The name Adam means “first man” and it fits Adam Johnson, a guy-guy, to a T.
A self-described Connecticut country boy – by way of Greenwich and Washington in Litchfield County – he likes to hunt and cook pheasant and accounts himself a good shot. He also likes to paint.
More to the point, he’s a star in a place that is still in many ways a man’s world – the financial industry. Instead of trading on Wall Street as he did for 20 years, he’s now reporting on it.
You can see him at noon weekdays on Bloomberg Television’s “Lunch Money” and then from 3 to 5 p.m. as co-anchor of “Street Smart,” which covers the end of the trading day in the U.S. as well as global markets.
Johnson anchored Bloomberg TV’s special coverage of the S&P U.S. debt downgrade and special live coverage of the European credit crisis. Last year, he went to China for a five-part series on the second-largest economy. His big interviews include former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, Newmont Mining President and CEO Richard O’Brien, investment god Leon Cooperman and former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister.
It’s all in service of Bloomberg L.P., the 31-year-old company started by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has obviously moved on but remains the majority stockholder. The company’s Bloomberg Professional Service – or Bloomberg Terminal – supplies financial data and information to more than 300,000 subscribers worldwide.
Johnson is more than happy to show you how it works on the bank of computer screens on his spare white desk.
“Whatever you want, you can get it,” he says. Whether it’s the price of copper in Chile per metric ton (about $55,000) or the latest retail sales figures from France (up 2 percent) or the recent trajectory of oil prices (down but bouncing back thanks to the sanctions against troublesome Iran) or the number of Indonesian rupiah that make up a dollar. (That would be 9,400.)
But it’s not just facts and numbers. There are interpretive articles from anyone who’s anyone on The Street.
“My job,” Johnson says, “is to take this to the next step by giving the viewers access to the smartest people on Wall Street and in academia.”
For that, you need transparency, and Bloomberg is all about transparency. Start with its headquarters on 29 floors of a sleek, modern, glass skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. (There are also 146 news bureaus in 72 countries.) Bloomberg L.P. looks like one of those places the superhero in the Marvel Studios action-adventurer either owns or has to break into. (Think Stark Industries in “The Avengers” or Oscorp in “The Amazing Spider-Man”.)
There are no walls, except the support structures, and no cubicles. Just lots of sleek gray chairs at lots of sleek white desks topped with lots of sleek black cameras and computer screens. The common area on the TV floor is dominated by a curved escalator that is one of only seven in the world, floor-to-ceiling windows, a wall of orchids, a huge fish tank, contemporary art, an outdoor lounge with wire furnishings and a spectacular view of the 59th Street Bridge and a nonstop free snack bar that fuels the many people who are meeting at their desks, kibitzing in the hallway, checking info on their computers, reporting on camera or scurrying to and fro. Bloomberg employs roughly 13,000 people, and all of them seem to be there the day WAG drops by.
It’s all a little overwhelming to us Jane Austen types until a savvy marketing person remarks that Austen was interested in money, too.
If Bloomberg L.P. looks like a movie set – the company has appeared in some form in such flicks as “Arthur,” “Margin Call” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – Johnson, or A.J. to the team, looks like a movie star.
The brunet locks are coiffed just so. (Someone even teases him about it.) The on-camera makeup subtly underscores the chiseled bone structure.
On this day, he is dressed impeccably in a blue suit, a lighter blue monogrammed shirt with a white color and French cuffs with gold studded cufflinks, a purple tie and polished black lace-up shoes. He looks like a Wall Street guy. Which is what he was.
The money guy
In truth, Johnson was destined for business. Growing up in Greenwich, where he attended the Brunswick School, this native Chicagoan mowed lawns, painted houses and worked for a caterer, earning $6,000. As a 16-year-old in 1982, he says, “I felt pretty flush.”
Still, he was premed at Princeton University until economics professor Alan Blinder convinced him that he should switch to his specialty.
“He was just so persuasive. And I didn’t just want to fix people. I wanted to do something broader. Business is about interacting with people.”
That drive led to an impressive résumé in the financial sector – analyst at Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, trader at Louis Dreyfus Energy Corp., founder of TheIndependentTrader.com and the biggie, co-founder and co-portfolio manager of MLH Capital L.L.C., which shut down in 2008.
What was it like helping to run a hedge fund?
“Stressful, in a word. Lots of fun. But you can only do it for so long. It’s boring to sit in a room looking at screens and all you do is buy and sell. I felt it was not using enough of me.”
One day he was running in Central Park when he saw Dylan Ratigan, then of CNBC, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I said, ‘You should have me on your show.’ I told him, ‘I’ll make you look good and make your viewers money.’”
What Johnson told viewers was to get in on a little something called Google. Needless to say, that led to return visits, which led to Fox appearances, which led to Bloomberg, where he’s been since 2009.
“It’s luck, but you have to prepare yourself for the right moment.”
It helps if you’re that perfect blend of style and substance, too. A true journalist, Johnson understands he is one of those Bloomberg windows, not the view. So when he responds to a question about the stubbornly sticking recession – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he says, but hey, it’s a long tunnel – he makes it clear that viewers aren’t interested in his opinions. They’re interested in him asking the sharp questions of the experts.
Clearly, Johnson is a commanding, confident guy. But is he ever overwhelmed by the Bloomberg-ianess of it all?
He sighs, “No, I don’t let that happen. I traded for 20 years. I managed money.”
He knows how to separate the financial wheat from the fiscal chaff.
And when he needs a break, this single Manhattanite knows he can escape to St. Barts for a little artistic R & R. Did we mention that he’s sold a dozen of his landscapes for thousands of dollars each?
“It’s nice to get paid for your hobby.”
Still, this money guy won’t be quitting his day job.
Catch Adam Johnson from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays on Bloomberg Television’s “Lunch Money” and from 3 to 5 p.m. on “Street Smart” via Cablevision 105, AT&T U-Verse: 222, Verizon FiOS 104, DIRECTV 353 and DISH NETWORK 203.