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Bloomberg again at center of his company, but readying exit?

NEW YORK - Since returning to the financial information company that bears his name, Michael Bloomberg has presided over two years of robust expansion and record profits, all while laying the groundwork for his second departure - whether that's to retirement in 10 years or a presidential campaign in 10 days.

Bloomberg is expected to decide within the next two weeks whether he will mount a third-party bid for the White House that could further upend a historically wild race, yet he can be found many mornings before 7:00 at his desk at Bloomberg LP's gleaming Manhattan headquarters. Like all his employees, he doesn't have a private office, instead sitting in open space in a floor plan that encourages interaction and discourages procrastination.

Despite pundits' predictions, he has largely eschewed flashy media purchases by doubling down on the Bloomberg LP's core business, its famed terminal and other financial products, which account for 95 percent of the company's $9 billion annual revenue. He has expanded the company's global footprint and demanded that it adapt to a changing financial world that has seen some traditional financial powers shrink after the Great Recession.

Bloomberg, 74, is also mulling a new leadership structure at the company that would allow him to eventually step aside. Those moves - including potentially setting up a succession plan at the top of the company, similar to what Bloomberg did when he stepped aside to run for mayor in 2001 - could be announced within weeks.

While that has fueled speculation in political circles that Bloomberg is planning to leave the company to launch an independent White House campaign, his aides have said that no decision has been made. But those close to the former mayor acknowledge that a decision must come by the middle of March in order to allow enough time to collect the more than 900,000 signatures needed for Bloomberg to appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

Bloomberg, through a spokesman, declined comment for this article.

He never planned on a second act at Bloomberg LP, which he founded in 1981 and left 20 years later after being elected mayor of New York City.

After serving three terms at City Hall, Bloomberg insisted he was leaving the business and political worlds behind and would focus on his new grandchild and on using his philanthropic foundation to give away most of his $38 billion fortune, including for pet causes like climate change and gun control. But while he gave away $510 million last year, the pull of the business world proved too strong.

In the fall of 2014, Daniel Doctoroff, Bloomberg's former deputy mayor and chosen successor who directed the company's news division to target an expanded audience, stepped aside and Bloomberg assumed command again.

"When Mike left office, he officially had no role at the company. He wasn't even on the board," said Kevin Sheekey, head of external relations at Bloomberg LP and one of the ex-mayor's top political aides. "But Mike slowly began to get re-engaged with the day-to-day operations of the company and then (when he took over) once again very quickly became a very hands-on CEO."

He moved to return the terminal to the center of the company. The software, which costs $21,000 for an annual subscription, gives users a vast wealth of real-time business data and news, from investment analysis to market movement to live tracking of cargo ships across the globe so investors can knows instantly if, for example, a ship carrying oil bound for Africa is delayed by a storm, potentially sending demand (and prices) higher. And while companies like Bank of America and JP Morgan remain massive customers, the traditional financial world's contraction has pushed Bloomberg to growing its subscriber base - now at 327,000 - in new places like pension funds, foundations, mutual funds and endowments.

The company has grown to nearly 19,000 employees worldwide and added more than 1,000 in New York alone during the past two years. There's been a renewed focus on hiring engineers and the company opened a San Francisco, California, office to compete with Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook.

Bloomberg LP is putting the finishing touches on its European headquarters in London while the former mayor has ventured to the Middle East and Asia to expand the business (and to Paris, for the last year's climate change conference). And while he was rumored to be considering purchasing The Financial Times, he decided to stay away from the media ventures, instead sinking $800 million to buy Barclays Index business.

The company did, however, expand its own news division, which now has more than 2,400 people in its editorial department. Those journalists now have a dilemma: how to cover the possible presidential run of the man who has been signing their paychecks?

To this point, the news division has followed its long-standing policy of not originating stories about the company's founder to avoid a conflict of interest. But reporters are developing a campaign coverage strategy should he enter the race, company officials said.

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