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Illustration of Daniel Doctoroff, chief executive officer, Bloomberg LP (Anthony Jenkins/www.jenkinsdraws.com)
Illustration of Daniel Doctoroff, chief executive officer, Bloomberg LP (Anthony Jenkins/www.jenkinsdraws.com)

THE LUNCH

Meet Bloomberg's data-driven Daniel Doctoroff Add to ...

Just over a decade ago, Daniel Doctoroff got a phone call that would change his life. At the time, he was a successful financier who had an unusual project on the side: a quest to bring the Olympic Games to New York. That pursuit had introduced him to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who would become the city’s mayor.

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The call came not long after Mr. Bloomberg was first elected in November, 2001. Would Mr. Doctoroff like to join the new team at City Hall? At first the answer was no. Mr. Doctoroff was caring for his ailing father and committed to his private-equity firm. “I just didn’t feel like I could do it,” he recalled over breakfast this spring.

Then he met with the mayor-elect for an hour-and-a-half. Two months earlier, terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Center. Mr. Doctoroff’s job, as deputy mayor for economic development, would include rebuilding the site and pushing ahead with projects envisaged in the Olympic bid. “He’s very persuasive,” Mr. Doctoroff said of Mr. Bloomberg. “Look, it was the best decision I ever made.”

It was a decision that would lead, eventually, from Mr. Bloomberg’s political realm to his financial empire. Mr. Doctoroff, 55, is now chief executive of the mayor’s eponymous data-and-media giant, Bloomberg LP. His journey from finance to city government to the top of a privately held company with $8-billion (U.S.) in revenue is one of the more extraordinary career paths in a city famous for them.

We meet early one spring morning at Brasserie, a power-lunching spot at the base of Manhattan’s Seagram building. In the modernist dining room – honeyed wood floors, glass staircase – a few other tables are occupied, all by men in dark suits. The diners are more than likely Bloomberg clients; above them sit a phalanx of flat-screen televisions tuned to Bloomberg TV. Founded by Mr. Bloomberg in 1982, the firm grew into a global juggernaut that disrupted every field it touched, from market data to financial journalism. (Since Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, he has not been closely involved in the company’s operations, but he and Mr. Doctoroff talk or e-mail several times a week).

A tall man with graying curls, Mr. Doctoroff folds his frame into our angular booth. He is wearing a dark blue suit with a blue-and-white pinstriped shirt and a striped tie. He orders an ascetic’s breakfast – Greek yogurt with honey, accompanied by mint tea. In conversation, he is wry and measured, even subdued, with little of the fervour I expected.

In the media world, Bloomberg is the subject of fascination and fear. Boosted by the profits from its core terminal business, it has gobbled up journalistic talent while many other news organizations cut back. Its corporate idiosyncrasies are legion: a sleek headquarters with an abundance of free snacks; an obsession with data; a rejection of outward signs of hierarchy; and a hard-charging culture in which employees who leave to work for a competitor cannot return.

Well before he arrived at Bloomberg, Mr. Doctoroff had a yen for precision and a belief in the power of data. To eliminate clutter on his desk, he never touches a piece of paper twice. “I either delegate something, I dump it, or I deal with it,” he said with a laugh. He is prone to quantifying parts of his job: last year, over the course of the second quarter, he had 757 meetings – which worked out to about 12 each weekday.

Mr. Doctoroff’s mission at Bloomberg is twofold. The first is to sell more terminals – a subscription service that costs more than $20,000 (U.S.) a year per person and offers access to an expanding universe of data, analytical tools and news. Last year was a tough one for terminal sales; Wall Street firms continued to shed staff in what Mr. Doctoroff describes as “the fourth year of post-financial crisis adjustment.”

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