Neil Cavuto: The FOX Anchor is Bullish on the Future

UPDATED: January 19, 2010
PUBLISHED: January 19, 2010

(Watch Neil Cavuto and Dave Ramsey discuss money and SUCCESS here.)

ARE YOU LISTENING? Because Neil Cavuto is talking to you. Yes, you. Really. Tune in to him nearly any day on FOX News Channel (FNC) or FOX Business Network (FBN) and the anchor is delivering today’s business news for the layman, omitting acronym-laden jargon and keeping the bottom line crystal clear. He’s speaking to Main Street, not Wall Street, following your dollar and telling it like it is.

“I think people can get this stuff if you try not to talk like the smartest kid in the class,” Cavuto says. “By avoiding speaking in arcane language that might only appeal to brokers, we’re getting to the gist of what’s going on in the country right now.”

This simplified approach seems to be paying off for Cavuto, who serves as senior vice president, anchor and managing editor of business news for both FBN and FNC. He hosts Cavuto on FBN daily and Cavuto on Business every Saturday on FNC, as well as his daily show, Your World with Neil Cavuto, the top-rated cable news program in its timeslot. Plus, Cavuto was named “the best interviewer in broadcast business news” by The Journalist and Financial Reporter, and he has two New York Times Best-Sellers and fi ve CableACE Award nominations under his belt.

The fact that this powerful on-air personality has long been battling serious health problems is something viewers likely wouldn’t realize, except for his often-raspy voice, which is one of many symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. Cavuto was diagnosed with MS in 1997, after surviving an advanced case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the late ’80s.

Whether enduring a crippled economy or a crippling condition, Cavuto takes the long view and faces the present with an unfaltering optimism. “No matter how bad something gets, something good can come out of it,” he says, “which is what I try to remind people who are in the midst of a financial crisis, or any crisis. I’m not minimizing or mitigating the moment, but I try to remind people that it’s just a moment. Our time on earth is extremely precious.”

His Approach

As a husband, a father of three (two young sons and an adult daughter), an MS sufferer and the managing editor of business news for two networks, Cavuto certainly has a full plate. He credits waking up early—at 4:15 a.m. every weekday—for his success in juggling these roles. “I think that is absolutely crucial, if for no other reason than, psychologically, you feel you’re ahead of the game,” he says.

He devotes time to exercising and catching up on the latest news before waking his sons at 6 a.m. and getting them ready for school. “Then I’ve done my daddy thing, and I can do my work thing,” he says.

That work thing started in 1996, when FNC’s founding CEO, Roger Ailes, hired Cavuto to cover business news for the fledgling channel. “He was very wise to ask early on, ‘How will you define what you do in business news for FOX?’ ” Cavuto recalls. “I said, ‘I’m going to preach to the mainstream. Let the other guys preach to Wall Street.’ And that became ultimately the DNA for FBN.”

Cavuto and his teams on FNC and FBN are extremely self-critical, he says, and they’re constantly watching their work to find areas for improvement: “Is there a better way we can present this? Is there a better way we can focus on this issue? Is there something we’re missing in this health debate that no one else is pounding?”

Being prepared for every show is a daily challenge, and, on top of reading the news every morning, Cavuto does all the research he can on specific guests and issues. What drives Cavuto and his team daily is a collective, deep-rooted passion for journalism. “We follow [news] with a great passion, like a dog with a bone,” he says.

That passion helped tremendously when FBN was founded in 2007. “People say, ‘Boy, you have such an uphill climb here, and you’re against entrenched competitors. But you guys seem to be either oblivious or just so psyched,’ ” Cavuto says. “It’s the psyched part. We don’t pay attention to the naysayers.”

His Advice

Cavuto says that he has been impressed with the American public’s reaction to the recession, as many people “have refocused and gotten their priorities right.

“I think we were on a sort of hell-bent spree that our lives were defined either by the number of homes or cars we had,” he says. “But I think people are realizing they can live with less as long as they have more quality time with their families and they have things that money can’t buy or define.”

He points to the story of a successful CEO friend of his who “had the trophy second wife, had the go-go life and all that stuff.” But, when his brokerage house failed and he lost his job, he lost everything—including his wife. And the children he alienated by marrying that second wife are no longer in contact. Now, Cavuto describes him as “a shell of a man.”

“You shouldn’t take success for granted,” he says. “If we’ve learned anything in this financial crisis, it’s that it’s fleeting.”

"No matter how bad something gets, something good can come out of it."

In the words of his father, Cavuto advises people to stay humble, especially during tough financial times. It’s dangerous, too, to rest on one’s laurels, assuming that past successes guarantee job security. “Don’t assume that you yourself are irreplaceable,” he says. “I think that’s a good lesson, too, in this business particularly. There are no guarantees. You’re as good as your latest ratings.”

As a student of history, Cavuto points out that conditions during the Great Depression were much worse than those we face now.

He remembers his parents regaling him with stories of eating onion or potato sandwiches because they couldn’t afford anything better, and that unemployment rates were between 30 and 35 percent. It’s important to reference the past to keep the present in perspective, he says.

“Either we’ve gotten soft, or we have a whole ’nother view of hardship than our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents. We didn’t corner the world on suffering, and I think we can learn a lot from the previous generation.”

History also shows that recessions are cyclical, lasting about 18 months, Cavuto says, and the most telling part of a recession is when it’s over. “We always get through these things, and our character is briefly defined by our temperament afterwards. Do we [embrace] the lessons, or do we return to our old profligate ways and refuse to learn what history is trying to teach us?”

Meanwhile, Cavuto advises people to hold onto the money they have and to stop worrying about increasing their bank accounts for now. “Don’t focus on trying to double and triple your money,” he says. “Do focus on trying to keep what you have. I’m not saying you pass up great investment opportunities. You keep your horizon in perspective. I always remind people: When do you need the money? If you need it sooner rather than later, be conservative. If you need it much, much later, or your life goals for retirement are many years away, you can be a little bit chancier.”

His Struggle

Battling a near-fatal bout of cancer was bad enough. So, when Cavuto found out, less than a decade later, that he had MS, he was crushed (the odds of contracting both are about 2 million to 1). “I was very bitter,” he says. “I was very angry at the world.”

He recalls staying in bed during his self-described “self-pity campaign” while friends of his, including CEOs and politicians, called to offer their support. Cavuto didn’t want to speak with anyone. His wife, Mary, recorded all of their messages, and, eventually, Cavuto returned their calls.

“One guy said, ‘I lost my son a year ago.’ Another CEO, ‘I lost everything I had, my business and everything burned in a fire.’ Someone else, ‘I just lost my wife in a tragic car accident.’ I was thinking about this: ‘I guess other people do suffer.’ ”

Mary suggested that he compile these stories into a book, and More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life’s Ultimate Lesson became a best-seller.

“The book was a modern-day Profiles in Courage for democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives, those who were very rich, those who suddenly were not,” he says. “It was very good therapy for me because it taught me that [others] can teach me a thing or two about dealing with difficulty. Most of these men and women I wrote about dealt with far worse, and it got me over me. I think it got a good response because people were in the mood for something uplifting.”

He says that the “ultimate lesson” referenced in the book’s title is that life “is very, very short.”

“Some people listen to me and say, ‘Neil, you have this incredible view of death.’ I think when you have a disease, you don’t look at life quite the way others do. I think that gives me a better insight into the stuff that matters.”

Cavuto shares this insight through his philanthropy with the MS Society, National Fatherhood Initiative, Boy Scouts of America, Catholic Charities, United Negro College Fund and more. He urges people dealing with difficulty not to play the victim. “We have to get over blaming others and being angry at others for what is our own physical problem,” he says. “It’s not your wife’s fault or your husband’s fault you have this disease. It’s not your kids’ fault you have this disease. Everyone carries their own cross in life, and everyone carries their own burden.”

Now, despite living with MS for more than a dozen years, Cavuto remains as excited as ever about the varied roles he plays: family man, dedicated journalist, walking inspiration.

“I just have a passion for life,” he says. “We live in challenging times, and it’s exciting to follow them. And I have a front-row seat. I get to talk to the big players and get their insight into this. I’m doing something that would be analogous to a kid running a candy shop. It really doesn’t get any better than this.”

Chelsea Greenwood has been contributing to print and online publications as an editor and writer for more than 10 years. A University of Florida graduate, she is the editor of a lifestyle magazine in South Florida.