At a quarter to 10 on a Thursday morning, in one corner of Bloomberg L.P.’s vast multimedia floor in New York, Margaret Brennan (Col ’02) is having makeup applied before the start of her daily show on Bloomberg Television, InBusiness with Margaret Brennan. Even though she has recently returned from a trip to Dubai, she shows no trace of exhaustion as she launches into the show, the big news of the day being the U.S. Senate hearing on the reappointment of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
After taping is over, she slips off her shoes in a conference room and elaborates on her recent reportage in Dubai. “I was there for the World Economic Forum, at the Summit on the Global Agenda, which basically sets the agenda for Davos [Switzerland, where the WEF meets annually]. We were there to interview a number of key decision makers.” Coincidentally, while Brennan was visiting, there was a major shakeup by Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai in an attempt to address the nation’s massive debt problems. Sheikh Mohammed removed three leaders who played a large role in the real estate and construction industry in Dubai, and dismissed and replaced the head of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Omar bin Sulaiman. “It was really great to be there as things were sort of bubbling up, and we’re going to continue to follow that,” says Brennan. “It’s exciting!”
Brennan’s face lights up when she talks about her trip, and it is no wonder, considering her long-term, intense interest in the Middle East. It was a passion that developed early.
“I was a little girl, and it confounded my parents. ‘Why the Middle East?’” she laughs. “I’m from Connecticut, Irish-American, no ethnic ties there. But I was just always fascinated by great civilizations, great history.”
She parlayed this fascination into a successful academic career at UVA, where she graduated with highest distinction and a double major in foreign affairs and Middle East studies, having studied Arabic for a semester at Yarmouk University in Jordan as a Fulbright-Hayes scholar.
That semester propelled her toward journalism. When she entered UVA, Brennan thought she was headed for government work—either the State Department or a diplomatic career. “After I came back from Jordan, I was trying to reconcile some of what I was learning as a student with what I was seeing on TV, or reading in news reports, which wasn’t always reflective of the academic aspect, where you learn in detail about policy in the Middle East, or the stories behind policy,” she explains. “I thought, I want to be out there and find out what is happening on the ground.”
Her budding interest in journalism was confirmed after Brennan completed a summer internship at the international news desk at CNN. “I loved being in the newsroom, and that’s what got me,” she says. “As journalists, it’s what you bring to the table in terms of providing context and being able to connect the dots between what causes different things—to walk you through the narrative and pull together the disparate pieces of information.”
Following graduation, Brennan worked at CNBC as a producer for the late Louis Rukeyser; they hit it off in her interview because Rukeyser, though famous as an economics commentator, was a former Middle East news correspondent. She expanded her position through the years and eventually became a general assignment reporter for CNBC. This past June, she left CNBC to take on a broader role as an anchor at Bloomberg Television, which offered her the chance to return to her first love—international affairs—but seen through a financial lens.
“The stock market is really all about pricing assets based on changing circumstances, moment to moment, and the spillover effects from what’s happening in Washington, what’s happening in Beijing. Whether or not consumers in China decide to spend more is of huge importance to American corporations,” Brennan explains. “Particularly now, you can’t separate economic policy from political change. They’re all connected. What I’m doing here at Bloomberg is the globalization story and the global financial system that we’re in.”
Brennan’s move to Bloomberg Television may have surprised CNBC, which, if anything, was accustomed to poaching talent from Bloomberg, rather than the other way around. It was a smart choice for Bloomberg, according to industry insiders. “Bloomberg made an ideal hire in Brennan, who has the gravitas to give the network an identity,” wrote Jon Friedman of MarketWatch when Brennan’s move became public. “I’ll go so far as to say that if BTV ever became a household name, it would be because of Brennan. She has the ability to lift Bloomberg all by herself.”
As an anchor, Brennan must often move rapidly from topic to topic, country to country. One minute she may be talking about drug policy changes in Mexico; the next, about market conditions in London.
She interviews a variety of people and must also be prepared for impromptu guests. Her knowledge base has to be wide and ever-shifting, but fortunately, Brennan has the resources, the drive and the intellectual thirst to get the job done.
“[Bloomberg has] people all over the place,” she explains, “in all these countries and markets, so you have people you can turn to who are there day to day, who can give you some context to what you’re focused on. But it’s also constantly being a student. I loved being in the library—I was a bit of a nerd,” she laughs, “so I love reading about things now.
“My friends and family constantly tease me about my obsession with the Blackberry. I think this isn’t the type of job when you’re done at the end of the day, because things are still changing that you need to know about,” she says. “That can be an added challenge, that your job’s never really over.”
Brennan’s entry into global financial news could not come at a more momentous time, something she fully appreciates. “Covering the recent financial crisis, some would say that’s the story of the century,” she says.
The gravity of economic events has boosted her prominence. In December, she joined the likes of Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal and Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post and Newsweek as a panelist at an economic conference hosted by UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Brennan is thoughtful about all she has learned and accomplished in the seven years since graduating from the University, and she is ready for anything the future may hold. “I’ve always had trouble answering questions like ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ because I don’t think like that. For me, it’s more, ‘What excites you? What do you want to get done?’” she explains.
“I think if you can walk away feeling like you’ve contributed to the greater process, and been on top of the stories we should be telling and not just the ones people want to hear, I’ll feel good about it.”