Read the full text of Michael R. Bloomberg’s Commencement Speech to the MBA Class of 2019, Harvard Business School.
Michael R. Bloomberg – Co-founder of Bloomberg L.P.
Good afternoon. Thank you, Dan, for the introduction. And you really don’t have to call me Mayor Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg will be just fine. Thank you.
And let me also thank Nitin for the honor of addressing you. I didn’t have much choice when he called. He didn’t ask me to come. He told me I was coming.
Let me begin with the most important words I can say today. Congratulations to the distinguished graduates of the great class of 2019. It was only 53 years ago that I was in your shoes. So I know you’ve had an amazing experience here.
You have mastered the case method during your time on campus and the art of asking tough questions like:
Why don’t the printers ever work here?
Why on earth do they use the case method to teach accounting? Who thought of that?
And the toughest question of all: How many people does it take to finish a scorpion bowl at Hong Kong?
For the record, the correct answer there is more than one.
HBS really does have a special place in my heart. Not only did I graduate from here but so did my daughter Emma. My foundation teamed up with the B School and the K School to create a morale Merrill Leadership Program run by Professor Abdullah.
And my father, who died a year before I was accepted to HBS, has his name on the building that stands behind Baker, an honor that would have thrilled him. He and my mother raised my sister and me just five miles from here in Medford, Massachusetts. And that was convenient because I never would have made it through the B School without my mother nearby. She typed all my papers.
Five decades later, I still can’t type or spell, but I do have the good sense to have someone proof my tweets. I wondered whether you’d get that one.
As you can imagine, I also had the good sense to keep my Boston connections to myself when I was mayor of New York City, especially when the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, or Patriots came to town. I will just note that during my time in city hall, the Giants beat the Patriots in two Super Bowls. I did my job.
We moved to Medford from Brookline a few miles from here when I was four years old. And I can still remember my first day in our new home. A boy from up the street clunked me over the head with a rock. And I went in bleeding to my mother, which is to say I learnt about Boston hospitality at a young age. I guess I had a hard head even back then.
And even though I grew up just a trolley car ride away, when I first arrived on campus, I felt like I’d entered a whole new world. Suddenly I was in classes with friends whose families had built major companies and had famous last names.
And that was a pretty radical change from my childhood. My mother once told me we never knew anybody whose name was in the newspaper unless it was in the crime or the obit section.
And I can’t say I spent a long time across this lawn in Baker library. My transcript is evidence of that. I was always one of those who made the top half of the class possible. I was more likely to be over the bridge at what is now the Russell House Tavern. Back then it was a German beer hall called [indiscernible]. It’s where I first learned that it’s better not to watch sausage being made.
Now I’m sure many of you have already lined up a job. But for those who haven’t, don’t worry. I was a month away from graduating from the B School and I still had no idea of what I’d wanted to do. I asked a classmate, Steve Fenster, for advice. He said go to Wall Street. And I said, I don’t know anything about finance. He said just apply for jobs at Salomon Brothers and Hutzler and a firm name Goldman Sachs.
And I said, who are they and what do they do?
Yes. I was a B School kid who had never heard of Goldman Sachs. A lot has changed since then.
Goldman, I remembered, flew me down to New York and offered me a starting job at $14,000 a year, not bad pay for 1966. Salomon Brothers sent me a train ticket and offered me a job for only nine grand.
After the interviews, I thought I would fit much better into Salomon. But I told the senior partner there, John Goodfriend, I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on that salary. Rent in New York was really expensive back then, $120 a month as I remember.
He said, how much do you need? I didn’t want to be picky about it, so I said at the spur of the moment, 11.5 .
And he said, “Okay, $9,000 salary and a 2,500 loan.” And he walked out of the room. It’s a true story. I didn’t know what to do.
So I showed up two years later and I just started working. So much for my negotiating skills. For the record, my first year’s bonus was $500 loan forgiveness and my second year bonus was forgiveness for the other two grand. And just remember that when you think you’re getting stiffed on a bonus negotiation.
But seriously, when you weigh a job offer, my message to you is even later in life when you’re considering a career change, leave salary out of the equation. Make decisions based on the quality of the opportunity and where you will have the most fun and the most room for growth.
What’s important for your career is not your starting salary. It’s your development and happiness. And the cash will come later on.
I learned about a lot about finance at Salomon. But the most valuable lesson I learned had nothing to do with stocks and bonds. They were lessons on how to apply what I had learned, not only here at HBS but also from my parents and from my time as an eagle scout.
The head of Salomon Brothers, Billy Salomon, never went to college, no less business school. He never took a class in corporate responsibility. And he didn’t need to. Being ethical does not require a master’s degree. It requires having a conscience and following it. It requires being honest and truthful and never lying or cheating.
Let me give a quick example. There was a rule at Salomon against giving gifts to clients to win more business. When Billy caught someone sending a case of wine to a major client, he fired him on the spot. Period. End of story. It didn’t matter that he was perhaps the most productive salesman in the company.
You can say Billy overreacted, but I don’t think so. The rules he asked us to follow, he followed himself, no exceptions. And when it came to ethics, there was no compromising. Billy treated everyone the same from senior partners to the custodial staff. No one was better than anyone else.
And Billy believed if you were lucky enough to make some money, you had an obligation to give a percentage of it away to help others. In fact, he didn’t ask you what the percentage should be. He told you and you did it.
I’ve been very lucky in my career, but my luckiest break wasn’t getting fired, although that was pretty lucky it turned out. My luckiest break was taking a job where I got to see the ethics I learned growing up put into practice in the workplace. And I’d like to think the principles that I learned at Salomon have guided my life ever since.