I can’t speak to what Michael Bloomberg may have personally done when it comes to sexual harassment, either fighting it or being part of it. I wasn’t there and have never met the man. What I can speak to is “Wall Street” culture. While I’ve never worked on “the street”, I have worked with financial services companies over the course over nearly four decades. Some of what is being talked about was common in my early years, really just part of the culture. Times have changed. Expected behavior has as well. What hasn’t changed is what happened.
The easiest way to sum of the financial services my early years is by quoting Michael Lewis, from his first book “Liar’s Poker“. He spent time in the 1980’s working at Salomon Brothers (a bond trading firm) and the book recounts his experiences. The most successful people at the firm (all men at that time) were referred to as “big swinging dicks”. Three words. There isn’t much more that is needed to sum up the culture of the time.
Early in my career I knew people who sold drugs from their desk drawers. Hearing men start their day in the office by describing the prior night in detail, including their sexual encounters, was not uncommon. Perhaps what was most surprising to me wasn’t hearing these stories, it was the handful of women I worked with that would seek out these men to be the next morning’s story. Beyond that the use of the “n-word” was noy unusual. I don’t recall working with anyone at that point who wasn’t white. History shows us that this behavior happened in other industries as well, but financial services being what it is, it was taken to excesses not seen elsewhere.
Did Bloomberg participate? Was he just an observer, like me? I don’t know. What I do know is that he had to have seen it, to have known about it. When I started in the industry a “Quotron” machine was the source of real-time stock quotes (quotes then were on a fifteen minute delay unless you paid a lot for real-time). As time passed this was supplanted by the “Bloomberg” machine. It offered more, including bonds and news. It was the start of the Bloomberg empire, the company eventually buying the Reuters news service and eventually becoming “Bloomberg News”. But was he a part of it?
All I can offer is insight into the times. His sales reps. were selling into the culture I’m describing. If nothing more (and there was often more) they would have been engaging in the same behavior, if for no other reason than to connect with clients. And as the head of the firm, if nothing else, he would have known. If nothing more, he would have had the details of how the sales reps. expense accounts were being used. But I’d never believe he wouldn’t have known more. He knew the culture of “the street”. He never could have been as successful as he became if he didn’t both know the culture and know how to use it to his advantage.
I can forgive, but I won’t forget. What matters to me is what someone learns, who they become, what they will do next. Has Michael Bloomberg learned from the world he grew out of? Time will tell. Regardless, he needs to account for what has happened, accept responsibility for whatever he may have done, and show us what he’s learned. We already have a “sexual harasser in chief”. We don’t need to replace one from the right with another on the left.