A couple months ago I first told you about my ongoing fascination with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. I was amazed with the positive response from people who were also fed up with the automatons that are simply mouthpieces for the extreme left or right, and appreciated people like Bloomberg who had the guts to play the game differently. Of course net worths in the billions does make it easier to say what you think without having to return political favors.
Tonight I’m watching a sunset over the ocean six time zones west of New York, enjoying a dinner of a favorite fish I can’t seem to find elsewhere, and catching up on some reading. Some rather old reading, if a Business Week from last month is any indication. The June 25th issue has a special report on Bloomberg titled The CEO Mayor which provides additional insight into a leadership style that is a breath of fresh air.
This forthright and prosaic 65-year-old billionaire just may have the right combination of managerial, risk-taking, and political skills. 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.
So what are some attributes of his leadership style? How about basic voice of the customer?
"Good companies listen to their customers, No.1," he says. One month after being sworn in, Bloomberg proposed a 311 line that would allow New Yorkers to report everything from noise pollution to downed power lines. Since it launched in March, 2003, 311 has received 49 million calls. The service employs 370 round-the-clock call takers. And New York has done an impressive job of data-mining the calls and quickly responding, says Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis and now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. "Something special is going on in New York," he says.
And the results speak for themselves.
Emergency 911 traffic is down by 1 million calls since 311’s inception, meaning first responders are being called to fewer non-emergencies. The Buildings Dept. uses 311 to streamline the permit process and the review of plans by inspectors. The average wait time for an appointment with a building inspector has dropped from 40 days to less than a week. Two years after 311 launched, inspections for excessive noise were up 94%; rodent exterminations, 36%.
Bloomberg knows who he works for, and strives to make his operational management more transparent. Let’s begin with the physical aspects.
Bloomberg made City Hall "see-through." All meeting rooms had glass windows, so you could look inside. His desk and those of his staff were clustered in a room without walls to facilitate better and faster communication.
How many CEO’s of multi-billion dollar corporations do you know that share an open room with the staff? For that matter, how many supervisors of one or two people do you know that feel they must have an office with walls? As the chief executive he truly feels that he "owns the numbers."
In a task that previously fell to city budget directors, Bloomberg himself each year makes three budget presentations in the same day: one to city council, another for other elected officials, and one to the press. He uses easy-to-follow charts and tables, much like a CEO’s Power Point presentation to analysts. His hope is that, by explaining the forces shaping the city’s economy, a better understanding of his tax and spending priorities will emerge.
And he wants his final customers to also understand how the city is run.
What’s more, citizens can get a closer look at their city government than ever before. The semiannual mayor’s management report once exceeded 1,000 pages in three printed volumes. Today, the report—which reviews the delivery of city services—is 186 pages, available online, and includes many more features than before, including neighborhood data and five-year trends that allow New Yorkers to compare past and present. In addition, the city plans and budget, once convoluted fiscal documents with only summaries available online, are now fully accessible on the city’s Web site.
It’s paying off.
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. Since 2003, New York says it has added 151,100 new private sector jobs, boosting the economy and fueling a construction boom. And last year the city reports attracting 44 million visitors, up from 35 million in 2002. Now, with the city in surplus, Bloomberg plans to hand out $1.3 billion in tax cuts not only to homeowners but also to businesses and shoppers. His takeover of city schools five years ago from the state has led to dramatically improved test scores.
Sometimes we’re smart enough to learn from and emulate success. And one city that has had a string of incompetent mayors may get lucky.
Adrian Fenty. Washington’s 36-year-old mayor has adopted the newsroom-style office, or bullpen, that Bloomberg brought from his company, and is now seeking a Bloomberg-style overhaul of his city’s own chronically underperforming schools.
How about the rest of us outside of politics? Are we really listening to our customers, involving our team in decisionmaking, and having the guts to make the right moves instead of pandering to the next promotional opportunity?