“We’re in the middle of a once-in-a-many-generation transition in the world order,” Justin Smith, the chief executive of Bloomberg Media, told me earlier this week. Smith, who joined Bloomberg nearly a decade ago with the general mandate to elevate its once-somnolent media business from a shiny, if unprofitable, shingle on its extraordinary, money-minting data terminal empire to something worthy of its founder’s namesake, has always been a lofty thinker. In his previous stops on the media carousel, he co-founded a series of consumer-facing Internet properties during Web 1.0; then he helped usher Quartz into the world, which simultaneously revived The Atlantic’s reputation in the process. When he arrived at Bloomberg, he took a series of bold swings, hiring big names such as Josh Topolsky, John Heilemann, and a pre-scandal Mark Halperin to make the brand younger and more fashionable.
Some of these strategies worked, others didn’t, but over time Smith proved correct that media was indeed at an inflection point, and he used his enviable resources to build a powerful subscription business, events cottage industry, and short-form video product. Ten years ago, when A-list executives like Andy Lack and Norm Pearlstine were trying to pivot Bloomberg Media, no one would have ever thought it could become what it is today: Not just massively influential, sure, but also cool and sophisticated.
Smith’s latest play represents the current size and scope of Bloomberg’s ambitions. In the next few days, some 450 C.E.O.s, ministers, and heads of state from around the world—including some you’ve heard of (Bill Gates, David Solomon, Tony Blair, etc.)—will make their way to Singapore for the fourth annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum, a very exclusive and self-serious three-day affair that has become a source of fascination for me, not because of what it is, but because of what it aspires to be: the Davos of the 21st Century.