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Book Review: Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics by Joyce Purnick

18 Nov


Publisher: PublicAffairs
Published: 2009
Review: Philip Nowak
One-liner: Biography on Mike Bloomberg‘s life, with a heavy focus on his last decade as mayor of NYC.
Why I decided to read it?
I really enjoy reading books on successful business leaders and professional skill development, so this book fit within this niche rather nicely.  I first learned about the Bloomberg media company during my sophomore year of college.  I opened an online stocktrading account and started trading in between classes in my dorm.  I used every resource available to me whether the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, NYSE MarketTrac, various investing publications and finally the many resources that Bloomberg provides.  Even though CNBC had more highly entertaining programs, I remember Bloomberg being the holy grail for all Wall Street banks and brokers.  I never had access to a Bloomberg computer terminal, but I did my best to utilize all of the company data and investing information that was made available online and on Bloomberg TV.
As the traditional media landscape changes rapidly due to advancements in digital and social technologies, I find media moguls such as Mike Bloomberg, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch to be fascinating.  All three moguls were wildly successful, a few wild failures aside, and rose to the top of the media world employing very different business strategies.  As I plan the launch of Firmology, my own small business news and information media company, I aspire to learn as much as I can from incredibly successful individuals such as Bloomberg.
What is it about?
Joyce Purnick is a New York Times columnist who has generally covered the NYC political scene during her long writing career.  Her book showcases her newspaper writing style as one chapter easily flows into the next, giving the reader a feeling of being immersed in a long essay within the New York Times Sunday edition.  Although Purnick met with a deeply private Mike Bloomberg to discuss her biography, the meetings were conducted reluctantly with a press aid by his side at all times.  Coupled with the fact that most of the people that Purnick interviewed first sought permission from Bloomberg or declined to comment at all, this could almost be considered an unauthorized biography.  These “roadblocks” might explain the heavy focus on Bloomberg’s political career, rather than his wild success as a businessman.
Purnick follows a standard biography format by offering details of Bloomberg’s life in chronological order.  We learn that a young Mike Bloomberg grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Medford, a suburb of Boston.  After attending John Hopkins University, Bloomberg attended Harvard Business School.  After graduating from HBS, Bloomberg joined Salomon Brothers, the venerable Wall Street powerhouse in the 1970s and 1980s.  Bloomberg thrived in the testosterone-filled and ultra-competitive work environment at Salomon Brothers and soon became general partner heading the equity trading group.
Due to a tumultuous relationship with another highly influential power broker within the firm, Bloomberg was relegated to the technology department where he headed systems development.  This would have been a huge blow to the ego of most figures on Wall Street, but Bloomberg accepted the demotion and developed financial market data and analysis tools for Salomon’s traders.  Bloomberg was eventually fired and given a $10 million severance package, which was the seed money that he used to launch the company which became the basis for the Bloomberg media conglomerate.
That pretty much summarizes the first few chapters of Purnick’s take on the first 60 years of Bloomberg’s life.  This limited information on Bloomberg the successful businessman should have been expected for two reasons: 1) Purnick is a NYC political scene writer 2) Bloomberg published his own autobiography in 1997 (updated edition in 2001) prior to becoming mayor.  The majority of the book is focused on Bloomberg’s experience in office, from his initial political ambitions to his audacious move to strong-arm the city council to extend the mayoral term limits enabling him to serve a third term.  Purnick structures the meat in-between these two political “bookends” into individual chapters focusing on political highlights and lowlights ranging from NYC’s bid for the Olympics, education reform, Bloomberg’s stern refusal to cut city services.
Who should read it?
Clueless New Yorkers who, according to the author, know nothing about the man who is now on his third term as mayor of NYC.  Readers who enjoy books on business and leadership may come away yearning for more information on Mike Bloomberg the media mogul rather than Mike Bloomberg the politician.  Devoted fans will enjoy reading about Bloomberg’s successes and failures during the last decade and a half since his autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, was published in 2001.
My overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
(Rating Scale: 1 star = I hate it, 2 stars = I dislike it, 3 stars = It’s ok, 4 stars = I like it, 5 stars = I love it)
What are your thoughts on Mike Bloomberg, the success of his company or his political reign?  What other business leaders, politicians or media moguls do you admire?  If you’ve read this book, we’d love for you to share your review with us in the comments below!