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.
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.”
The second task is to lead the company into other areas and make those investments pay off. Bloomberg has launched what it hopes will become indispensable data products for fields like law and government and also for back-office personnel within finance. Then there’s the media business, which includes a news service, television, radio and magazines, among them Bloomberg Businessweek, which was purchased in 2009. Businessweek still isn’t profitable, but it’s losing much less money than it used to. The magazine, like the rest of the news operation, serves another objective in the Bloomberg ecosystem, Mr. Doctoroff said: heightening the firm’s profile so it can attract more market-moving scoops, which in turn helps to sell more terminals.
“You have to think of news for us, in all of its forms, as an integral part of this much bigger product,” Mr. Doctoroff said between spoonfuls of yogurt.
A few weeks after we meet, a mini-scandal erupts. The virtuous cycle described by Mr. Doctoroff has taken a vicious turn: Bloomberg reporters had access to certain details about terminal users and were mining that information to further their stories. For instance, reporters could see when subscribers had last logged in to the system, a move akin to punching a time clock in the financial industry.
Mr. Doctoroff immediately cut off reporters’ access to the information and apologized to clients. For some customers – which include not just Wall Street firms but central banks – the episode was an uncomfortable reminder of how deeply Bloomberg’s terminals are embedded in their work.
The incident does not appear to have had any impact on the number of subscribers. Mr. Doctoroff convened two separate reviews of Bloomberg’s practices, which will wrap up next month. The first is examining how Bloomberg handles client data and the second focuses on the relationship between the company’s news and commercial operations.
“There’s probably never been a news organization as large and arguably, as influential, that has the kind of relationships that we do from a commercial perspective with the people the news organization is covering,” said Mr. Doctoroff in a recent follow-up phone conversation. The review is a way “to step back and say, ‘Look, we’re in a different world now.’ ”
Mr. Doctoroff allowed that recent months “haven’t been my most relaxing period” at Bloomberg. However, he added, “Having been in government and having been the object of some controversy, [I] recognize that what’s important as you go through these things is to retain some perspective.”
During Mr. Doctoroff’s six years at City Hall, he had both admirers and detractors. Among those in the former category, count the current mayor (like Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Doctoroff was paid a salary of $1 during his time in government). In the latter category were some city and state officials, who took umbrage at what they saw as arrogance.
New York’s Olympic bid ultimately failed – the 2012 games went to London instead – but some of the redevelopment projects it envisaged went ahead anyway, championed by Mr. Doctoroff.
He also spearheaded an initiative to prepare the city for two decades of future growth and make it more environmentally sustainable. One goal was to begin girding New York for a changing climate, a threat Mr. Doctoroff witnessed firsthand last October.
Standing near Manhattan’s West Side Highway, he watched the waters of the Hudson River roll up on to the island at high tide during the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. He was there to keep watch on a Bloomberg data centre, which was unscathed. The eerie drive home, through dark and deserted streets, has stayed with him. “Sitting there that night, you obviously worry about the place that you love,” he said.
Mr. Doctoroff never expected to end up in New York. He grew up in a suburb of Detroit, the eldest of four brothers. He has childhood memories of driving the 401 on family road trips and getting thrashed by pint-sized Canadian adversaries at hockey tournaments. “Fortunately, there was a mercy rule at, like, 9-to-nothing,” he recalled with a laugh.
(His brother Andrew recently became a senior adviser on transportation for the Michigan state government. His task: to make sure the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor gets done.)
Mr. Doctoroff left the Detroit area to go to Harvard and later law school at the University of Chicago. He only moved to New York because his wife Alisa had a job here. He started out as an investment banker and later joined a private-equity firm founded by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, a job that made him a multimillionaire.
“There are people whose impatience gets in their way. Dan is not that at all,” said Steven Gruber, a managing partner at Oak Hill Capital Partners who has known Mr. Doctoroff for decades. “He is impatient to accomplish things. He’s just wired that way.”
Back at Brasserie, the crowd has thinned out. It’s time to start the rest of the day, where, according to pattern, roughly 12 meetings should await Mr. Doctoroff. He dons an athletic windbreaker over his suit and heads north to the office.
Born in 1958 in Newark, N.J.
Grew up in Birmingham, Mich.
Attended Harvard College and the University of Chicago Law School
Married to Alisa Doctoroff; three children, 25, 22, 21
Lives on New York’s Upper West Side
Funds research to combat Lou Gehrig’s disease; sits on the boards of World Resources Institute, Human Rights First and Culture Shed
1984 – 1987: Investment banker, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
1987 – 2001: Partner and managing partner, Oak Hill Capital Partners
1994: Began 11-year effort to bring the Olympic Games to New York
2002 – 2008: Deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, New York
2008 – 2011: President, Bloomberg LP
2011 – present: chief executive officer, Bloomberg LP
New York history, cycling, golf
In His Own Words
On Detroit’s bankruptcy: It’s clearly sad. What it’s not is a surprise … I’m actually an optimist. I believe that Detroit has a terrific geographic position. It still is a hub of one of the most important industries in the world. There’s incredible engineering and other talent. Even though the city has been depopulated, that actually creates an asset, which is land – which can be used to attract people to the city. You’re going to look back 2, 5, 10 years from now and see that this was actually the turning point in Detroit’s future. Look, I’m a contrarian investor. This is a time to buy Detroit. Some smart people have been doing it already.
On his career path: I believe we’re all endowed with a very small set of narrow skills that make us unique. You’ve got to find what that is. Most often what you truly understand makes you unique is something that you’re also going to build passion around. For me – and I didn’t really discover this until I was in my 40s, the line that connected the dots … [is] seeing patterns in numbers that enable me to tell a compelling story which helps to solve a problem. So whether it is helping a candidate get elected or doing a road show for a company, getting a project done in New York or hopefully setting a vision for a company, it’s that narrow skill.
On Bloomberg’s corporate culture: Over all, the culture that Mike [Bloomberg] created – and the DNA of our company is his DNA – is our strongest asset. Times do change and occasionally you have to modify things, but the basic elements of the culture – the focus on transparency, the lack of hierarchy, the ease of communication, the what I’d call constructive paranoia – are all elements that really need to be cherished. And that’s a big part of my job, to maintain the core elements of the culture and yet adapt them modestly to make sure that they’re still appropriate for the times and new markets that we are entering. But the core I don’t ever want to change.