Kelly Evans co-anchors “Squawk on the Street,” where, alongside CNBC heavy-hitters Carl Quintanilla, Jim Cramer and David Faber she follows the first 90 minutes of trading on Wall Street. Prior to joining the show, Evans was based in London as a co-anchor on “Worldwide Exchange” for CNBC Europe and was also previously a reporter and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, penning the influential Ahead of the Tape column and writing for Heard on the Street. Evans also hosted the daily “News Hub” program on WSJ.com and was a frequent guest on TV and radio networks. In December 2012 Evans made the Forbes “30 Under 30: Media” list and was named among the “next wave of power players in the news and information industries.” Evans takes it all in stride. “I have been very lucky because there have been a lot of moments—whether covering stories in London or Wall Street in the United States—when I feel as though the audience and I are learning something together,” she says. “It’s kind of an a-ha moment and it makes it all worthwhile for me and I am still learning every day.”
Opportunist: How did you make your way from print to broadcast journalism?
Kelly Evans: I stumbled into it. I started out as an intern at the Wall Street Journal after college and was given assignments to write about everything happening on the economic front. At that time I quickly found out that lots of TV and radio outlets were looking for people to come on and explain the financial crisis to their audience and I was very happy to do so whenever they needed someone. When the Wall Street Journal launched their ‘News Hub’ program on WSJ.com in September 2009—now called ‘Journal Live’—they asked me to come on board and host something. I figured they liked me because they left me there. Ultimately, I decided that I should give TV a real try. I also wanted to spend some time abroad and the opportunity to work for CNBC in London gave me that chance.
Opportunist: Can you share some highlights from your Ahead of the Tape column for the Wall Street Journal?
Kelly Evans: It’s an extremely difficult column to write, so any day where I didn’t look like an idiot. [Laughs] You had to make a call [about the market] day-to-day, and it was usually obvious within a couple of hours whether you called it right and had a good grasp of the underlying issues or not. I was under a lot of stress and learned a ton, so I would say that alone was a highlight. That’s easier to say now that I have finished writing the column than it seemed at the time.
Opportunist: What was it like to live and work in London?
Kelly Evans: I didn’t necessarily single out London—I would have gone pretty much anywhere overseas—but I figured it would be a good way to get some exposure to Britain and Europe and the world beyond and that’s exactly what it was. I had a wonderful time there and learned a lot about how TV actually works. It turns out I had quite a bit to learn, actually, and I am still learning every day. ‘Worldwide Exchange’ aired on the East Coast from 4 to 6 a.m. so it was something of a comfort to be able to make those mistakes in London first. That setup along with the wonderful team in London, who I still keep in touch with today, allowed me to keep a low profile and feel not quite so much in the spotlight right away. I enjoyed the year I spent in London and I learned a lot about the world beyond our borders.
Kelly Evans: I don’t think about it in terms of stories so much; it’s almost kind of managing the daily flow of information. In a world where there is so much information, the hardest thing to try to figure out is what we need to spend time on and get in front of people—and what we can let go. What resonates with TV audiences is a different beast than with newspapers.
Opportunist: Who is the most impressive person you have met so far?
Kelly Evans: As I meet people—whether they are celebrities or CEOs—I find that some of the most highfalutin people often fall below what you had expected in terms of graciousness or charisma, whereas there might be someone who is involved in the startup space or an analyst with a way of looking at the world who turns out to be just a gem. I believe I have learned a lot from that experience and sometimes I wonder: Can character flaws be an asset for someone running a business? and: Should people who are flawed be given an opportunity if they succeed in enterprise or if they are arguably doing something for the greater good? I have been grappling with these kinds of questions for a long time.
Opportunist: What influenced your career choice?
Kelly Evans: I had summer internships with Reuters and Bank of America during college. At Bank of America I assisted the investment team, which was involved in managing the balance sheet on a daily basis. Those were formative experiences in the sense that I was completely fascinated by this world of finance and Reuters and Bloomberg terminals and the importance of the Federal Reserve, but I knew immediately that I didn’t necessarily want to be a trader. I wanted to cover and analyze the market and consider the implications for all of us and I think that’s still what motivates me today. I definitely owe my thanks to Washington & Lee University for offering a Business Journalism major that helped me get a jumpstart career-wise. I am eternally grateful for all of that as well as being able to play sports and to not have to give that up and pick just one area of focus. That was also a huge plus and, if nothing else, it prepared me for juggling multiple things. That’s sort of how the real world is.
Opportunist: Why did you decide to focus on real estate and economic news?
Kelly Evans: I went where they put me to some extent, starting at Bank of America where I was involved in a project on economic indicators. That gave me a little bit of a leg up and I ran with it. Reuters put me on their economics team with housing starts and industrial production and whatnot and that helped me get the job at the Wall Street Journal and also reflected my own interests, which lie in the direction of ‘What is an economy and what does it really mean for a society?’ and ‘Are we guiding a sound economy?’ Those are the bigger picture questions that I kind of see underlying the day-to-day—what some describe as drudgery, but I certainly would not—economic reports.
Opportunist: Given your real estate and economics background, what are your thoughts about the housing market and current mortgage rates?
Kelly Evans: I was asked about this back in 2009 in another kind of profile and I guess responding the way I did then is still applicable today. If you need someplace to live it’s an OK market to find someplace to live, but individual financial lives vary so widely that it’s really hard to comment further.
Opportunist: What are your thoughts on the economy overall?
Kelly Evans: I think that economists have suffered from a lot of hubris over the last 30 to 50 years. One thing crises are good at is revealing where hubris lies, and I think the recent financial crisis revealed that. When I look at the economy I wonder about a couple of things. First, given the structure that we have now, the economy looks similar to the way it did in 2006 to 2007. There’s a high value on the stock market but the economy is not growing as quickly. Then, the period right after the financial crisis, where there was high unemployment and people structurally remained out of the labor force, certainly changed the mindset among many Americans about whether the economy was sound or fragile. Are we are on the right path or not? I cannot say, but I try not to be dismissive of grassroots organizations like Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party. There could be a lot more debate about the state of the economy instead of everyone being so hands-off in their thinking and believing that if we just leave it alone it will turn out OK. I would like to hear more input from people who are willing to stand up and say ‘we got this one wrong’ or ‘we misunderstood the causes,’ etc.
Opportunist: You moderated a 2012 Republican Primary political debate as well as a standoff between James Carville and Ann Coulter. What was that experience like and would you do it again?
Kelly Evans: Absolutely! I loved moderating. It’s one of my favorite things—especially when you know people will be lively and combative like Carville and Coulter and some of the GOP candidates. It definitely makes your job as a moderator more challenging, but I would take that any day over a more academic setting.
Opportunist: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Kelly Evans: The pressure of having to perform. It’s reminiscent of sports for me in the sense that you have to shut out the world and be in that moment and just deliver. Having a deadline, whether for a print column or a continual minute-by-minute live TV show, can be extremely exciting when it’s not draining and exhausting. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What is your typical day?
Kelly Evans: My day starts by TV standards. I report to the stock exchange around 6 a.m. and we are on air by about 9 o’clock. The show that I am principally co-hosting is on from 10 a.m. until noon and my afternoons vary. Sometimes I return to headquarters in New Jersey or have luncheon meetings or work on packages and fill-ins for other programs. My favorite part of the day is taking off the makeup, putting my hair in a ponytail and taking my heels off.
Opportunist: Do you ever miss writing and seeing your work in print?
Kelly Evans: I do, and I actually don’t write nearly as much as I might have thought. Part of that has been to make sure I am 100 percent focused on my No. 1 job: the TV part of what I do. Once I feel like I am doing that right, I believe I will have more time for the kind of writing that I do or that the producers or analysts or a lot of the people I email with every day are able to do. I want to make sure I get the TV bit of it down first. I do enjoy reading, though, and I am currently reading a great book called The Coming Anarchy by Robert D. Kaplan.
Opportunist: Since you were a scholar-athlete and star lacrosse player at Washington & Lee, we have to ask … do you ever find time to play lacrosse?
Kelly Evans: I still have my lacrosse stick with me, but it sits forlorn and neglected in the corner of the room. [Laughs] I still like to run—without music—and it has become an important way for me to release stress and escape whatever you want to call it, this technological monstrosity that I am part of.
Opportunist: You are sometimes compared to Erin Burnett, one of your predecessors at ‘Squawk on the Street.’ How do you feel about that?
Kelly Evans: We are quite different, so I’m not sure where that comes from. It always makes me chuckle. I would have loved to have worked with [the late] Mark Haines, though, I can tell you that.
Opportunist: You are generating quite a fan base. Did you ever imagine your work would bring you so much notoriety?
Kelly Evans: I think notoriety is probably the better word for it because this is not a business where someone is showing up with flowers at the end of the day. [Laughs] Thanks to Twitter and social media in general, the negativity is in your face more. You learn to develop a strong skin. I certainly don’t ignore the feedback—good or bad—because it really helps day to day and I find all of that valuable.
Opportunist: Can you offer any advice for recent graduates who might want to follow in your footsteps?
Kelly Evans: Start doing whatever it is that you want to do. For me, it’s been more a process of trying things and crossing them off my list. As I said, whether it was getting into finance early and pivoting into journalism and pivoting into broadcast news, the more you can do the better. Get out there and report and blog and upload your videos to YouTube. If you work hard and take advice and watch the work of whomever it is that you admire, then the sky’s the limit.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Kelly Evans: I hope that I still have the opportunity to create good work. Also, being able to feel as though my moral and ethical compass is pointed north, in the sense that what I am doing is adding value and delivering what viewers want and that they’re responding to what I am doing. If all of those factors are working, then I take it as kind of a good sign. If it’s not working, you try to fix it and move on. That’s pretty much how I have always operated.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @les7989.
Follow Kelly Evans on Twitter at @Kelly_Evans
Watch Kelly Evans on CNBC