mm024: Bloomberg!?!

June 20, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

[NBC News via]

So how interesting that the week that NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg announces his withdrawal from the Republican party he’s the subject of a valentine from Business Week?

The American businessman-politician has a long and storied history. From Alexander Hamilton (industrialist) to Herbert Hoover (mining consultant) to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (CEO, Goldman, Sachs (GS)), wealthy and connected executives have, for better or worse, tried to bring corner-office management to the public arena. With the arrival of George W. Bush, MBA, we began to hear a lot about the so-called CEO President who was supposed to muster a greater degree of executive decisiveness and accountability. But four years of war and the Katrina debacle have blunted that talk.

Which brings us to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. This forthright and prosaic 65-year-old billionaire just may have the right combination of managerial, risk-taking, and political skills to create a new model for public service—possibly even at the national level should Bloomberg run for President.

Applying lessons from an early career on Wall Street and from two decades building his eponymous financial-information and media empire, the mayor is using technology, marketing, data analysis, and results-driven incentives to manage what is often seen as an unmanageable city of 8 million.

Bloomberg sees New York City as a corporation, its citizens as customers, its sanitation workers, police officers, clerks, and deputy commissioners as talent. He is the chief executive. Call him a technocrat all you want; he’s O.K. with that. “I hear a disparaging tone, like there’s something wrong with accountability and results,” he says. “What was I hired for?”

Yes, Bloomberg has endured setbacks. His failed attempt to build a football stadium in Manhattan gobbled up time and energy for much of his first term. And while his takeover of city schools five years ago from the state has led to dramatically improved test scores, there is a long way to go before the mayor can declare victory. Plus, some of his ideas—including his suggestion to pay kids for good grades—grate on educators.

Yet his checklist-obsessed operating style has resonated with New York’s famously cynical citizenry—70% approval ratings attest to that—and well beyond Gotham. “People see that this can be done in a place like New York, effectively managing something so large and complex,” says Time Warner CEO Richard D. Parsons, a Bloomberg friend and someone mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate himself. “And they think, ‘Hey, this can be done elsewhere.'”

I’ve got to tell you that I’m intrigued. The Democratic party can’t lose in 2008, except under two possible conditions: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. This last pains me, since I think that electing either a woman or a person of color to the presidency would be tonic to this country, demonstrating a societal maturity much longed for. However, Hillary is a lightning rod, and Obama, while a very bright and eloquent man, does not seem to have sufficient management experience to get the job done. What we don’t need is four years of Jimmy Carter: high ideals, no idea of how to execute them.

I’ve watched Michael Bloomberg over the past 5½ years from afar and have been impressed. It’s execution, folks, as Mr. Bush Jr. has so tellingly demonstrated.

And, I don’t have to feel guilty about having nothing available to donate to his campaign because HE DOESN’T NEED MY MONEY!
George the 3rd has shown us by horrible example that a key attribute of a top executive is picking competent subordinates and giving them the space they need to do their jobs. Rumsfeld, Michael Brown of FEMA infamy, etc. after gruesome etc. Look what Bloomberg did in NYC, again quoting BW:

The first thing most politicians do upon winning office is fill top jobs with people to whom they owe their support or who have long-standing ties to the political Establishment. Bloomberg arrived at City Hall with no such debts. That’s partly because he financed his own campaign. But even if he hadn’t, Bloomberg says, he still would have recruited his lieutenants based on their ability to set targets and hit them.

And by and large, that is what he has done. Not surprisingly, he reached into the business community, appointing a former partner of private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners named Daniel Doctoroff to run New York City’s economic development office. And he brought over four of his executives from Bloomberg itself. One of them was Katherine Oliver. Bloomberg had a turnaround mission in mind for her at the city’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting.

Oliver was working in London, overseeing Bloomberg global radio and television operations, when she got the call. Her marching orders from the mayor were simple: build a customer-service organization. She wasn’t prepared for how much the film office needed modernizing and refocusing. Toronto and Louisiana, among other places, were stealing business from New York. Production companies were required to visit the office and fill out permit applications on paper. And to Oliver’s astonishment the agency had only one computer. Most staff were tapping away on electric typewriters.

Within a month of her arrival, her 22 employees had new Dell (DELL) flat-screens, and production companies were able to file for permits online. Approvals have since surged to 200 a day, up from 200 a week in 2002. Oliver also put a photo library on the Web site, letting producers scout locations from their desks. She began offering a combined 15% tax credit to film and tv productions that complete at least 75% of their stage work in the city. Oliver says the program has generated $2.4 billion in new business and 10,000 new jobs since 2005. She offered filmmakers free advertising space on public property. And she set up a dedicated team of 33 police officers to ease shoots in the city. “We tried to look at this as B to B,” says Oliver. “This is a microcosm of what Michael wanted to do for the entire city.”

The movie industry isn’t complaining. Veteran producer Michael Tadross says the city’s film office is much more efficient. “You get maps, diagrams, and suggestions of where to shoot during one-on-one meetings with folks in the office,” says Tadross, who just completed filming a remake of The Omega Man, I Am Legend, in New York. “I have always felt big cities should be run by businesspeople, not politicians.”

I’m ready. I’m all in! Let’s figure out how to elect this man.

Do you suppose that will throw me out?

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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