NEW YORK -- In his second stint as CEO of the company he founded and after 12 years in public office, Michael Bloomberg believes that leading from the front is as applicable in business just as it is in politics.
In an interview with the Nikkei, he explains how an ability to predict what customers are likely to want in the future has been a key to his company's success.
Q: We would like to begin with the current state and the future of the financial information industry. A few emerging companies are starting to catch up to Bloomberg. How do you see the current business landscape?
A: Before we started the company, while the company has been going and long after we're gone, there will always be competitors, there will always be new companies forming with new ideas and new functionality. And they'll be ... the companies that [at some point in the future] will include the conventional wisdom of how you should run companies and how products should look. We can't worry about what other people do. For 32 years I've not worried about it, and we're probably stronger today than we've ever been. But if we sit back, we won't survive. I don't think there are very many companies in the media business, the technology business, the news business, however you want to define it, that have been around for 32 years and are still at the top of their game.
Do I worry about it? Yes, that is my job. But do I change our plans? No. We have a strategy of hearing our customers out but building what we think they need down the road. And it's... in government I would call it leading from the front, rather than leading from the back. When I was mayor, nobody elected me to ask them, "What do you want?" and then try to do it. They asked me to come up with my ideas of what the future required and then convince them to come along. So there are lots of companies out there. Are they threats? Everybody is a threat. Should we change our policies? I don't think so.
Q: You recently decided to cooperate with Twitter. Do you think this kind of cooperation will increase?
A: There're always going to be new things. We will try to, if they are useful for our customers, include them in our system, either by letting somebody come on board or by building it ourselves or by buying something. Although we don't buy very many things. And if ... we always have to be willing to accept things that we don't think will work. You spend all of your time, from when you start at a new job, every day, learning what can't be done. I spent 20 years in this company learning what couldn't be done. And I thought to myself it's time for a new person to come in.
And I found a great way to transition out, I ran for mayor of the city of New York and spent 12 years [as mayor]. I've come back basically as a new person. And, while I was away, the people that ran the company did a spectacular job, but they've spent their lives learning what can't be done. You've got to always be open to things. Having said that, you can't get trapped into doing what everybody says. If everybody knew the future, we wouldn't have a business. If everybody knew the future, nobody would have a business, everybody would have everything. Twitter is a service that people use, there is some information on it that's useful to our customers. We try to bring that to them. There's lots of information on Twitter that's not useful to our customers. And we don't try bring that. So, you know, we're open to everything. I think Twitter is a great service, but it's not the only service. And we go out to try to collect all information around the world that has anything we think to do with our customers.
Q: Are you satisfied with your performance in Asia? What are the key opportunities in driving further business growth in the region?
A: Well, there're three powerhouse countries in Asia at the moment. One is Japan, one is China, one is India. I think they all represent great markets. China ... I would include Hong Kong, I would include Singapore just in that whole context of where they are. The markets are significant, they are all growing. Japan is much more mature than the other two, and we've been there for a lot longer time and have a bigger percentage of the business there. But it's hard to believe that the future isn't a lot more in Asia than it is elsewhere around the world.
Q: What were your first thoughts when Nikkei decided to buy the FT?
A: It was interesting that the two [competing] buyers were both news organizations ... where their entire business was in one country. One was in Japan, one was in Germany. For them, they wanted access to news and to build a brand around the world. It never made any sense for Bloomberg to buy the FT. I kept saying it and the reporters never believed me.
I always said "I buy the FT every day." But we have a brand around the world. It doesn't add anything for Bloomberg. It does add [something for] the Nikkei, it would have added [something] for Springer. Whether they paid too much, only history will show. It sounds like ... a nice way to phrase it would be "a full price." But they saw value, and it may be that it's valuable to Nikkei and worth that kind of price. And Springer was willing to pay roughly that price, so if they wanted it, that's what they had to pay. I don't know their business well enough to know whether they'll get great value out of it, but we'll see.
Q: Is going public an option for you?
A: No interest in going public. I'm a believer that this company functions best as a private company where we don't have to report quarterly earnings and have our strategy built for today. As I said before, you should build products that you think your customers are going to grow into. That doesn't sell very well to investors because they say, "How do you know? I want products that people are buying today!" So public companies don't have the flexibility. Now some do very well. I'm not suggesting they don't, but I haven't worked for anybody for 35 years, I'm not about to start right now. And I'm a believer that we can be much more flexible. And we don't need access to capital. And we don't need to ... all of the profits of this company, or 85% of them, go to my foundation. And when I die, the foundation will take over ownership of the company, and then they will have to sell it because of the tax laws, but they will have some time to do that. You can pretty much bet your life that this will never be a public company while I am here.
Q How do you see the this presidential election panning out?
A: Much too early to tell. There's a great group of people who are not satisfied with the way government works. Some on the left, that's the Bernie Sanders supporters, some on the right, that's the [Donald] Trump supporters. It doesn't mean that they would vote for Bernie Sanders or Trump. And it's third party ... or ... these upstart candidates seldom get to the finish line, but they may. Nobody thought that Bernie Sanders or Trump would be where they are today. There's some evidence that their appeal has not grown. It's got to a certain level, maybe declining, maybe static. It hasn't ... the percentage of the people that want either as a candidate... has not gotten greater in the last... few weeks or months.
Q: Do you see people in the U.S. growing weary of two-party politics?
A: We have a system, I've always believed, that is a two-party system, and it is virtually impossible for a third party candidate to win an election. Whoever is the next president will most likely, 99% likely, be either the Republican or the Democratic primary candidate. And I don't know ... the Democrats have a race on their side. Hillary [Clinton] was going to walk away with it, and now she's got competition. Maybe [Joseph] Biden will come in, maybe Elizabeth Warren would come in.
Q: How about you? You're the middle, independent?
A: Independent means I've antagonized both sides. Not that I've captured both sides. I've precluded both sides. I'm going to wind up running my company, looking forward to doing that, right here. I'm very happy doing it. I had 12 great years where I worked hard for the public and for my kids and grandkids, and yeah, I'm very happy.
Interview by Nikkei staff writers Yamato Sato and Akira Yamashita