Pittman had guts

A pioneering Bloomberg reporter passes away.

Mark Pittman, an award-winning Bloomberg reporter who passed away in November at age 52, was best known for being among the first in the media to smell something funny in the mortgage market.

But many in the private equity market remember him in the early 2000s as the first Bloomberg reporter who covered this asset class as a separate, full-time beat. The assignment was his idea. As usual, Pittman had a gut instinct that private equity was going to develop into a good story, and he was right.

Randall Whitestone, now a senior communications executive with asset manager Neuberger Berman, worked with Pittman during those years and remembers well the impact that the former high-school linebacker had on this industry in bringing its peculiarities to mainstream attention. In particular, Pittman’s exploration of the then-diminished track records of brand-name private equity firms was not at all appreciated by the GPs under scrutiny. Pittman handed the private equity beat to Whitestone in mid-2001 to become the head of corporate bond coverage for Bloomberg.

From that perch, Pittman began building a case that the structured debt products being built by Wall Street amounted to a house of cards. He wrote an article in June 2007 headlined: “S&P, Moody’s Hide Rising Risk on $200 Billion of Mortgage Bonds”. While reporting on this story, he turned to a colleague and said, “The investment banking model is dead.”

Pittman the man was anything but gloomy, as anyone who spent time with him can attest. He was large, garrulous and genuinely fascinated by the world. With other reporters he discussed the complexities of markets and life with equal wonderment. With sources he was magnanimous but his goals were more serious. One can only imagine the many meetings Pittman  had with his Wall Street contacts, starting with disarming drinks and belly laughs from the reporter and then turning to questions that the sources found to be increasingly sobering.

Pittman had a pre-existing heart condition that brought early end to his life. He had many, many more Wall Street mysteries yet to uncover. “Not only was he a great journalist, he was great at helping other journalists get more out of themselves,” says Whitestone. “You felt like you had to do him proud, that to be afraid to afflict the comfortable was silly.”