The good folks over at the Fox Business network reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in talking to any of the personalities for this site. I jumped at the opportunity to do a Q & A with Cody Willard, the host of Happy Hour, who’s also done some great writing for TheStreet.com and ran an eponymous hedge fund for 5 years.
Cody’s got a very aspirational story that most people aren’t aware of. He blew into New York with just his degree and a desire to make it on The Street, taking a job as a Starbucks barista while waiting for his big shot. Cody gives me some very real, impolitic answers to my questions, which is remarkable in that most Wall Street commentators are more concerned with not offending people than voicing their real opinions.
Below, we discuss the difference between FB and CNBC, hijinx on the set of Happy Hour, running money for a living and Cody’s hair care regime.
The Reformed Broker: First of all, I must confess that I don’t catch the Happy Hour show as often as I should. What is it, other than the unconventional setting, that you guys are doing differently from the other after-market financial shows?
Cody Willard: We look different, we talk different and most importantly, we don’t let anybody who’s not smoking hot on the set.
Seriously though, we don’t simply feature the same old white bald pundits who in my opinion are the same people who have destroyed our economy, and let them rationalize their idiocy on our show. We don’t play partisan politics. Personally, I’m adamant about destroying the idea that anybody should ever vote for a rigid national party. Yes, I’m serious – let’s change the notion that we have to blindly follow Republican and Democratic politicians (what I call the Republican/Democrat Fascist Regime at this point) who have been in power for way too long and are totally corrupt now.
Hmm, did my unconventional answer satisfy the question at hand?
TRB: Doing a live show from an uncontrolled setting like the Bull & Bear at the Waldorf must have its share of idiosyncrasies. What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened at the bar behind you before, during or after a taping?
CW: A few months ago, a blonde woman was sitting behind us at the bar. As I was asking a question of a guest, she began taking off her jewelry…then her scarf. Then more. The show went to a commercial and none of us on set were aware of her mini-strip tease on air…but I sure got a lot emails from people wondering about that “lady who tried to undress during the show” that day.
TRB: Many people consider you to be one of the leading personalities on Fox Business Network. Is there a pressure that comes along with that in the context of trying to pull viewers from CNBC?
CW: I’m flattered that you’d say people think that. Certainly there’s pressure in trying to grow this network and build the audience. But I guess, I’d say I love competing against that other business news network.
I ran into a couple senior peeps from that network at a party a few months ago. After pretending they didn’t know who I was, one of the big dudes exclaimed out of nowhere, “We made you, Cody!” I looked him and the eye and thanked him for all he’d done for my career. And I meant it.
TRB: When you were writing for TheStreet.com, some of your best work concerned the FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) theme. In the aftermath of the tech bubble’s burst, miles of unused dark fiber lines were stretched across the country and your thesis was that the companies who could link that fiber to homes or office buildings would be the winners. What do you see as the next major theme for the telecom industry?
CW: Wow, that’s so cool that you remember my FTTP work. For the record, I was right about the fundamentals of the fiber optic and telecom economies turning around…but the stocks never made me much money. I still kick myself for the opportunity cost with my old hedge fund partners and me from riding our large position in JDSU from $2 (where I nailed the bottom in October 2002) to $5 and then back to $2 and so on for way too long.
Next major theme for the telecom industry is ever lower revenues for services…we’re seeing all applications (from voice to video and anything in between) simply ride on top of broadband Internet Protocol networks. People will pay $50 a month for broadband they won’t have voice, TV or other “separate” charges. Cable companies like Comcast and Cablevision are likely doomed. Verizon and AT&T will be okay with wireless and taking marketshare from the cable companies…but in general, the telecom service biggies are gonna find growth from 2010-2015 hard to come by.
TRB: What are the major differences between working in financial television as opposed to financial journalism? Do you have more or less editorial control over your message and subject matter?
CW: It’s pretty similar, frankly. You have editors and/or producers and/or bosses and/or fans who all push back on what you say, write, think and do. I’ve never really considered myself a financial journalist since I was mostly writing about what I considered my day job, which was running a hedge fund from 2002 and 2007 as I was writing for the Financial Times, TheStreet.com and magazines and what not.
Now I am now a full-time financial television dude…I still wouldn’t dare call myself a financial journalist though – I don’t think the typical journalist can say that “Ken Lewis has been lying to regulators and investors for years. Hey, prosecutors and regulators – wake up and put this guy in jail already!” Which is something I say every chance I get.
TRB: You had discussed the pressure that came along with running other people’s money at your hedge fund in the Financial Times. Many of my readers are advisors, brokers and money managers. What are some of the things you did to get you through a tough streak or to mentally cope with a position that went against you?
CW: I didn’t miss a single market open or close during the five years I ran the hedge fund. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to help you cope but to just work as hard and as smart and always do what you know is in the best interest of your customers. At least that way you can sleep at night for a little while knowing you’ve at least done your best. But as I wrote in the final article I ever wrote for FT, “Running money is for idiots.” That is, you always feel like an idiot when you’re running money – if you make money, you should have made more. If you match the market, then why did you bother? And if you lose money? Well, that’s when you really feel like an idiot and all you can really do is persevere.
TRB: This last question will test the limits of your sense of humor, but my readers would be up in arms if I didn’t ask it: What shampoo/ conditioner regime do you use for that full and lustrous head of hair?
CW: Ha ha. I get in trouble with the people who take care of me down in the “war paint and hair” department (I can’t tell my father, a former bull-rider, that I have to wear “make up” everyday, now can I?) for not shampooing enough. I’m a grungy cowboy rock n roller from New Mexico. Natural forces are best in your markets, your economy… and perhaps for your hair too.
TRB: Thanks, Cody!
I plan to start checking out Happy Hour more often. It airs on the Fox Business channel weekdays from 5 to 6pm EST.