29 May 2011

Mark Haines and Individual Contribution

I like to write about companies that bring disruptive innovation, societal value creation, and a new approach to the market in which it operates.  This week's sudden death of veteran CNBC anchor Mark Haines reminded me that this can also true of individuals.  Through his powerful on-air persona and singular fact-finding focus,  Haines brought the closed doors of wall street to main street and helped create the money-minting machine that is CNBC.

Certainly great timing helped Haines leave his important legacy.  When CNBC started 20 or so years ago, cable television was at its infancy and had yet to experience its explosive growth.  The stock market was at the start of the longest bull run in its history.  Thanks to technology and electronic exchanges such as NASDAQ, the barriers to entry for individual investors dissipated.  Game changing phenomenons always need a bit of luck and the success of the first 24 hour financial news channel was no exception.

Before CNBC and Haines, the business of investing was limited to the elite and wall-street insiders much like the hedge fund industry is today.  Mom and Dad in Kansas relied on their low-paid financial broker for information and advice as there were far fewer information outlets.   Not only did CNBC bring boardrooms and stock analysts into millions of US households, it also made it easy for main street to understand markets, business, and global economics.  Despite criticism that the network was an "extension of wall street" throughout the years, Haines was always the spokesman for the average investor.  He grilled CEOs and political figures to no end, repeated questions until a direct answer came out, and explained somewhat complex concepts in plain English.  And he was fun on the air - something very important to CNBC's growth.  Haines was also very well respected by the markets, somehow building a bridge between Wall Street and Main Street.  Upon news of his death, the NYSE held an impromptu moment of silence - something unheard of during the bustle of normal trading day.

Haines, among the other early anchors, built a cultural phenomenon that made financial information ubiquitous, entertaining, and accessible.  NBC has been handsomely rewarded for itt.  When acquired by Comcast last year, NBC had a ~$30B valuation.  It's hard to get detailed figures on what CNBC represented individually, but it has the second largest cable audience of the network.  Some reports pegged CNBC's value alone to be $6B-$7B.  Much like ESPN did with sports, CNBC has built a strong cable presence and unique market position that will be virtually impossible to match (just ask Fox). 

As companies build innovative concepts to market, its important to remind ourselves of the contributions of the individuals leading to that success.  Certainly there would be no Microsoft without Gates or Apple without Jobs.  In many instances, it is single individuals that create a disproportionate amount of value for companies.  It sometimes takes a tragic event, such as Haines' death, for us to step back and acknowledge this fact. 

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