Bloomberg: Master of the McUniverse

First Bloomberg financial news, now Bloomberg Television. The media mogul of the Nineties spoke to Paul McCann
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The Independent Online
The London headquarters of Bloomberg, the fast-growing news service, is rather like those high-tech offices that feature in shampoo and cosmetics adverts. The kind where a woman who is patently a model pretends to be a high-flying business woman and says "I like to be in control ..."

Everyone is young, shiny and preternaturally busy just like in the ads. There are wall-sized fishtanks dotted around to keep everyone relaxed and kitchen areas loaded with free fruit, muesli and coffee.

In meeting areas - where you have to stand up to keep the meetings short - smart things look like they're getting a lot done.

The modish theme of the offices is even extended to not giving personal offices to senior staff. They are out in the open like everyone else.

Even Michael Bloomberg, the founder of the company and a man recently estimated to be worth $2bn (pounds 119m), sits in a meeting room. The office layout, the fruit, the fish and the whole $100m-a-year company is his idea. But then this has not been hard to detect.

The 75,000 financial information terminals on desks around the world are called Bloombergs. The television news programmes syndicated to channels around the world are called Bloomberg Business News, his own channels on satellite and cable are called Bloomberg Information Television and the company's monthly magazine is called Bloomberg, a consumer personal finance magazine is Bloomberg Personal Finance. Even Michael Bloomberg's autobiography is called Bloomberg on Bloomberg. There is something of a pattern emerging here.

"Well Mr Reuter is dead. Mr Dow is dead," he says. "When I die the company will lose the advantage of having a symbol of the company. That's my job now. I'm like Colonel Sanders: the implication is that he cooks every piece of chicken, they have his cardboard cut-out in every KFC, but he's been dead for two years."

Bloomberg on Bloomberg tells how after a $10m pay-off from his Wall Street job with the Salomon Brothers dealing house he set about creating a financial information company that is fast catching up on rivals such as Reuters. Having cracked business information and news with television and radio station he's now moving rapidly into general news for the consumer at large.

Rumours suggest that his next move is to launch a rival to the Financial Times, and already his journalists provide page-ready copy for the business section of the Independent on Sunday.

While the name obsession and the business autobiography smacks of a Donald Trump-sized ego Mr Bloomberg is surprisingly modest: "99 per cent of our success has been down to being in the right place at the right time. We happened to start the company at the right time." Bloomberg launched at the beginning of the Eighties, the decade when Wall Street and the City dropped their genteel image for a masters-of-the-universe, greed-is-good bullishness. Roaring markets funded investment in the newly developing technology that Bloomberg was there to supply more efficiently and with more innovations than his bigger, more bureaucratic rivals.

And then there are all those shiny young workers. "Our main asset has been our people," he says. "We give them fancy offices in nice parts of town, open-plan offices so that no one is hiding away from the frenetic pace. We give them food and fish and all that. It is all good business. Our staff turnover is single-digit. In companies where you have lots of journalists and young people you more normally lose 30 to 40 per cent of your staff." A further disincentive to leaving is Mr Bloomberg's demand for loyalty. If you leave the family to join a rival, you don't get back in - you're out forever.

And he works his people hard. In theory journalists are expected to write a piece for the financial wire service, present pieces on camera and appear on radio. The Bloomberg concept is that the same information is repackaged and spread across different media by the same people. In practice, though, Mr Bloomberg admits, some writers look on camera as if they're messing around in their basement with a camcorder.

Yet Mr Bloomberg believes his way of doing things will make his 24-hour news channels, which already broadcast in 11 languages, the first truly profitable "all news all the time" services. "CNN only sells advertising in the evenings for its interview shows. It probably makes a tiny profit. The BBC will have a tax payer's subsidy."

One key to Bloomberg's success is an acknowledgement that only a few people want "serious" news and this can be served up as what he calls "McNews" - bite-sized chunks of on-screen film largely bought from news services such as AFP or WITN. This is accompanied by text news in a separate box, weather reports on another part of the screen and a rolling financial wire service along the bottom. "Ordinary television is sequential and you have to watch for four times as long to see all that you see on Bloomberg TV," he explains. But you suspect that the real likelihood of success for the channel comes from his ability to keep costs down with all his multi-skilled young things.

At least partly, the television news service started off as a way of helping to sell more of the computer screens but now it is growing into a force in its own right. From last week 6 million households were able to decide for themselves whether they actually wanted "McNews" because Bloomberg Television started broadcasting from the Astra satellite, the second all-news network in cable and satellite homes after Sky News.

What marks Michael Bloomberg out as a truly Nineties media mogul is his lack of attachment to any particular type of media. Not for him the inky romance of newspapers that reportedly remains inside Rupert Murdoch. Television, print and radio are just different way of getting across different types of information. Bloomberg has even grasped the telephone as a medium and offers financial information free on the end of a 0-800 number - as long as you listen to some adsn

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