Politics and Public Policy

On Fairness and Decency

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke.

studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas, (1767-1769)

This is offered because I think that it is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. If good men and women are silenced by the madding crowd and unsubstantiated assertions then we will all suffer the consequences.

This could also be entitled: “In defense of Mike Bloomberg” but that would narrow the significance of the point I want to make. This is really stated in defense of spirited debate that does not stoop to name calling and appeals to the fears and worst passions of the crowd. Please give this lengthy post your time and attention:

The political process being what it is I should not be surprised, but the state of discourse during elections has hit a new low. It is not just our president and his tweets. The shocking statements that have come out of the democratic debates and the claims that are made without much evidence have motivated me to write this post. I worry because good women and men who could contribute their experience to help the country may choose to stay out of politics altogether.

A reporter from The Wall Street Journal reached out to me yesterday for my thoughts on Mike Bloomberg and the culture of the company he built. The reason that I was contacted is that I worked with Bloomberg at a fairly senior level after working with them as a vendor and then selling my company to them in 2014. The person who reached out to me from The Wall Street Journal seemed serious about collecting and corroborating as many facts around Bloomberg the company, its culture and Mike himself as possible. 

The sincerity of the reporter made me want to help and post this to my blog because I want to make clear that Bloomberg the company has a good culture and that Bloomberg “the man” was the prime architect of that culture. Also, I think that in our “sound-byte” culture even a good person can be made to look like they are severely flawed by the screaming invective of the political process. My goal is to add a positive voice to this debate based on facts and observations.

It is hard to get the good aspects of a person out in the public discourse. Due to a lot of the “opposition research” and public statements being released about Bloomberg and the culture there that surfaced in recent Democratic debates it seemed like Bloomberg was cast (unfairly) in an unflattering light. This post describes my perspective on what I saw while I worked with and for the company.

Mike Bloomberg strikes me as a good man. The company he built operates from a basis of integrity. I am an entrepreneur and have started and operated four companies. I have dealt with all kinds of people and have seen many organizations. Overall Bloomberg LP was the most impressive.

My experience with Bloomberg goes back to 2012.  The small software company I founded that year built a software solution for a business unit at Bloomberg. Bloomberg LP bought my company in 2014 when my team and I became employees of Bloomberg. I worked at Bloomberg LP as an employee for almost five years. While at Bloomberg my team had the opportunity to take on new projects well beyond what we initially were tasked to build. The team I led had engineers and support people located in both Cambridge MA and New York City, NY. We were well integrated into the culture at Bloomberg and were allowed the opportunity to deliver significant SW systems for them.

I can say that the company was tough but fair when I did business with them as an outside vendor. They negotiated very hard, expected a lot but lived up to every item in the contract we signed. They paid their bills on time and we delivered our product and made them successful in the certain area our SW enabled for them. The Bloomberg people I dealt with were tough and demanding and excellent at what they did, but fair and reasonable.

Mike Bloomberg was returning to the company about a month after the time when my firm was acquired. Therefore, I dealt with all of the senior managers who were there with Mike since the beginning of the firm and before he left to be the Mayor of New York City. When he came back it was clear that what he had put in place years before ran along in the same way it would with him being back in the building. Not much changed when he returned so he must have built the culture and team to carry on with his vision.

When my team and I became employees of Bloomberg LP I was impressed by the amount of training that is required of every employee. Training on data privacy and confidentiality around customer data was paramount. Customer satisfaction and “doing the right thing” was stressed. Making sure that all employees understand the policies and procedures that they must follow was a key component of the training for all employees, not just new ones. The most surprising thing was the commitment that the company made to training and awareness of issues around diversity.

Not just managers but all employees took required video classes in the area of diversity and awareness around “conscious and unconscious” bias toward others (handicapped fellow employees, people of color and other minorities and of course female employees). The training was tailored to the Bloomberg environment and made people think. It was expensive but it stressed that these are important topics to the management of the company. Everyone took the courses and they were placed into the employee “training transcript” to indicate that they had been completed. 

There was a lot of emphasis on charitable giving and employees were encouraged to work in group events organized to assemble bikes for disadvantaged kids, or to deliver food to soup kitchens or other charitable organizations. Employees were encouraged to go to local schools and be reading tutors for children. A lot of emphasis was put on giving back to the community. This was all culture that was put in place by Mike and it carried over into the upper management he had in place when he went off to run New York City as mayor.

When Mike came back to work at Bloomberg, he sent out emails telling everyone that he was back and that he was excited to re-engage with the company and the employees. He liked to get in early (he would explain; around 7 AM) and get into his workday before the mad rush began. He encouraged anyone to walk up to his desk and say “hello” and tell him what they do at the company. He told people that the best time to catch him at his desk was between 7 AM and 8 AM. I never worked anywhere else where the CEO and Founder would tell people when they would have the best chance to get to talk to him. I found this impressive, and it was genuinely expressed.

The firm had no private offices and only conference rooms had doors. Mike would explain in video “town halls” that he did not believe in doors as he felt that everyone should be open about what they were doing. He encouraged everyone to work together and be fair; he stressed the word fair a lot when he spoke, which resonated with me. 

Bloomberg can be a tough environment focused on results. The company is very goal-oriented and pushes everyone along to achieve its goals, but I can say that it is a fair place to work. One has to work hard but generally everyone is given the chance to succeed and is given the resources they need to get a job done. It is very business-like in that regard.

I met Mike twice in the time that I was working at Bloomberg. Once was a chance encounter at the coffee station where I did not notice him and he said: “hello, how are you, where do you work in the company?”. I told him that I ran a group that spanned Cambridge MA and New York City. He exclaimed that the office in Cambridge was not far from where he lived in Medford MA as a kid. He seemed excited to have an office near his hometown. We chatted about that and then he walked off with his coffee to his desk. 

Another time was when he gave a speech to a bunch of engineering executives and engineering folks at the Bloomberg Philanthropies offices. Mike spoke about how he had studied electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins. He then said that he realized that his talents were best used elsewhere but he always appreciated what we did for the firm. He also mentioned that we as engineering people should always be mindful to help minorities and women advance into leadership roles. Engineering had traditionally been the way for individuals new to professional life to advance themselves and he mentioned that is why he studied engineering. He walked around after his talk and spoke with me and most everyone that he could. He was very down to earth and grounded and clearly loved talking to people. 

So, when I heard the Democratic “hopefuls” attack Mike for his bias and accuse him of things that were discriminatory it did not fit with what I saw in the company. He clearly committed major amounts of resources to training employees to be mindful of how they were treating one another and how they should move minority and female employees along in their careers. 

Many times, my female co-workers commented on how much they loved working at the company. Flexible work schedules, lot of family leave for maternity and paternity situations, and an ability to work from home were all mentioned. Compared to other places I worked the benefits (such as those mentioned) were exceedingly generous. Managers were encouraged to promote an environment where employees could feel comfortable working from home as long as the work got done. When this arrangement was not encouraged and a senior manager found out about the situation, it was usually corrected, particularly with a high-performing employee.

There were incidents mentioned in the recent Democratic debates where vague references to behavior of Mike’s sometime in the past had caused female employees to be uncomfortable. The references (in the debates) were made in an inexact and awkward context and were impossible for Mike (or anyone) to refute directly. I don’t know what happened when these incidents occurred. I can say that the culture at the company seemed to be open and transparent and that if something uncomfortable happened it was likely inadvertent. I did not work closely with Mike but saw him in a lot of “town halls” (as I mentioned) where he interacted with people and I never saw or heard any disrespectful behavior. 

Mike seems to be the kind of guy who if he said something that caused someone to be uncomfortable, he would stop and learn from it. He was treated (in the debates) as if he was predatory and habitual about dealing with some employee groups. This seems unlikely as it just does not fit the culture that I saw at the company.

Mike set the tone for the organization and I never thought that it was anything but a great environment for everyone. The culture (as I mentioned) is focused on results and I was in meetings with upper managers who made very direct comments to people, but I never heard anything that was derogatory toward minority groups of employees or that was meant to be demeaning. The comments were always in relation to a serious business issue. The emphasis was on addressing the issue, not demeaning anyone.

The emphasis on training and awareness around these kinds of things was evidence that upper management takes diversity and inclusion seriously. Members of the “management committee” (Mike’s direct reports) were routinely stressing that we need to set goals and hire and promote females and minorities into all roles in the company. One of the committee members regularly published the goals toward promoting more women into leadership and management roles. These messages always mentioned goals set in this regard and the progress being made against those goals. It was clearly part of a conscious plan to bring diversity to the workforce.

Mike has also been criticized for being a “Billionaire”. Bernie Sanders also called him “immoral” for being a Billionaire. I don’t understand why someone who built his own business and was very successful and became a Billionaire is immoral. Mike gives away billions of dollars, he encourages and supports his employees to do so, and he left to perform public service as mayor of New York City.

Mike is financing his own campaign and is beholden to no person or group of people. He can afford to tell the world what he thinks because he will pay for his own campaign. To me this is not immoral but a wonderful change from politicians who take large donations from interest groups.

I understand that people think that this is unfair, but given that Mike has shown himself to be highly competent in a number of areas and that he asks nothing from lobbyist groups I am totally comfortable with Mike seeking higher office. He seems genuinely concerned with bringing people together and using “common sense” to provide solutions to our problems. He is concerned about the environment and wants to combat global warming. All of these are good things and good motivations.

So, I hope that I gave some insight into the culture of the company Mike founded by relaying what I saw. I was not a confidant of Mike’s and only spoke to him twice. But the culture that existed at the company did not seem predatory. Management at Mike’s company clearly put a lot of emphasis on recognizing that everyone needs a safe and effective workplace. So, I don’t think that the attacks on Mike in the debates were accurate or fair. I could go on about exact examples of hearing stories from satisfied employees who said that they would never leave the company but that would make this post even longer than it is and that would be counter-productive

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