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Maria Bartiromo: More Than Money

The CNBC anchor has covered booms and busts, the successful and the mighty. But true success, she says, comes from within.

Emma Johnson

By all apparent measures, Maria Bartiromo is successful. For more than 15 years she has been the most visible face of business cable news, appearing as the host of CNBC’s Closing Bell and as the host and managing editor of the nationally syndicated Wall Street Journal Report Maria Bartiromo.

Aside from having a Rolodex bursting with heads of state, CEOs and leading investors, she is married to a noted Wall Streeter with whom she shares a five-story townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Her sultry beauty inspires rock songs and website devotionals. But these are not the things that Bartiromo uses to define success. “Success is knowing yourself—an inner comfort and inner contentment,” says Bartiromo, 43. Does she have it? “I do,” she says. In her recent book, The 10 Laws of Enduring Success, Bartiromo elaborates on key qualities that bring lasting meaning to one’s life through times of good fortune as well as economic hardship. Her insights are gleaned not only from her own life—as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who worked her way from production assistant to host of her own shows—but also from the unique access she’s had to the world’s most successful people. Ever mindful of this privileged vantage point, Bartiromo takes lessons—good and bad—from these world leaders, corporate giants and financial heavy hitters. The positive traits she defines in the book also can be ascribed to Bartiromo herself—introspective, passionate and bold, persistent and ethical. She is quick to attribute her strengths to her family. Raised in working-class Bay Ridge, N.Y., she learned from her Italian-American parents an appreciation for hard work—one of her secrets to success. “It would never have occurred to my parents to gripe about how hard they worked, to think that their lives were tougher than other people’s or to feel entitled to have more for less effort,” Bartiromo writes. “Even today, if I complain about being overworked, my mother rolls her eyes and says, ‘Come on, Maria, you’re not chopping trees.’ ”

Wisdom and Work Ethic

Bartiromo describes her mother as her “best friend and hero.” Josephine Bartiromo raised three kids while working full time as a teller at Off-Track Betting. While she didn’t gamble, she did enjoy the fast pace, and the job allowed her to send her kids to private schools and be financially self-reliant. “My mom always had such great wisdom—she was also always independent.”

Her father, Vincent Bartiromo, inherited a restaurant and catering hall, The Rex Manor, named after the Italian ocean liner Rex that brought her grandfather, Carmine Bartiromo, to the United States in 1919. Maria’s early memories of her father are of him laboring over the kitchen’s stove.

As a teenager, she worked as a coat-check girl at the restaurant. On Saturdays during her college years, Bartiromo got a job at the OTB where her mom worked. Although unsure of what she wanted to do professionally, Bartiromo had been interested in business since her childhood, when she would join her dad at his restaurant on Mondays as he balanced the books. Bartiromo entered New York University as an economics major but switched majors after her mother urged her to try a course in journalism. “I was always writing down what was on my mind when I was a kid, says. “It allows me to think clearer.” Today when she is stressed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, she’ll often jot notes in her Blackberry about things for which she’s grateful.

Bartiromo joined CNN as an intern on the general news desk then was hired on at the business news division—CNNfn— a production assistant. “I really gravitated toward business news. There is an urgency to it—an excitement,” she says. This was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when CNN was making a name for itself as a scrappy but powerful news organization as it covered the first Gulf War. “[CNN]fn was the place to be,” she remembers. “If the oil markets move then the markets moved. I just loved the immediacy of it.”

Bartiromo followed her passions—another ingredient in her recipe for success--and also sought advice from people she respected. Among them was Kitty Pilgrim, a veteran reporter and anchor at CNN, who told her to visualize where she wanted to be in five years and work toward that goal. Meantime, climbing the ladder at CNNfn, she was promoted to senior producer, which was as high as she could go unless she made the leap to an on-air position. Bartiromo could indeed see herself as a reporter. Strategizing how to make the transition, she enlisted crew members to shoot mock standups, which she used to create a portfolio of work that eventually landed her an on-camera reporting job at CNBC in 1993.

Taking Charge of Her Life

In her new position, Bartiromo met an important mentor: Jack Welch, then chairman and CEO of General Electric, CNBC's parent company. Among the many things Welch taught her was to take control of her life—or someone else will. “It’s such a basic idea—a centerpiece of success,” she writes. “You can’t go through life thinking that the tide will just move you along and take you where you want to be. You have to swim there.” Bartiromo says the advice she received from Pilgrim and Welch has relevance during uncertain times today. Instead of hoping you can hang onto a job or survive the immediate crisis, she suggests focusing on where you want to be in five years, then taking practical steps every day toward that goal. "Figure out what you need. Maybe it's more training or a broader network of colleagues and friends or a mentor. Whatever your specific needs, be proactive," she says.

The very act of deciding to take charge of your future helps stave off the fear and depression you might otherwise feel if you considered yourself a victim, she says. With a more positive, in-control mindset, you'll be better poised to see and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

The CNBC position represented a great opportunity for Bartiromo. "I was still writing and producing, which is where my heart was. And I was on-air as well,” she says.

Arguably her biggest break came in 1994 when she became the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. “I got bumped around a little, but it was very exciting—a new, instantaneous way of reporting market news,” she says. “We immediately had a big following.”

Followers ranged from investors eager for the latest financial news to rocker Joey Ramone of The Ramones, who idolized her in a song entitled Maria Bartiromo (“I watch you on the TV every single day / Those eyes make everything OK”).

‘Take the Hits and Rise Above Them’

Because she was the first to report from the traders’ inner sanctum, Bartiromo endured harassment by many of the guys on the floor. One trader in particular gave her a very hard time from her first weeks on the job, berating her in front of his peers for months. Several years later after the trader had lost his job in the dot-com bust, they ran into each other at a party. The trader asked for her forgiveness and extended his hand. “No problem,” she told him. “Take care.”

Her lesson from the experience: “If you’re going to get anywhere, you have to learn to take the hits and rise above them. Taking the initiative is always a risk. You are sticking your neck out for sure. You risk being laughed at, being ridiculed, or, worse, being wrong. But if you believe in what you are doing and are trying to do the right thing in every instance, you will ultimately win.”

Taking the initiative doesn’t seem a problem for Bartiromo. Her daily schedule would intimidate even the hardest of workers. During one week, she interviewed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, filmmaker Oliver Stone and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, hosted an hour-long special on leadership from West Point where she interviewed heroic airline pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger , prepared for interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush and the crown prince of Bahrain and presented honors at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards Ceremony.

In addition to hosting her two shows, in 2010 she also published two books: The 10 Laws and The Weekend That Changed Wall Street, which is about the September 2008 fall of Lehman Brothers and the economic crash.

Bartiromo’s work ethic means she expects similar dedication from those around her. She once interviewed a highly qualified woman for an assistant position, but was quickly turned off when the candidate’s host of requirements included Thursdays off and a laptop. “There is no room for a sense of entitlement around me,” she says. “My reputation is that I work hard, and everyone around me knows it. It is really a privilege to do what I’m doing—to sit down with heads of state, leaders of the largest corporations and the biggest investors. But it entails lots of hard work and preparation. My audience is very smart. I can’t fool my audience.”

What’s Important

In The 10 Laws, Bartiromo details the importance of integrity and cites numerous business luminaries who dedicate their time and wealth to philanthropy. In her own life, Bartiromo sits on the board of trustees of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor at the Stern School of Business, and she serves on the boards of the New York Ballet, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York, and Public Education Needs Civic Involvement and Leadership, which aims to improve New York City high schools.

She’s also working on a Web-based feature, “Maria Bartiromo’s Dollars and Cents,” to remedy the nation’s financial illiteracy. “The reason we’ve had so much debt is that no one teaches you about money. No one tells you what a stock is, or why it’s important to save.”

Between other commitments, Bartiromo manages to squeeze in personal time for yoga, Central Park bike riding and social engagements with a small circle of friends and family, including husband, Jonathan Steinberg, who is head of WisdomTree Investments and son of financier Saul Steinberg.

Bartiromo, whose birthday is Sept. 11, says she began thinking about what it means to be truly successful after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She was at work at the Stock Exchange that morning, a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. After the first attack, she ran outside to report on what was happening and watched the second jet slamming into the second tower. She huddled in a stairway with strangers as the first tower collapsed.

“It was a time of reflection about what is important and what is not,” she says. “Many, myself included, started thinking about how to persevere in difficult times.”

Since the financial crisis began in 2008, Bartiromo has noticed people re-evaluating the meaning of success. “They’re asking themselves hard questions that have long been ignored, about what’s really important to them and where the bedrock of their personal achievement lies,” she says.

She sought to answer similar questions in The 10 Laws, I wondered if there was a definition of success that you could have permanently, in spite of the turmoil in your life, your job or your bank account,” she writes. “What are the intangibles that can’t be measured or counted? What are the qualities that aren’t reflected in your title or on your business card? And more practically, how can you remain successful even when the worst things happen to you?”

 

Read a free chapter from Maria's book The Weekend that Changed Wall Street.

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