A Chat With CNBC's Ever-Active Polymath Michelle Caruso-Cabrera

If you thought Elon Musk has his hand in a lot of pots, take a look at Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

The coverage and expertise of CNBC’s chief international correspondent and co-anchor of "Power Lunch" is bound by neither geography nor subject matter. She just follows the news.

“It is expansive, and it can be overwhelming sometimes,” Caruso-Cabrera told Benzinga. “But right now, it’s pretty easy.”

She says that because, right now, the focal points are obvious: North Korea’s nuclear threat, Saudi Arabia’s oil, Venezuela’s political instability. But she also has to stay up to speed on domestic news — bitcoin and the Walt Disney Co DIS-Twenty-First Century Fox Inc FOXA deal — to fill a two-hour daily "Power Lunch" segment.

“It can be hard, but it’s fun,” Caruso-Cabrera said. “The challenge is fun.”

The Work-Life Unbalance

How does Caruso-Cabrera do it? She never turns off. “The research never stops — ever,” she said.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, she began reading a press release on cryptocurrencies, and after that, she printed an 84-page International Monetary Fund article on the Saudi Arabian economy.

By the 8:15 a.m. editorial call, Caruso-Cabrera has already been up for maybe three hours, glanced at all the papers and breakfasted with a source. She’s in the makeup chair at 9 and out by 9:30.

After that, it’s all about the assignments. On Thursday, she spent the next hour writing a script for the next day's segment on 2018’s biggest issues, and after that, she gathered facts on a Venezuelan drug case to pitch to tomorrow’s morning anchors. Then, she polished her talking points for "Power Lunch," spent two hours on air and headed into the city for a 4 p.m. meeting with an expert on the Middle East.

Even when Caruso-Cabrera isn’t on air, she’s meeting with a Dow 30 CEO or consulting the head of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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All Work, Little Play

Downtime is hard to come by, but that's pretty much her choice.

“I read constantly,” she said. “I never, ever, ever stop reading.”

The only way Caruso-Cabrera makes that happen is by doing almost nothing else.

“There is no balance,” she said with a laugh. “I enjoy going to the theater with my husband and the opera, and we do a lot of things socially, but nearly every morning and nearly every night, I’m doing something related to work.”

Caruso-Cabrera was excited for the latest season of the Netflix, Inc. NFLX series “The Crown,” and she’s already bought post-Christmas tickets to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” But she never strays too far from the newsdesk. On the day she spoke with Benzinga, Caruso-Cabrera was headed to the CNBC Christmas party in the evening. 

A Source Of Joy

It’s a tight schedule, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. The investigative instinct is so ingrained in Caruso-Cabrera that an alternative universe would find her doing the same activities — “ferreting out information, getting people to talk to you” — as a CIA operative, she said.

The instinct has brought her success, including an Emmy Award from a pre-CNBC project on children with AIDS.

“You should only be a journalist if what keeps you awake at night is the desire to tell a story,” Caruso-Cabrera said.

That desire keeps her up at night, it excites her to wake up in the morning, and it plagues her with her only regrets.

“When I spend a long time in a country — I was in Greece for a full month in the summer of 2015 and I spent a lot of time in Greece during the Greek financial crisis — every time I got on the plane to come home, my only regrets were the stories I didn’t get to tell, that I didn’t have the time to do,” she said.

20 Years Of Life On Air

The limits of time present a daily struggle for Caruso-Cabrera.

“Every day I feel like there’s just not enough time,” she said. “Like I just didn’t read enough, I didn’t make enough phone calls today. Everyday that’s how I feel.”

But if you can believe it, the CNBC life used to be a lot more challenging. When she joined the network in 1998, the staff was smaller and journalists were burdened with five or six sectors to cover.

“Now it’s joyous,” she said. “We have one person who covers retail — what a privilege to be able to spend your time just deep diving in one sector.”

Over the last 20 years, the CNBC climate has also changed in other ways favoring Caruso-Cabrera by growing more diverse in both coverage and personnel.

“Every single show has a female anchor now, and that was not true when I started,” Caruso-Cabrera said. “There were four, five, six, seven — at least seven hours where there were no female anchors in a 12- to 13-hour day part, so the changes in the face of CNBC are tremendous since then.”

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The shows have also broadened focus beyond Wall Street to technology, manufacturing and other sectors with expanding representation in the S&P 500.

But in spite of all the changes, the core of the coverage remains the same: people.

“I think business stories and the human angle are often all the same,” Caruso-Cabrera said. “They’re one in the same, because people run businesses and people work at businesses. So when I cover a failing Greek business, it’s heartbreaking to interview the owner who through no fault of their own is failing because the state is in shambles around them, and the workers are going to lose their jobs, or when a business is growing, how exciting that is for the people who work there.

"The stories are human stories, for sure.”

Editor's note: On Aug. 20, it was announced that Michelle is joining the board of Dallas-based Beneficient, a financial services firm specializing in private equity products effective Sept. 1. She will remain part of CNBC as a contributor to the network.

Posted In: CryptocurrencyMovers & ShakersTop StoriesExclusivesMarketsMediaInterviewGeneralCNBCMichelle Caruso-Cabrera

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