system. “Just Bloomberg me” is a common Wall Street instruction.
And of course, you’ve got news. Convinced by 1990 that he needed to compete fully with the Dow Jones News Service and Reuters, Mike Bloomberg hired bond reporter Matt Winkler from The Wall Street Journal and told him to start building a news service.
Today Winkler has 2,300 people, more than half outside the U.S., reporting to him. He thinks of them all as being in the news service, but some specifically put out a magazine, Bloomberg Markets, staff a 24-hour television operation (which in the U.S. is available mainly by satellite transmission or digital cable), and run a New York City radio station. You can get the TV and radio on a Bloomberg.
‘I’ve got to have a Bloomberg’
The mountains of information on a Bloomberg, and the functions that allow the data to be usefully analyzed, are both the service’s glory and its occasional burden. One Manhattan value investor said recently he’d removed the Bloomberg from his desk because he was spending too much time on it. Some technical fumblers and old-school moguls also find the sheer size of the Bloomberg menu daunting.
Michael Steinhardt, the hedge fund pioneer, said recently that he has a Bloomberg on his desk but doesn’t know how to use it. The retired chairman of Citigroup, Sandy Weill, says he uses his but wouldn’t dare stray from the pages that show the price of Citi stock and changes in the major indexes, for fear he could never get back to them. (Another financial notable, Warren Buffett, does not have a Bloomberg on his desk, though a member of his staff uses one gratefully.)
To be sure, if you’re willing to learn, training classes are freely given and hordes of Bloomberg customer-service people will “smother you with love” – that’s how Lex Fenwick puts it. You could tax them with questions 24/7, and they would politely pass you around the world’s time zones, from one help desk to another, normally talking or writing to you in your own language, even if that’s Urdu.
As for Bloomberg prices, they have no direct connection to the mass of content the company has added over the years – they just go up periodically. Not by a bundle, either, since it is pretty clear that Bloomberg does not see itself as blessed with price elasticity. Late last year, the company raised rates roughly 5%, as it has done about every two years in the recent past.
Here are the current particulars: When a customer buys a standard Bloomberg Professional subscription he enters into a two-year contract, paying quarterly in advance. If the customer has just one Bloomberg, the rate is $1,800 per month. If he has multiple Bloombergs, which is overwhelmingly the case, the charge is $1,500 for each. Should the customer want Bloomberg to, for example, effect equity trades or supply flat-panel screens, there are additional charges; real-time stock prices are among the other items that cost extra.
An unusual element of this pricing structure – and a pillar of the business model – is that Bloomberg absolutely will not provide volume discounts. The monthly price if you have two Bloombergs is $1,500 for each; the price if you have 2,000 Bloombergs is $1,500 each. Neither can you buy only a portion of Bloomberg’s data. It’s the whole megillah or nothing.
In contrast, Reuters and Thomson Financial are much more flexible about both price and what they will sell. Reuters actually has more terminals installed than Bloomberg but doesn’t come close to getting as much in revenues out of each one.
Talk to a large number of Bloomberg customers, and you will find some who don’t know what a subscription costs and others who think the price steep, to the point that they contemplate having their Bloombergs removed. In between, there are people who know precisely what they are paying and find the product worth it. The technical expert at a respected money-management firm recently called Bloomberg “an essential component of our business process” and went on to give his view of the world: “There are really two types of market-data users out there – the ones who have a Bloomberg and the ones who wish their firm would spring for one.”
There are funny echoes of that opinion in a recent experience of Paul Darrah, an architect who oversaw the construction of Bloomberg’s new Manhattan headquarters, then last year took a new job as head of real estate at Lehman Brothers. Darrah recalls being introduced early on to a Lehman executive who, hearing where Darrah had come from, tore into him about Bloomberg, gathering steam as he talked.
“It’s like drugs,” railed the executive, “like selling heroin, and they get you hooked, and they screw around with cables under your desks, and they keep selling … All the traders are out there saying, ‘I’ve got to have a Bloomberg, I’ve got to … ‘ It’s like crack cocaine, because everyone has to have it, right?” He stopped and pinned Darrah with a fierce look: “I’ll bet you’re a spy. They put you in here, didn’t they?” It took a while, says Darrah, but finally the executive cooled down and allowed, “It’s a brilliant product.”
The ultimate test of a Bloomberg’s worth to an employee would be whether his boss could bribe him to give it up. Well, the head of a much-admired East Coast money-management firm says he tried that not long ago, with astounding results. Figuring unhappily that the cost of a Bloomberg was $18,000 annually and not believing that his value-investing analysts could be getting that much out of it, the boss told each of 12 analysts that he would raise their individual bonuses by $15,000 if they would give up their Bloombergs. Eleven out of the 12 said no. One analyst said he would actually prefer to see his current bonus cut by $15,000 rather than give up his Bloomberg.
There are close to 9,400 employees at Bloomberg, and all would cheer that analyst’s fidelity to the product. That’s because the company has a highly unusual compensation system that ties employee pay directly to the sale of terminals – or more precisely, to net installations, or “net installs.”
The concept behind this system is that everyone at the company should be driving toward only one goal: selling more Bloombergs. To underscore that point, large electronic signs hanging from the ceilings in the Bloomberg offices report progress on both sales and installations. Bells ring to mark a sale – multiple times if the news justifies it.
Every year, virtually all Bloomberg employees get compensation – in effect, bonuses – based on how many net installs Bloomberg put on the books in the twelve months just past. This reward comes from certificates, nicknamed “certs,” that are given annually to an employee in the month following his hiring (so he could have, for example, a May-to-May year) and cash out in two years, though only if that person is still a Bloomberger. In other words, if an employee quits Bloomberg, he or she is always leaving money on the table.
Turnover at the company is in fact quite low – it ran just above 12% in 2006 – and certs may be one of the reasons. (There are two top people who don’t participate in the cert system: chairman Grauer, because he and Mike Bloomberg worked out a different, undisclosed compensation scheme, and Secunda, because he’s an owner of the company. Fenwick and Winkler, on the other hand, are awarded certs, and because they’re so high up, get a large percentage of their pay that way.)
The Bloomberg system is all about revenues, not profits. The company has no profit centers; every initiative – the magazine, television, radio – is valued not for the dollars it brings in but for its contribution to making the Bloomberg product more indispensable.
One manager who was at the company in its early days remembers that Mike Bloomberg dressed him down once for spending his brainpower on trying to cut costs rather than selling. “You worry about sales,” said Mike, “and I’ll worry about profits.”
Of course, there are occasional situations in which some customer goes out of business and Bloombergs are a casualty. In a case like that, the immediate financial hit to Bloomberg LP is mild, given that it has been paid quarterly in advance. But Bloomberg is stung nevertheless, because the customer won’t be finishing out whatever remains of its two-year contract, probably won’t be paying the “breakage fee” that is supposed to apply to contract terminations, and won’t be signing up for a new contract.
All of that, for example, describes Amaranth Advisors, a $9.5 billion hedge fund that went calamitously out of business last fall, losing $6.4 billion for its investors. At death, it had 221 Bloombergs worldwide. Those were in effect returned to Bloomberg LP, except that the company has a policy of letting any user who loses his job have a Bloomberg at home for four months – free of charge – while he tries to get hired somewhere else.
By January, most of the Amaranth employees had indeed taken new jobs and were once again re-equipped with Bloombergs. So Grauer was then measuring his Amaranth loss as amounting to only 41 terminals, which struck him as bearable. Besides that, the electronic sign hanging near his desk and keeping tabs on net installs was proclaiming that the company was having a fine start to the year.
That sales picture could change quickly. Despite Bloomberg’s ever-blooming drive to broaden its customer base – to become a staple at law firms, for example – the company is cyclically tied to the financial world.
Mapping the future
The company made its biggest gallops upward in the last years of the stock market bubble, when its revenues grew annually by rates averaging better than 25%. Then reality set in, and growth slowed to a crawl—3% in 2003. It was a scary period, says Fenwick, made especially so because Mike Bloomberg had left the building. “You lost your best salesman,” says Fenwick, “and someone you were used to testing your opinion against, this person with a remarkable brain.”
It is indeed testimony to Mike’s thinking power that the management team he put in place was able to both successfully grind through that period and cope with one strange twist in the cast of characters. The twist concerned Fenwick, who after Mike’s election had a four-month period in which he was CEO in both name and authority. Then Grauer moved in as boss, the clear choice of Mike to watchdog his valuable property. Fenwick, demoted – though he says he never saw it that way – stepped back to running sales and other operations, as he had under Mike.
That management flip may have been unorthodox, but it produced a set of top executives – strong personalities, speed talkers and hard workers all – who have obviously functioned well. Grauer, widely liked and respected, is precise in conversation and visibly organized, a classic clean-desk man. Fenwick is shorn of hair, tieless almost always, and “cool,” naturally loaded with charm but regarded by a former, uncharmed employee as sometimes aggressively rude.
Winkler, who was a first-rate bond reporter in his old Wall Street Journal life, has a neckline distinction of his own: bow ties, always. A goof by one of his newspeople can rile him enormously; a former Bloomberger says the offender may then get “Winklerized,” which means chewed out.
Secunda, a bearded mathematician, is described by Grauer as both “strong as horseradish” – a Texas expression, it seems – and “the most important guy in the company,” a salute to his deep knowledge of the Bloomberg product, his obsession about constantly improving it and his standing as a founder.
When the leadership team was tested in hard times, caution prevailed. After 9/11, with the securities industry reeling from both tragedy and the bursting of the stock market bubble, Grauer and company made a conscious decision to stop building the company’s headcount. From 2001 through 2005, the number of employees stayed constant at 7,800. But there was naturally turnover in the workforce, and the company exploited it by hiring a preponderance of tech experts (many jettisoned by Wall Street) and putting them to work in research and development and programming jobs.
As the world got sunnier in 2006, the company swung toward expansion, beginning to head toward a workforce of 10,000. This time around, the company is focusing on building its news staff. That’s an astounding rarity in the news industry, of course. Many journalistic organizations, including Fortune’s parent, Time Inc., have been cutting people.
Head newsman Winkler has different priorities, including a belief that new bureaus and more journalists will simply help the business. He said recently that he feels under almost no cost pressures in his department.
It sometimes seems, in fact, particularly when one looks around Bloomberg’s glitzy offices, that costs are just about the last thing that anyone at the company thinks about. But Grauer says that is emphatically not the case: “I am riveted on our financial performance,” he says. He often dwells as well – a few public companies could learn from this – on “the creation of shareholder value.” Of course he mainly has just one shareholder in mind, that fellow who’s located 6.2 miles south in Manhattan, in City Hall.
With unmistakable sincerity, Grauer sums up how he views his work: “I’m doing something for someone whom I care deeply about while he’s doing a job that’s extraordinarily important.” Waving from a glass-walled conference room toward his bullpen desk, in front of which there is the usual heavy foot traffic, he says, “I get a lot of satisfaction out there.”
Whether he continues to feel that way will naturally depend on the company’s ability to thrive in the years ahead and to outdo the competition as it has in the past. That job appears to be getting harder. An energized Reuters has landed two big orders – from Citigroup and HSBC – that it loves to talk about.
Thomson Financial put 28,000 terminals on the desks of registered reps at Merrill Lynch (yes, Merrill Lynch, that 20% owner of Bloomberg LP). Thomson is also expanding its news operation.
No doubt some Bloomberg customers cheered those signs of competitive vigor. There is a belief around that Bloomberg is arrogant and that the world would be greatly improved if customers had more choice.
Grauer says they have plenty: “It’s a highly, highly competitive market out there.” But he is also persuaded that Bloomberg LP has nothing but a great future ahead of it. Much of the company’s growth will come from abroad, particularly Asia, he predicts.
He also cites work done by the McKinsey Global Institute, an economic think tank that annually measures the value of the world’s financial assets. The 2005 figure was $140 trillion, and MGI projects $214 trillion for 2010. “The markets,” says Grauer, “are growing deeper and deeper, and that plays right into our strength.”
But of course, the company has had another strength: the belief that it could do anything, beat any competitor, win any war. So much for the “Bloomberg killers” that were always said to be coming along – they just didn’t make the grade.
That doesn’t mean that today is free of threats. The men at the top of Bloomberg identify one dread: complacency. The company’s biggest problem is “ourselves,” says Fenwick – Bloomberg folks enjoying the comfortable life, getting paid well, spinning out terminals, working in a business grown so big that change comes hard. And yet, says Fenwick, “you’ve got to be prepared to go chuck it up in the air and do it differently.”
No one there 25 years ago, like the mayor and Secunda, could then have imagined such a remark being made from a position of power. But starting off the second 25 with the understanding that the Bloomberg killer could be yourself is not a shabby way to think.
Reporter Associates Doris Burke, Patricia A. Neering and Christopher Tkaczyk contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 2007 issue of Fortune.