His run marks the biggest gamble yet in a zigzagging political career in which Bloomberg has twice served as Republican mayor of New York City, followed by a third term as an independent after controversially rewriting the city’s electoral rules.
He has twice considered standing for president as an independent, but is now running for the Democrats after deciding that none of the party’s prospective candidates is good enough to beat Donald Trump.
We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions. The stakes could not be higher.
While both businessmen are New Yorkers, their rise to the top has been very different. Trump can thank inherited wealth, property and reality TV powered by maniacal self-belief, but Bloomberg turned a $US10 million ($14.7 million) payout after getting fired into a company worth an estimated $US40 billion ($59 billion) that has upturned the financial information industry.
His rise from Wall Street trader to technology and media magnate was powered by a slightly different sort of belief in his own exceptionalism: “I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but nobody’s going to outwork me,” he told The New York Times in 2017.
Born on Valentine’s Day 1942 to a dairy company accountant father, William, and housewife mother, Charlotte, the young Jewish Michael Bloomberg reportedly sold Christmas wreaths for summer camp.
After studying at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Harvard Business School, he got a job at the risk-taking bond trader Salomon Brothers, where he worked furiously hard, reportedly stripping down to his underwear to count bond certificates in a boiling hot bank vault.
Bloomberg moved to the equities desk and was made partner in 1972 before being forced into an IT division amid an internal power struggle. It was seen as a demotion – but what he learnt there sowed the seeds for his fortune. Fired two years later, in 1981, he spied an opportunity in selling financial information such as stock and bond valuations, as well as the software to analyse them.
Years before the internet and in the middle of a recession, he took his $US10 million severance pay and set up Innovative Market Systems, which developed computer terminals to view and analyse the data, selling them to clients such as investment bankers. Using better data and slicker systems than rivals such as Reuters, the renamed Bloomberg grew rapidly and its terminals are now an essential part of the global financial services machine, transforming the industry.
There are now more than 350,000 subscribers who each pay about $US24,000 a year – a tax on Wall Street of sorts, long before Bloomberg has the keys to the White House.
Bloomberg started branching into news in 1990 to give terminal subscribers extra information – with its ever-ambitious founder soon keen to make it the “world’s most influential source of news”. The tension with his presidential ambitions was laid bare when the company said it would maintain its policy of not writing about its owner – even as he runs for president. Still privately held, Bloomberg does not disclose numbers. However, the founder bought back Merrill Lynch’s 20 per cent stake for $US4.5 billion in 2008 – suggesting it was then valued at about $US40 billion. He owns 90 per cent of the company, and Forbes ranks him as the eighth-richest American, worth more than $US50 billion.
It has not come without challenges. Bloomberg alienated clients in 2013 when it emerged its journalists had regularly accessed details about terminal subscribers, such as what functions they had used, to help them get stories.
The major breach of ethics – described by the Bank of England as “reprehensible” – pushed some towards a rival service called Symphony. Bloomberg is also under growing threat from cost cutting across the finance industry and the rapid pace of change in technology.
Whether its founder will be around to meet those challenges remains to be seen. The fortune he made from the business helped him launch his $US74 million first New York City mayoral campaign in 2001.
That same fortune will now help bankroll his first bid for presidency, where he wants to provide more affordable medical care and cut pollution from fossil fuels.
Asked in 2017 by The New York Times what he would have done differently, Bloomberg gave a typically confident response: “Given the way things turned out, nothing.” Will he say the same by this time next year?