Billy Salomon Led Wall Street by Example

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. He is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change.
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With the exception of my parents, no one had a bigger impact on my life and career than Billy Salomon, who died Sunday at 100. I first met him when I was a 24-year-old kid on a job interview at Salomon Brothers & Hutzler, and I knew immediately that I wanted to join the firm his father had started, even though the pay was less than what I could have made elsewhere. Billy became my mentor, not by offering me advice and support, though he did that, but by exemplifying principled leadership at its best.

Billy valued ethics above all else, and he taught all of us who worked for him to always do right by our customers -- even if it came at the expense of the firm. The only thing he valued more than loyalty to the firm was honesty to the customer. Even though he was part of an old-school Wall Street family, he earned his way to the top of the firm, and he was on a first-name basis with as many junior people as senior partners. He respected everyone who worked hard, and everyone respected him.

The open floor plan that I brought to Bloomberg LP, and later to New York City Hall, came from Salomon Brothers. Billy sat at an open desk in the middle of everything. Everyone at the firm followed the same rules -- no exceptions for anyone, and that started with him. He led by example in every regard, including work ethic. He was one of the first to arrive in the office and last to leave.

Billy also taught me about the importance of philanthropy. He and other leaders of big firms -- guys like Cy Lewis and Ace Greenberg at Bear Stearns; Gus Levy and John Whitehead at Goldman Sachs; Pete Peterson at Lehman Brothers; John McGillicuddy at Manufacturers Hanover; Parker Gilbert at Morgan Stanley; Dick Jenrette at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette; and Virgil Sherrill at Shields & Co. and later Prudential -- understood the civic responsibilities that came with their success. They created a culture of giving at their firms that has benefited so many hospitals, social service organizations and other important causes.

Partners at Salomon had to give back. But what started as instruction from Billy became a way of life, inspiring many of us to follow in his footsteps.

The philanthropic culture that Billy helped to establish for the industry is alive and well today. That may be his greatest legacy. And in an industry that is too often unfairly maligned, Billy Salomon's life is a testament to the unimpeachable integrity that represents Wall Street at its best.

To contact the editor on this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net