I LOVE this city!” Maria Bartiromo waves her arm, indicating not just the art deco luxury of Claridge’s, where we meet over breakfast, but London in its teeming, cosmopolitan entirety. “Chic, sophisticated… great for business. I feel jazzed to be here. I grab the chance to come.” Bartiromo is a long-time New Yorker, famous for broadcasting her CNBC show Closing Bell from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange every weekday, and her role as a business reporter takes her around the world, to the booming cities of the emerging markets, places like* Hong Kong and Singapore, so it is comforting to find that it is the two traditional business titans, London and New York, that she says together “have my heart”.
It’s an upbeat assessment, and Bartiromo goes on to say that anyone who wrote off the West’s great financial centres as in danger of losing their pre-eminence to new eastern rivals would be making the wrong bet. But that’s not born of a willingness to cast her home in a rosy light. Turning to America, she sees Ben Bernanke’s second round of quantitative easing as “debatable” if not necessarily negative, saying “the numbers are mind-boggling” and the downside risk unclear. Whatever the merits of QE2, her overall message is simple, after the crisis, people need to understand the old-fashioned lesson of good financial management and stop living beyond their means: “I’m questioning where the austerity is in the US.” She praises Chris Christie, the no-nonsense governor of New Jersey as a politician who is “not afraid of making tough choices”, and says that in the UK George Osborne has impressed her with the character he displays in his confident plans for cuts.
Over twenty years, it has been this ability both to mix with the most powerful figures in finance and to explain the issues at the heart of the markets to a general audience in straightforward terms that has helped make Bartiromo famous, gaining her the nickname of “Money Honey” and leading to a walk-on role as herself in Wall Street II last year. She owes all her success as she explains it, to her mother.
IN ON THE GROUND FLOOR
“I was at NYU studying economics, and my mother said: ‘Take journalism, I think you’d be good at it.” Bartiromo switched major and found that when she left university she was in on the ground floor of the infant industry of business television. Interning for Lou Dobbs at CNN, she soon realised she relished the urgency of the news business and watching so many major trends from a ringside seat, from the dot-com bubble and bust to globalisation and, most recently, the financial crisis.
Bartiromo’s superb contacts book has sometimes got her into hot water – in 2006, Ben Bernanke’s apparently unguarded comments to her at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner caused stocks to plunge when she reported that the markets had misunderstood him, although she suggests that Bernanke’s words were carefully chosen. But that exceptional access has been put to less controversial use in her two new books, published in quick succession.
SUCCESS AND CRISIS
The first is a guide to success – The 10 Laws of Enduring Success – based on her interviews with some of the world’s most successful and enterprising individuals, including Condoleeza Rice, Bill Gates and Jack Welch. The second, The Weekend That Changed Wall Street, is an account of the financial crisis from someone who knows the industry from the inside, based on wide-ranging interviews with the main players. Two books in a year on top of a fast-paced job is quite an achievement, I suggest to Bartiromo and she laughs. “I worked weekends, I slept upside down in my closet.”
If she’s an insider on Wall Street now, it is a position she had to earn. The first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Bartiromo recounts the unease some traders felt at her presence. One in particular, two or three times her age, told her to, “run along little girl, this is not your business.”
Bartiromo dealt with this with a commitment to hard work that seems to be a defining feature. “I kept coming back. I said to myself: I have to know my stuff. Five years later, he asked to shake my hand and apologised.”
Despite its reputation as a male-dominated world, and the exclusive boys’ club atmosphere of the exchange when Bartiromo started, she says that she never really felt she was not taken seriously as a woman. She shrugs off the Money Honey nickname, “I’m flattered to be noticed. It’s important to relax a little about all this – it’s serious stuff, but we’re not curing cancer.”
After twenty years, with two new books and two Emmy awards, one for her reporting on the financial crisis and the second for an investigation inside the mind of Google (“There is no privacy,” she comments in passing), Maria Bartiromo doesn’t have to apologise for her presence on the stock exchange any more. Both elegant and outgoing, smart and straightforward, she is an optimist, but an honest one. As she writes in her latest book: “Are we going to avoid another September 2008? My belief is that in the long run, no, we won’t… Free markets are free markets. It’s messy, but this very freedom is what we prize above all else… Capitalism, and the freedom it implies, has the power to give people hope and help them rise above restrictive regimes. For my part, I choose to be on the side of freedom.”
Bartiromo clearly delights in her success as much as she works hard to achieve it. And, having just written a book on the topic, she is keen to share her secret: be adaptable but above all “love what you do”. A voice of clarity championing free markets and fiscal responsibility, Maria Bartiromo’s passion for her work is clear.
Maria Bartiromo’s show US Closing Bell can be watched on CNBC in the UK between 8-10pm Monday-Friday and she also anchors the Wall Street Journal Report at the weekend.
CV | MARIA BARTIROMO
Born: Brooklyn, NY, 1967
Education: Fontbonne Hall Academy; New York University, Journalism and Economics
Career: Five years with CNN before joining CNBC. First journalist to report from NYSE floor; Host of Closing Bell; Host and managing editor of Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo
documentary Emmy for Bailout talks collapse; 2010 Emmy for Inside the mind of Google
Books: Use the News (2002); The 10 Laws of Enduring Success (2010); The Weekend That Changed Wall Street (2010)