Perhaps college grades can tell some of the story.
Imagine Mike Bloomberg, age 21, hunched over his desk in an engineering class in Morgenthaler Hall. It was spring 1963, his junior year at Johns Hopkins University. And he had plenty to think about besides electrical circuits.
In those days, the mayor-elect of New York was already a master juggler. He was president of his fraternity and the Inter-Fraternity Council. The self-described "all-around Big Man on Campus" was also working five afternoons a week at the faculty club parking lot. And there were dances and frat parties to plan at the then all-male college.
All of these obligations stole time from his courses in engineering physics, a career he had already realized was not meant to be. That spring he got a C in Electrical Circuit Analysis, according to former professor Willis Gore. It was par for what Bloomberg calls his "mediocre" college transcript.
Once he decided to apply to grad school, his grades made a dramatic rally. The very next semester, Gore gave him an A for earning the sixth-highest grade in the class. It helped Bloomberg secure a spot at Harvard Business School, which led to a partnership at Salomon Brothers, which led to his first million, which led to the founding of the financial media company that bears his name, which led to his first billion, which led to giant philanthropic gifts and an increased focus on public service, which led this week to Michael Bloomberg's successful campaign to succeed Rudy Giuliani as mayor of New York.
Now a congratulatory banner on the Homewood campus proudly proclaims the mayor-elect as one of its own. This latest triumph is one more reason for the college to celebrate the 1964 graduate. Still chairman of the university's board of trustees until May, Bloomberg has already donated more than $100 million to his alma mater, more than any other individual.
"Hopkins taught me how to think," he once told a Sun reporter. "It certainly didn't teach me how to be an electrical engineer. Even God couldn't have done that. But I did learn how to use the scientific method, to think consistently."
What he really liked doing in college, he writes in his autobiography (Bloomberg by Bloomberg), was dealing with people.
"From Day 1 when you met Mike there was never any question but that he was on the ascending curve," says Jack Galotto, an internist in Bethesda who recruited Bloomberg for the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and has remained a close friend ever since.
"He was already a person of accomplishment when he came to Hopkins. He was one of the youngest Eagle Scouts ever. In everything he got into, including our fraternity, he was a leader."
Raised in Medford, a suburb of Boston - he was born on Valentine's Day, 1942 - Bloomberg has said he grew up with the hard-working values of his parents. His father was a bookkeeper for a local dairy and his mother went to work as a secretary after her husband died.
When Bloomberg applied to Hopkins, annual tuition was $1,200. To help pay for it, he took out loans and worked at the faculty club parking lot for $35 a week, a job that also provided him with dinner. He was the only Hopkins student Galotto knew who held a job.
"Mike was always working," he says. "He tried to give the illusion that he wasn't doing that much, that he was just hanging out, but he always made sure he got things done."
But he didn't let his obligations affect his social life. Bloomberg often mentions that he was the first Jewish member of Phi Kappa Psi, a fraternity he was drawn to because of his friendship with Galotto. The fraternity quickly benefited from his personable ways as well as his organizational skills.
For one St. Patrick's Day bash, for instance, Bloomberg was happy to dress up as a leprechaun bartender. He also helped plan many parties, events memorable for featuring such popular East Coast bands as Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, a group Galotto calls "famous" and "pretty gross."
"Fraternities at Hopkins weren't much different from those in the classic John Belushi movie Animal House," Bloomberg writes. "Though Hopkins was a serious place, and very competitive scholastically, we did drink and party a lot together."
At one point, he and Galotto rented an apartment near Keswick and Roland avenues with two other students. Their back yard overlooked the fields of the old Roland Park Country School and proved to be a perfect spot to relax, drink beer and poke fun at high school girls playing field hockey. There were late-night trips to bars on Greenmount Avenue and early morning breakfasts at Hooper's 32nd St. Grill. In those days, student protest on campus was still rare; Galotto remembers a campaign to defy the dining hall's jacket-and-tie rule at Sunday dinner by wearing jackets and ties - but no shirts.
But Mike Bloomberg, with his Boston accent and liberal sensibilities, saw a bigger picture.
"He had very strong opinions on a lot of issues," Galotto says. "No matter that he didn't have much money, he was always giving something to groups like the NAACP. He introduced us to the concept of social justice."
In his book, the mayor-elect credits his days at Hopkins with allowing him to practice consensus-building, a diplomacy Galotto remembers well.
"As head of the inter-fraternity council, Mike's job was reconciling the disparate interests of all these fraternities," Galotto says. "But the main thing he did was to keep the administration from throwing us all off campus. Mike had to be able to get along with a lot of different people."
That's a skill that should come in handy in his newest job.