Running with the bulls of CNBC

Exactly 10 years ago today I boarded a plane at Hamburg airport on a one-day all-expenses-paid trip to London for a job interview with CNBC, the financial news lies and bullshit channel.

I didn’t get the job, but that’s a good thing. It’s good to know what you don’t want as much as what you do.

Here’s how that day one decade ago went.

05:05. Get up, drink coffee, kiss wife, kiss little red-haired-girl, walk to taxi stand, taxi to airport.

cnbc logo

06:45: Flight to London Heathrow.  CNBC could have flown me to City Airport, but I guess they were counting their shekels.

07:20 Arrival Heathrow. The arrival hall / cattle holding pen is already crammed with a party of Japanese when I get to the back of the line, soon to be joined at the rear by a 747 load of chatty Indonesian tourists from Jakarta.

07:35 A previously unnoticed man in uniform stands up on a chair, points excitedly at one of the Indonesians and screams at the top of his lungs YOU THERE! YOU! Put that camera down or it will be confiscated! THERE IS NO FILMING ALLOWED IN THE ARRIVAL AREA!

07:35:10 Silence.

07:50 You know how when you just get past the customs doors you’re suddenly faced with a wad of people, some of whom are dorks holding signs? This is the one and only time a dork was holding a sign with my name on it.

08:25 It’s years before the congestion charge, and London traffic is going nowhere. The interview is at 10, I’ve been sitting in the back of this crushed-velvet barge for a half-hour but we’re barely out of the first roundabout heading from Heathrow to the City.

st pauls cathedral dome office building10:15 About an hour after I could have arrived had I schlepped with the plebes on the tube, I arrive at their offices near St. Paul’s and shake hands all around. They have no time for me, so they say I should just go wander about the newsroom a bit and chat with the people on the desk.

10:30 I discover they’re friendly enough, but my tongue has grown thick in the throat, so I blurt out some inane questions to those gracious enough to pry themselves away from their monitors to pay attention to the guy who’s obviously there for an interview. I silently pray to be plucked as soon as possible from awkward small-talk hell.

10:40 Prayers answered. The boss has arrives and we settle into a three-on-one in his office.

10:44 It becomes apparent that my hopes of working for a big-league news organisation in London based on a show reel of my work I’d sent them a few weeks before is not going to come off.

“We’re looking for someone to report live from the trading floor of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Do you have any experience doing live reporting?”

The honest answer would have been, “Yes, but I really suck at it.”   Instead I tell them I’ve done lives mostly on radio, but that the switch to TV shouldn’t be much of a problem.

The interview is fast-paced and covers a variety of topics. They would have me being the boss of the Frankfurt bureau, I’d be interviewing people in German but reporting in English and for one brief moment it sounds so appealing, especially to someone who’s been out of a job for a couple of years.

But at the same time, I’m thinking: no. This isn’t for me. I would have been willing to uproot the family for London, but Bankfurt? We were already living in Hamburg. Frankfurt in comparison has about as much to offer as a Gulag sentence, and besides, I couldn’t stand the idea of living away from my family just for the sake of work should we opt for me working down there while they stayed in Hamburg.

12:30 I am so dying to take a piss my back teeth are floating, but we keep it going for at least another half-hour before breaking for lunch at a nearby eatery.

14:15: Alone in the elevator after lunch with a man who’s attended the interview  but not said much looks at me out of the corner of his eye and asks softly in kind of a sly tone, “Do you play the market much?”

Again, the honest answer would have been, “Yes, and I’m dying to pad my retirement account with all the insider trading shit that guys like you have a direct line to every day,” but this time I’m even more honest.

“No,” I tell him. ” I sold everything before leaving Hong Kong, and haven’t looked back. I sleep easier that way.”

A curious exchange.  Was that a test?  Was he trying to see whether I was financially interested in anything I might be reporting on, and therefore in a potential conflict of interest?  Who’s he kidding?   Or was he just asking innocently whether I had any personal experience in markets at all?  But wasn’t the latter already apparent on my resume and show reel?

14:30 Relieved it’s finally over, I shake a few hands and am out the door into a sticky London summer. Three hours to kill before heading to the airport, I head straight to bookstores to load up, grab a beer in SoHo, then the train to Heathrow and home.

21:00 Back in Hamburg. Did it even happen? Yes, it did.

And because it had to do with journalism, money and  farce, it reminded me of this:

8 Responses to “Running with the bulls of CNBC”

  1. July 14, 2009 at 6:24 am

    Frankfurt in comparison has about as much to offer as a Gulag sentence

    Aaaahhhh…. another Frankfurt fan, eh?

    Kind of a scary story, actually–albeit amusing.

  2. 2 lilalia
    July 14, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Ian, very much enjoyed your story and feel for you. Sound a bit like the trip I took from Cannes to London one (cold snowy) spring to audition for the Royal Ballet School. What was all nice on paper was horrible horrible in real life. I was a teenager, but probably no less desperate than you were. Thank the gods that they intervene in mysterious and merciful ways. Though questions about “what if” must have occurred to you from time to time. How long after this incident did you find a job?

  3. July 14, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Apart from it being ten years to the day, what brought this to mind?

    • July 14, 2009 at 7:57 pm

      Actually, the 10th anniversary is about the only thing, other than watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona.🙂

      @lilalia – it took about another half-year. And thankfully, not in Frankfurt.

  4. July 14, 2009 at 9:40 am

    what’s the purpose of a string vest?

  5. July 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Who is the bigger dork though-the one with the sign or the one looking for the sign?🙂

    P.S. I always wanted to be one of those VIP dorks with a sign for me!

  6. August 14, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Gawd, this is the stuff of nightmares. Reminds me that I am now completely beyond formal employment.

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