Food is a big deal at Bloomberg LP.
Anyone who visits any Bloomberg office notices the cappuccino with multiple milk options and abundant free snacks available to all employees and visitors.
What’s less well known is how Mike Bloomberg thinks about food as a way to build community, encourage communication and cement a winning culture.
He provided some insights recently on a podcast with Ruth Rogers, an American-born British chef who owns the Michelin-starred restaurant The River Café in Hammersmith.
Mike talked about how food brought his family together when he was growing up. Each night he and his sister set the table before waiting for his father.
“We sat around and my father had a procedure, he picked on somebody — any one of the four of us, including himself, and that person had to spend two minutes saying what they did that day.“
The key lesson was “don’t do anything that you would be ashamed to tell your kids about when you went home at night.” The world would be a better place if everyone did that, he said.
When he started Bloomberg LP, Mike said the first thing he did was buy a coffee pot at Alexander’s, a nearby department store. That was the beginning of what has come to be known inside the company as “The Pantry.”
“My job is to get people together. It’s the synergy of working together that makes you successful. I think it increases the odds of being successful. It’s hard to manage people if they are not together. It’s hard for people to be their best if they can’t run ideas past other people.”
The first thing you need is a building.
The second thing you need is food.
Food “gets you to sit together. We all entertain together. Our families entertain together. It’s not so much the food, it’s that it forces you to be there and touch it and share it.”
The Pantry at Bloomberg is a lot bigger than a coffee pot these days. In fact, the Pantry is so big it has its own Instagram handle.
Every Bloomberg office has one. They differ around the edges, but basically serve the same role as a watering hole where employees and clients mingle.
It allows people to share business ideas on the fly. Mike has also said it helps remind everyone that they work for a large company with many divisions and that everyone contributes.
When I worked at Bloomberg (I left last year after 32 years), I thought another benefit was it allowed rank-and-file employees to casually meet senior management.
Bloomberg was early among tech and finance companies to make food available. Most of the others, however, don’t use it strategically to build and re-enforce the culture.
Many Wall Street firms like Goldman charge for food, which is not the same. At Google it’s free, but it’s served in cafeterias where people tend to eat with the same set of friends day after day.
At Bloomberg, the point isn’t to feed people. It’s to bring them together.
That’s why the Pantry is located in the lobby.
And the “food” is really just beverages and snacks.
Late in the podcast, Rogers asked Mike what kind of food he likes to cook at home.
“Shake and Bake Chicken,” he said.
“What’s that?” Rogers asks.
The podcast is worth listening to for that moment alone.
Find it here:
(Part of a series about lessons I learned from three decades working at Bloomberg LP.)