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June 1, 2011

An Unusual Financial Wizard

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Mark Haines, the popular, well-respected, venerable financial news anchor with CNBC, died unexpectedly a week ago at his home in Marlboro, NJ. He was 65.


After joining the financial news cable station, CNBC, in 1989, he quickly became the friendly and familiar face for the morning program, “Squawk Box,” in 1995 and later a co-host with Erin Burnett, of “Squawk on the Street,” around 2005. (See also: “Financial Stink Bomb Explodes,” in, April 20, 2011. Ms. Burnett left the program on May 6, and moved to CNN.)


CNBC has been a part of my morning routine since around the time “Squawk on the Street” expanded to a two-hour show on July 19, 2007.


As an aside; I cannot stand the other morning network news programs with its pompous “cult of personality,” glamorous, self-important anchors that vacuously spew pabulum or specious superficial liberal (or conservative) overviews of serious hard-news items at a frenetic pace in order to stay on schedule.


Last Wednesday I had CNBC on in the background, when something unusual caught my attention. I was rushing around, trying to wake up, and running late.  It was not until later in the day that I was able to put together that “what” had happened was quite profound.


As was mentioned several times later in the day on CNBC and widely reported in other news accounts, the trading floor of The New York Stock Exchange had fallen silent when the news broke that Mr. Haines had died.


For more context, it needs to be noted that “Squawk on the Street” is broadcast live from the stock exchange. And as anyone who has ever observed the floor of the Exchange knows, it usually resembles a carefully choreographed cacophony of chaos and orderly disorder – and it is anything but quiet.


The unscripted silence was a sign of the respect and high regard in which Mr. Haines was personally held by people who otherwise have very little interest in anything but dollars and cents, put and calls, and numbers.  Perhaps to better understand what I am trying to convey in words, go to CNBC 'Squawk' anchor Mark Haines dies or coverage of Mark Haines' death.


Why I liked Mr. Haines, and why I felt so sad at the news of his death, is somewhat hard to explain. He reminded me of a regular guy, albeit extraordinarily smart and well- versed in his field of expertise, who just bantered away, knowledgeably, about the nuances and peccadilloes of the economy and the financial markets.


I guess there is really very little warm and fuzzy about numbers and financial news. The lexicon and acronyms can often seem like something which resembles the English language about as much as Esperanto – or Greek.


Yet Mr. Haines was able to explain financial and business news in a matter-of-fact and friendly manner in a way in which it was actually understandable. You paid attention to him because it was like having a conversation with a brainiac friend who is obviously bright, but not stuck-up.


He asked a lot of common-sense-oriented and matter-of-fact – read that blunt, no-nonsense – questions that you and I would ask if we were to be in his chair.


USA Today said:


“The no-nonsense early-morning anchor was best known for his penetrating yet fair interviewing style that challenged politicians, bankers, money managers, analysts and economists on key money matters of the day. He guided investors big and small through many of the nation's most trying days, including the bursting of the dot-com tech bubble, the tragic events of 9/11 and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”


In words I wish I had written, The New York Times quipped:


“From the beginning Mr. Haines did not fit the mold of a television anchor. The business magazine Fast Company once likened his rumpled look to that of ‘a butcher forced to wear a business suit.’ Colleagues remembered him off-camera in sweatpants, with mussed hair and bare feet.


“He became known as a wry, if curmudgeonly, M.C. whose interviews, often with chief executives, could be sharp-tongued, setting the kind of contentious tone that has been increasingly adopted on cable news programs across the dial.”


He kind of reminded me of, well, maybe a Jerry Turner or Al Sanders, with a skeptical, yet not quite cynical edge, from many years ago on WJZ TV in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s.


I really never knew much about Mr. Haines. I just knew that I liked him and learned a great deal from listening to him over the years. It was only after he died, and I read tributes to his life and times in the Washington Post and New York Times, that I began to fully realize that he was educated as a lawyer and a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association.


The Times’ tribute noted one of the reasons why I liked him by observing that he was known for “leavening discussions on fast-moving stocks with banter about pop culture and personalities.”


Although he had worked for CNBC for about 22 years, he had previously “served as a news anchor for KYW-TV in Philadelphia, WABC-TV in New York, and WPRI-TV in Providence. Haines joined CNBC in 1989,” according to a profile on CNBC.


According to several news sources, he was “born on April 19, 1946 and grew up in Oyster Bay, on Long Island. He graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, in 1969…” He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1989.


Mornings are not the same without Mr. Haines; he was a one-of-a-kind – warm and fuzzy personality without the “cult-of personality” attitude, who was quite serious about the cold business of business without taking himself so seriously.


  I’m just saying.


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