Bloomberg LP is a big, established company now. But I remember when it wasn’t.
In 1990, when I joined, it was much smaller and operated more like a start-up.
Nowhere was that feeling more evident than in the meetings Mike Bloomberg would convene periodically with sales managers from around the globe.
Mike would meet the regional heads before breakfast for a run in Central Park and then the group would spend the day with leaders of specific divisions. Dinner would follow.
I attended one such meeting with the News team in the early 1990s. It was held in a large room on the 14th floor of the office at 499 Park Avenue. Several dozen people sat in chairs scattered around the room in no particular arrangement.
There was no specific, formal agenda. Mike, sitting off to one side, kicked it off. I don’t recall any speech or much of an intro. He asked a general question: “How do we get better?”
What followed was a day-long barrage of suggestions and debate.
Two decisions made that day had long-term repercussions that help explain why Bloomberg LP has been so successful. Both also illustrate Mike’s management style.
The first issue came up when someone said the Bloomberg system was too complicated and clients couldn’t find what they needed. The company had a customer support hotline, but many clients didn’t want to take the time or bother to call.
Mike thought for a minute and asked, “What if we had a key on the keyboard that said “Help” and you could hit it twice and it would send a message to the customer support group?”
The key was rolled out soon after and became a centerpiece of Bloomberg’s customer service.
HELP HELP for Bloomberg clients is the equivalent of CTRL ALT DELETE on Microsoft. It’s what you do when you are stuck.
Adding a HELP button on the keyboard was a decision that had enormous hardware, software, workflow and brand implications and it was made in a few minutes.
Let’s unpack that a bit. The person who raised the issue was in the editorial department. He didn’t strictly speaking have any expertise or authority over client engagement. And yet, given the opportunity, he provided crucial feedback. We all knew it was true. Mike, to his credit, didn’t form a committee to evaluate the complaint. He responded with a solution.
The second issue was raised by an editor who said many of the company’s remote offices operated on different hardware which complicated tech support. For example, some reporters used Dell Computers and others used IBM desktops.
It was discussed and agreed the company should have one standard to simplify maintenance.
One standard would require a larger immediate investment since purchases would need to be coordinated and organized. And yet, operating on one set of hardware paid off over the longer term because it was easier to manage.
Even as a young person I understood the drama and significance of those decisions.
The commitment to customer service on the one hand and consistency of hardware/software are two of the key elements that contributed significantly to the company’s success.
Anyone who has visited Bloomberg offices around the world will recognize a consistency of style. They have similar chairs and desks and layouts. It’s expensive. But easier to manage.
Bloomberg is a large company now and has evolved.
For startups, though, this story highlights the importance of leaders soliciting feedback — especially from people on the front lines — and acting quickly.
When I left Bloomberg LP earlier this year after 32 years, the HELP key was still there, a critical part of the client experience. It’s also still answered by humans.
It’s a reminder that some of the most impactful, long lasting decisions don’t take long.
(Part of a series about lessons I learned from three decades working at Bloomberg LP. )