The First Lady of Finance

Most people can’t recall how it was they learned about money and savings, or the exchange of goods for cold, hard cash. It’s not that shocking, however, that Maria Bartiromo, aka the Money Honey, the woman whom Vanity Fair refers to as the Barbara Walters of business news, does recall. “When I was a kid, one of my earliest memories was when the ice cream truck would come down the block when I was five or six years old. I would say to my mother, ‘Mom, can I have an ice cream cone?’ and she would say, ‘You can have it, but how are you going to pay for it? Do you have any money to pay for it?’” It inspired the young Maria to begin saving her funds in a jar to purchase those cool treats, and it was a lesson that shaped her life path, and subsequently, the lives of millions who turn to her for their financial business news.

Haute Living met up with Maria at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, where she posed for our cameras with the ease of a professional familiar with the spotlight. She was in full make-up with flawless hair, because immediately after our shoot, it was back to the studio to get in front of the cameras for Closing Bell. She was on-air that day from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., as she is every Monday through Friday as the anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo, where she covers up-to-the-minute news on all aspects of the business and financial world—certainly a 24-hour-a-day job for the past year as the world stayed glued to the news channel watching the stock market first plummet and then begin to slowly climb again. During the two hours she is on-air each day, she may conduct as many as seven interviews on topics ranging from oil prices and interest rates to housing stats and earnings reports. Her long days are spent preparing, researching, and keeping up with the market, while trying to balance her personal ventures with professional obligations. On any given weekday, viewers might also spy her friendly face on Morning Joe or the Today Show. Then, of course, she is the host and managing editor of Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo, which airs every weekend and recently was rated the most watched financial news program in America.

Surprisingly, being in front of the camera wasn’t her original career choice. She began her college path with a focus in finance, but on her mother’s advice, she turned her attention to journalism. It is fitting that she had such a strong female role model in her life, seeing as she is one of the few female faces—and quite a beautiful one at that—in a male-dominated industry.

Thus, the New York tabloids slapped her with the moniker “The Money Honey” early on in her career—not that you will hear her complain about it. The business savvy Maria knows a good marketing opportunity when she sees one, thus the term has been trademarked and branded.

But before diving into the “honey,” let’s start with the money. Maria went to NYU with the intention of getting her degree in economics, but, listening to the wise words of her mother, switched her focus to journalism during her junior year, keeping her minor in finance. While still at the university, she began an internship at CNN, which at the time was in its infancy compared to the more established stations, a fact that made Maria a bit apprehensive. “I didn’t want to work for CNN, frankly,” she recalls. “I wanted to work for the major networks—ABC, NBC. I thought that was where the power was. But actually, I was very lucky, because CNN was the best place to get my foot in the door.”

Due to CNN’s relative youth, it was not unionized, so Maria was able to become immersed in all aspects of news broadcasting, whereas at the likes of ABC or NBC, she would have been pigeonholed in one department. “At CNN, they really needed help,” she recalls. “The first Gulf War was about to begin, so I was able to get my hands on all sorts of jobs, from production assistant to writing.” Following graduation, she stuck around, despite the internship being unpaid. It was a risky venture that paid off tenfold.

While moonlighting in other positions to make ends meet, she worked her way through various positions at CNN, finally winding up in the business division. “Business television was really in its infancy,” she recalls. “At CNN, there were only a couple of financial shows, like Moneyline with Lou Dobbs [now called Lou Dobbs Tonight].” CNN was looking to expand the division, so Maria was given an editing and a finance test and landed a paid position. She began as a writer, producer, and assignment editor, garnering invaluable knowledge about the industry along the way.

In 1993, Maria made the move to CNBC where the station managers recognized the bankability of putting her in front of the camera. She knew early on what she wanted to accomplish—demystifying the world of finance—and she wanted to do it from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the intimidating source of mystery for anyone not personally involved in the trade. By being the first person to report live from the NYSE, she created an industry trend and countless others have followed in her footsteps down to the trading floor.

Today, she is looking to educate an entire new generation of future consumers. Likely drawing inspiration from the old cartoon Schoolhouse Rock!, the Money Honey is working on a line of educational programming for children that will tackle topics such as “What is a stock?”, “What is a bank?”, and “Why do I have to save?” The animated series will be targeted to children between the ages of eight and 12, because Maria feels this is an age where one begins to understand what money really is. “At eight years old, kids are finally beginning to want things, and they understand the concept that you need to pay for things,” she explains.

She hopes to roll out the videos in 2010, although it is an arduous undertaking due to her packed schedule. But she is adamant about the importance of education. “Education is my No. 1 passion,” she states. “We have issues in our country and we need to ensure that our students are getting the best education and best training so that we can be flexible just in case life throws you a curveball like we just saw with all of the job cuts.”

And maybe if more people begin to understand the world of finance from a younger age, then the next generation won’t run into the same state of crisis we are currently experiencing, or at least they can be better prepared for it. And to prepare, Maria still recommends investing for the future. “I think we’ve all been hit by what has been an extraordinary two years for business, but I still believe in long-term investing,” she explains. “Over the last year, we could look back and feel like we’ve lost a decade, because people lost money. But I don’t think we should be giving up on long-term investing. It’s very easy to fall into a short-term trading mentality because we’ve got all the expectations, we’re living moment to moment, and for me, I am following every tick of the market. My advice would be to think for the long term and believe in quality businesses, and believe in the global story, because America will come back, in terms of growth, once again. You want to be investing in growth stories, investing in companies that can grow their own earnings, grow their own revenues, and become larger and larger.”

This is where Maria hits her stride—giving advice about the market that she knows so well. She follows every single up and down, and millions each day heed her advice.

Which brings us to the “Honey” part. Maria is a recognized face the world over; while this could be attributed to the fact that she has interviewed everyone from presidents and sheiks to the most influential CEOs, all with a cool air of responsibility, she is also quite the looker, a fact that has enthralled audiences.

Even Joey Ramone of punk rock band the Ramones penned a song about her, which he aptly titled Maria Bartiromo.

The lyrics to his ode to the Money Honey relay how dependent people are on the financial guru to explain the daily happenings in an understandable manner.

What’s happening on Wall Street?
What’s happening at The Stock Exchange?
I want to know
What’s happening on Squawk Box?
What’s happening with my stocks?
I want to know
I watch you on the TV every single day
Those eyes make everything okay
I watch her everyday
I watch her every night
She’s really outta sight

Of course, with such attention comes negative press as well. Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic dedicated a lengthy feature in late 2008 to an apparent feud between Maria and Erin Burnett, the anchor of CNBC’s Street Signs, who the article described as “the hottest star to come along in business television since…Maria Bartiromo.” There are also the various controversies surrounding some of her personal and professional relationships, but, if the accusations bother Maria, she certainly doesn’t let it show.

She manages to balance the never-ending business, her personal life, the media attacks, and her personal endeavors with ease, even finding time to give back. “I think that success comes on so many levels,” she says. “For me, certainly it is fun to have monetary ‘stuff,’ but my success has been about the satisfaction of being involved in a growth opportunity and being involved in helping people, and helping people make a positive change.” She is on the board of her alma matter NYU, and she just stepped off of the board of the New York Ballet after an eight-year stint, which is the company’s limit.

In the coming months, in addition to her typical hosting duties, Maria will be putting together a special for CNBC called The Business of Innovation, which will focus on alternative energy and technology, as well The Meeting of the Minds, a gathering of eight leaders to talk about the issues of the day (past segments of Meeting of the Minds have included business leaders discussing capitalism and healthcare professionals discussing their industry). She is also working on The State of States, while planning an extensive travel itinerary that will take her to Singapore in November. But rest assured, viewers will still be able to tune in and be educated by her invaluable insights about the market she knows so well.