CNBC's Maria Bartiromo: From Disco Queen to Business News Diva

By Lunch at Michael's Archives

Originally Published: January 5, 2004

If Maria Bartiromo were not the anchor of CNBC's most successful business programs, would she be:
A. running a large Italian restaurant in Brooklyn?
B. an actress, perhaps starring in a Francis Ford Coppola movie?
C. managing a major Wall Street investment firm or public company?
D. teaching at a high school in the Bronx?
E. a hands-on interior decorator?

With her unique background and talents, Maria could have been successful in any of these careers. She recently joined the board of Pencil, a charitable organization that supports New York City schools and she served as Principal for a day at Taft School in the Bronx. It was, she says, "an eye-opening experience," far different from her childhood attending the Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls Catholic High School in Brooklyn. At Taft, students pass through metal detectors and the school offers baby-sitting for the students' young children. She sensed the students' "commitment to learning and desire for success, although they need to understand it takes hard work and help from organizations such as Pencil. There are opportunities to take lessons from business and apply them to public education, and I'm eager to contribute more." Maria grew up hanging out with her Dad at Rex Manor, a large Italian restaurant and catering hall he owned in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, near her home. On Mondays, she joined him while he did the books, fascinated by the organization of receipts, charges, negotiations with vendors, and his explanations of how to determine profit and loss. In her teens, she was coat check girl while her sister, Theresa, hosted and her brother, Patrick, waited tables, but "Mondays doing books with Dad was the seed that was planted."

As a child, she had taken jazz, ballet and step classes, so it was only natural that on nights off from working at Rex, she became a self-described "Disco Queen," reminiscent of John Travolta's dance partner Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever" Although Maria insists she loved Brooklyn and her life at Rex Manor, she shared Stephanie's burning desire to escape Brooklyn. Even as she checked coats and discoed all night, Maria knew she was destined for more and Manhattan beckoned.

For Maria, Manhattan was only a few subway stops away at New York University where she enrolled as an economics and business major, and later - at the urging of her mother - switched to journalism major with business minor. As a freshman, she commuted home every night to Brooklyn. "I was somewhat sheltered in high school," she admits, and was comfortable staying close to home. But I was studying in the library until 9 or 10 and then taking the subway. It was crazy, and NYU was so huge it was tough to make friends if you weren't living on campus." She soon moved into a new dormitory on University Place, "which was like moving into a sophisticated Manhattan apartment in a great neighborhood." Maria now commutes again, from her East Side apartment where she lives with her husband of four years Jonathan Steinberg, to Englewood Cliffs where CNBC has its studios. She also spends much of her workday on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where she was the first person ever to broadcast live.

She was at the Exchange when the first plane hit the World Trade Center tower, and she dashed outside and looked up just as the second plane hit. She remembers the chaos and literally running for her life as the towers collapsed. She returned to the Exchange where she continued to report until forced to evacuate. Her competence as a news reporter and her status as the "pin up girl" of business news seem to destine Maria for higher profile opportunities. We talked about those opportunities at our lunch at Michael's, joined in the front room by Matt Rubel of Cole Haan, William Lauder, Joel Hollander of Infinity Radio, Joe Armstrong, Gil Schwartz of CBS, and disappointed New York magazine suitor Michael Wolff. Author Ken Auletta stopped by to assure Maria I'm an okay guy even though I'm not Italian, before joining writer Warren Hoge, while Ken's wife, literary agent Binky Urban, dined with Michael Hershey at another table.

Director Francis Ford Coppola recently asked Maria to read for a part in his new movie, Megalopolis, and she believes the reading went well, but "there is a separation between entertainment and journalism. I've established real brand equity in business and I don't take that lightly. I like to broaden my scope to general news when that's the story, but I would never throw away my business strength." She does admit though "it was thrilling just to read for Francis and follow his direction." Maria smilingly acknowledges she's flattered by the attention she receives and her nickname, "Money Honey," but her viewers and fans are aware she worked hard and earned her success, beginning as an intern while at NYU for WMCA Radio's Barry Farber. As a senior, she interned at CNN for Showbiz Today, staying on without pay after graduation and then switching to CNN business news when they offered a paying job.

Although she had originally hoped to work at a broadcast network, she recognized that business news was in its infancy and CNN offered the chance to experience all aspects of news production. After five years she was working with Lou Dobbs and was promoted to line producer, which would have shifted her from field producing to studio work. To explore the possibility of doing on-air field reporting, she put together a reel of stories she'd produced. CNBC's Roger Ailes offered her a job combining producing and on-air work, and her timing was impeccable. The markets were just beginning to take-off in 1993, and after filing a daily report for two years, she began covering the stock market, a role she continues to perform every morning, along with her daily afternoon program and Special Report every Monday at 9 PM (ET).

So what would Maria be doing if not reporting business news? The career that might truly attract her the most would be interior decorating. "There are few things I love more," she exclaims, "than getting on a ladder, redecorating, and organizing the house." She and her husband enjoy spending time at home together, watching 24, Law & Order SVU and now have set a new Friday night date watching Joan of Arcadia. She and Jonathan would like to have children but "I see the way my life is - at the Exchange at 7 AM, and still working Mondays until 10 and other nights until 7. I'm focused on my career which is my number one priority." Fortunately for CNBC and Maria's many viewers and fans, she won't be switching anytime soon to interior decorating - although perhaps CNBC should consider a new redecorating business show for Maria called "Trading Office Spaces."

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