By Patricia Sheridan
In 1995, Maria Bartiromo was the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and the first female journalist to be inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame.
The former CNBC “Money Honey” and Emmy Award winner is now sweetening the pot at Fox.
She was named global markets editor at Fox Business Network and is host of “Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo,” weekdays at 9 a.m. EDT. She is also anchor of “Sunday Morning News” on Fox News Channel at 10 a.m.
She is married to the CEO of Wisdom Tree Investments, Jonathan Steinberg.
Q. How did you take on the challenge of being a woman in what was very much a boy’s club, especially when you first started?
A. I guess it was difficult when I first got down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. … There were a handful of people that really didn’t want me there. It was new to all involved having a woman on the floor reporting on what these guys were doing. No less, a woman with a camera. So I can understand, in retrospect, why some of the guys were uncomfortable with it.
How did I endure? I realized very soon into it that I needed to know my stuff and make sure to study, study, study. I recognized that when I knew my stuff, nobody could push me around. Often times I had more information than some of the guys on the floor had because they really knew the flow. They knew who was buying and how much but they didn’t necessarily know why. That’s true on any trading desk, so it became clear to me that it didn’t have anything to do with knowing the subject.
It was just a club-like atmosphere. Very soon into it I had a lot of friends and a lot of camaraderie down there on the floor and continue to do so today. For a woman facing a similar challenge, I think it is very important to just remember the basics. Know your stuff so that no one can have one over on you.
Q. You have admitted you are competitive. Was that always the case?
A. I like to work. I like to win. What drives me is the love of the work. I really love what I’m doing. That’s why I want to get up early and start the day and have the best guests. I am certainly driven. I think as a child I was driven, too.
But this business is competitive and in order to compete you have to do good work and you have to be on your game. In terms of the kind of person I am, I guess I’ve always been a competitor.
Q. Once you get the big elusive CEO interviews for your show, do you find they are reluctant to talk? Are they guarded because of what they do?
A. I think it goes back to understanding the content. If you understand the content and you’ve done your work, there is nothing difficult about anything. You may very well be able to have an even conversation with the other person because you are both talking the same language. If you are not prepared and don’t know the subject matter, you will be intimidated.
Q. You had a really good run at CNBC, so what was the main reason you decided to move on?
A. I think the main reason was I was there 20 years and I was looking at my career and thinking: ‘Do I want to do the same thing for another five years?’ They made a very nice offer to me to stay there. There was always a pressure for me to have, you know, four and five people on at once. There was always a pressure to do short interviews, 5 minutes, 6 minutes. I feel like sometimes these are complicated subjects, business and markets and economy, and you really can’t get it in six minutes.
Often you’ve got the producer just watching the clock and not necessarily listening to the interview. I’m listening and I know we haven’t really gotten what we wanted. So I have to keep talking with follow-ups. I did get frustrated by the short-termism. That was OK for the 1990s when the stock market was all the rage. You want to do short-term to see what stocks to buy, what stocks to sell. But now it is a very different time. People today want perspective. I think people are more informed about their money than ever before. They are not being served well by just getting a sound-bite.
I realized after 20 years, it’s a nice round number, maybe I should just open myself up and see if there are other opportunities out there and not just jump like I had before that and sign right away. Roger Ailes came to me with an offer that really I couldn’t refuse. It was the Sunday morning program on the Fox News Channel, which is an enormous audience. The Fox Business Network is giving me an opportunity to do longer interviews and to build something.
Over my 20 years of helping to build CNBC, it was quite extraordinary, you know, to be able to travel the world, travel the country to build this brand. We did it and I am excited to do it with Fox. Fox Business Network has made a lot of strides over the last six years. I feel like we have a chance to take it to the next level. I’m a builder, I like that.
Q. Ever since the housing crisis, people want to know more. They feel they need to know more.
A. I feel that way. I mean, I felt like I wasn’t getting enough out of my guests. It was always a sound-bite situation and I felt bad for the guests, too. They would say, “Hey Maria, what the heck was that all about? I came all the way here and I was on for five minutes.” I know that a lot of people want to write that there is some argument going on (between Bartiromo and CNBC). Frankly, it is not. I love CNBC. I had the most unbelievable 20 years there. I grew and I learned and I grew up there, but I was ready for a change.
Q. So what did you do between the time you left CNBC and started at Fox? I know you had to take a break.
A. Well, I sleep in my closet upside down (laughing). I’m kidding. I work a lot. I love work and I’m lucky because my husband is so supportive. We both work a lot. I do think that is the No. 1 rule of success: You have to love what you do. I had a 60-day period, it’s called a noncompete in my contract, I couldn’t do anything with any competitor. I wasn’t allowed to even talk about a competitor or where I was going for 60 days, and that was really hard for me. The longest vacation I had was two weeks. Maybe I had like 16 days, but you know that was it in 20 years.
Q. That is insane.
A. (Laughing) Who gets more than two weeks off? So if you are at a place for 20 years, you just keep going, right? It was very foreign to me to not do anything for 60 days. Initially, I went through the paranoid stage. I was calling up all my sources, saying, “I will be calling you in 60 days and I want to have you on my new show. I can’t discuss what it is yet, but I’ll be calling you.” (Laughing) I was trying to secure all my guests and making sure I kept in touch with all my sources so they wouldn’t think I was out of the loop.
Then I went through a phase where I had already committed to things so I had to be a woman of my word and do them. That was sort of quasi work. I had promised (New York) Governor (Andrew) Cuomo I would moderate his regional economic awards so I went to Albany and did that. I had committed to go to the White House Holiday Party. These were all like really great things, right?
Then I finally did a couple of trips. I went to Milan with my sister and we went shopping to Prada and all these great places and we went to see La Scala’s “La Traviata.” Then we went to see the painting, “The Last Supper,” which is absolutely divine. During World War II, when all the bombs were going off, they protected this painting on the wall of the monastery. The whole story is extraordinary. So I loved that, and then I went on a hiking trip with my husband. We went to Arizona. That was a really nice break. That was that, so I did have two trips even though I was, “Oh God, what am I doing for 60 days?”
Q. You have that great Sophia Loren kind of look. Do you think being attractive was a deterrent or an asset to your career?
A. (Laughs) Thanks. I will say this: It does not matter if you look like Sophia Loren or Brigitte Bardot. If you do not know the content, you are not going to last long. The bottom line is that this audience, the business audience, they are very smart and smarter than me on some subjects. So if I don’t study and know my stuff, it doesn’t matter what I look like, I will be bounced off cable. Make no mistake: Looks mean nothing if you don’t know your stuff.
Q. So now that you know your stuff, where do you stash your cash?
A. I am a big saver. I have always been a saver. My mother just drilled that into me as a girl. So I do have money in money markets and savings accounts. But I also have money in the stock market. We are not allowed to invest in particular companies or do selective stock picking, but I do it in a diversified way through exchange traded funds. ETFs, in my opinion, are probably the best way to invest in the stock market. I do believe that everyone, and this is a big statement, everyone should have some exposure to the stock market. The younger you are, the more exposure you should have because over the long term, and I am talking, 10, 20, 30, 40 years, the best way to wealth creation is through the stock market.
I do not have a lot of debt. I do not like debt. The best debt you can have is your mortgage. I don’t use credit cards.
Pingback: Don’t be intimidated when talking to CEOs | Talking Biz News