10 Questions with ... Ron Insana
March 29, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Financial News Network 1984-1991; CNBC, 1991-2006; Insana Capital Partners, 2006-2008 and 2009-present; SAC Capital, 2008-2009; Radio at Westwood One and Compass Media Networks; Author of four books
The show is syndicated by Compass Media Networks and advertising sales are exclusively represented by Dial Global
1. You worked your way up the production ranks to on-air all the way to your present positions, but how did you end up in financial media in the first place? Was that by design or coincidental?
I ended up in financial news entirely by accident. I graduated from California State University, Northridge, in 1984 with a degree in film production. Apparently, neither Steven Spielberg nor George Lucas were aware of this and failed to call me. A good friend of mine, from high school, Casey Wian, who was working at Financial News Network at the time, got me an entry level job there. I spent the last 26 years entirely fascinated by the experience.
Should Steven or George have a desire to do something together now ...
2. What does your radio work allow you to do that your CNBC work doesn't -- what are the benefits, to you (besides the paycheck), of adding radio to your schedule?
The benefit of doing the "Insana Quotient" is that I can take as much, or as little, time as I want to explore a topic. I had a great deal of freedom in that regard when I worked full-time at CNBC. As a contributor today, I am involved in panel discussions and other formats, but on radio, I am free to opine, examine or explore a topic in any number of ways, which can be quite satisfying.
That's true of CNBC also, and always has been, but being entirely on my own on the air means there are no limits on me... from format to time to topic.
3. What do you think of the Obama administration's, and, for that matter, the Senate's and Congress', performance in dealing with the economy in the last two years? What are they getting right and wrong?
I think the Federal Reserve saved our bacon in the midst of the financial crisis. Ben Bernanke, despite what his critics say, is a genius and the right man for his job at exactly the right moment in economic history. Everyone else either got in the way, or did nothing of substance to help us through this.
4. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the economy in, say, the next two years? How about longer term? Why?
I am very optimistic about the short-term and long-term prospects for the US economy. The speed with which we recovered from the "Great Recession" is truly remarkable. Banks are almost fully recapitalized; corporations are flush with cash and consumers are in much better shape than one would have guessed two years ago.
GDP, at $15.4 trillion is above its 2007 peak, so are retail sales.
The savings rate has gone from 0 to 6%.
The U.S. is going through a renaissance in manufacturing and remains the clear leader in technology, medicine and finance. We have the real estate recession still and the issue of deficits and debt. But when you look around the world, we're in better shape than most other countries.
Even if we're the best house in a bad neighborhood, I'd rather live here. My economic theme for 2011 and beyond has been, "there's no place like home." I think the headlines from around the world support that view.
5. You left CNBC in 2006 to create a hedge fund, then returned in 2009; What would you say you learned from that experience? Does having managed a fund (in what turned out to be a tough time for hedge funds in general) give you a different or better insight into the field on which you're commenting?
I think my time as a money manager, and I'm not sure that's all in the past, was a phenomenal education. From building an asset management business from 0 to $125 million, enduring the financial crisis, working at SAC Capital, allowed me to experience what I had only previously observed from the outside. It made me much more adept at what I do now.
I may re-create that hybrid practitioner/observer role which, again, is quite complementary on both sides.
6. There's a lot more financial information and punditry available to investors than ever, between cable and radio and the Internet. How should a typical small investor -- your listeners -- navigate that information? What should they be looking for in choosing to whom they'll listen? What makes a sound financial commentator or information source?
It's a difficult question to answer since even professionals have a difficult time separating the trivial from the meaningful.
But I believe my show, CNBC more broadly, and The Wall Street Journal all provide important news, access and context to what's happening and are the must-hear, must-see and must-reads if one wants to keep abreast of our brand of news.
7. Who are your influences, inspirations, and/or mentors?
I was influenced by several people ... My former colleagues from FNN, the late Ed Hart, who was a financial genius; technical anaylst John Bollinger and my first editorial supervisor, Doug Crichton. Certainly Bill Griffeth and Sue Herera schooled me in this business, while Tom Brokaw, and the late Tim Russert were also important mentors and supporters of mine at NBC. They all helped me enormously.
Of the people you must listen to, and I don't mean to omit anyone, my CNBC colleagues, David Faber, Steve Liesman do incisive, wonderful and extremely accurate reporting, while Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett get great interviews from locations all over the world.
I also still listen to my original mentors, Bill and Sue, who have been at this for almost 30 years apiece. They invented the form.
8. Of what are you most proud?
I am most proud of the family my wife and I created. I get no greater satisfaction in life than watching my family grow and get closer every day.
Professionally, I think breaking barriers at CNBC, like interviewing Presidents Clinton and Bush, being the first to get big names onto CNBC, like George Soros, Warren Buffet and other notables to sit down for long conversations was quite exhilarating at the time I did it.
I think covering 9/11 was the most challenging event I ever experienced, while sitting next to Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert to cover George Bush's first State of the Union address was the most humbling.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _____________.
...seeing my wife and kids. I travel a lot these days, so I have a lot of pictures on my Blackberry!
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
The best advice I ever got was to talk to the camera like you're talking to a friend. The worst advice I ever got was to wear a hair piece back in the late 1990s. It wasn't really advice though, it was more of an order.