By Bess Levin
Over the past few years, and especially in these Post-Apocalypse Times, CNBC has been accused of being dangerous Bubblevision. That Squawk Box co-anchor Becky Quick, who presides over the horror show every day from 6 to 9 in the morning, was able to emerge as one of the few people not included on one of The Daily Show’s CNBC attack spots has got to be a testament to something. The fact that she’s on Warren Buffett’s speed-dial is a nice validation, too.
The Observer: Your column for Fortune a few weeks ago was about why companies refusing to apologize is bad for business. Who do you think should apologize now and how?
Becky Quick: This is something I think about all the time. For the column, Toyota was the impetus because they really weren’t being forthright. I think they’ve done a better job somewhat since then, but I’m still not completely confident in what’s happening over there. But apparently there are NASA scientists working on it, so hopefully we’ll get some answers.
What about Goldman Sachs? Should they be apologizing?
Well, we’ve had Lloyd Blankfein come out and sort of say they were sorry for ‘things we participated in,’ but it was a half-apology, and I’m not sure what it accomplished. But no, I don’t think they need to come out with a big mea culpa. Goldman and even to an extent JPMorgan are getting the bull’s eye on them now.
What was the scariest moment of the crisis for you? On a commercial break, did you ever have a guest freak out and just say to yourself, ‘I have to get the fuck out of here’?
We had Mohamed El-Erian (from PIMCO) on one morning in September 2008, and he told us on a commercial break that he’d told his wife to take a whole lot of money out of the ATM in case they stopped working. When he said that, my heart almost stopped.
Who’s been your favorite Squawk Box guest?
I’d probably say Warren Buffett.
Who’s been your least favorite Squawk Box guest?
[laughs] That’s such a trap! Probably someone we still have on!
What do you think are the biggest factors that contributed to the financial crisis?
There’s so much blame to go around. Wall Street executives, mortgage brokers, consumers who couldn’t afford houses, Washington, securitization.
Do you think the argument that huge bonuses contributed to the problem is valid?
Only to an extent. I’m not opposed to bonuses themselves, but I am opposed to the stupid ways they get paid out, often without holding people accountable for the decisions they’ve made. And I don’t have any problem with clawbacks at all.
How do you become Warren Buffet’s favorite journalist?
[laughs] I’m not his favorite! Carol Loomis at Fortune is his favorite. I got to be on Warren’s list by being a pain in the rear. He likes it when you go to his annual meeting because that’s his big party every year, so I went to that. And then I found out he was going to China in September 2007, and I called him up and was so nervous and asked him if I could come. There was this long pause and then finally he said, ‘O.K.’ We ended up talking on the whole plane ride over, for about 12 hours. We’re both from the Midwest, so we spoke each other’s language. It was on that trip and that plane ride we really hit it off.
When you walk into a Dairy Queen [a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway], are you treated like royalty?
[laughs] No, nobody knows who I am. I have to pay for my Misty Floats just like everyone else.
You don’t have a nickname like Maria Bartiromo (“The Money Honey”) or Erin Burnett (“The Street Sweetie”). That could be yours—Dairy Queen. What do you think? I can make it happen.
That makes me think of a cow! Come up with another one! Blizzard Babe. An homage to the Oreo Blizzard. Blizzard Babe’s O.K., but makes me sound a little frosty. Better than the Duchess of Dilly Bars, I suppose.
Who’s next to run Berkshire?
I think David Sokol is the leading contender. He’s been taking on a larger and larger role recently; he’s been running NetJets and is the point guy on BYD (a Chinese carmaker now 10 percent owned by Berkshire). But I don’t think Warren will ever retire. He says this is what keeps him young.
You’ve interviewed many of the top investors—Buffett, Jim Chanos, Bill Ackman, David Einhorn and so on—if you had to pick one to manage your money, who would it be?
I’d hand my money over to Warren willingly, and Einhorn as well. A lot of these guys are so smart, so intuitive and really careful. I would give it to a number of our guests, but they would have to be putting their money in the fund as well, so they had skin in the game.
You interviewed Ken Lewis last April. Now that he’s officially retired and you can speak freely, did you get the sense he was a little dim? Not so sharp?
I might have been quick to jump in that camp if I hadn’t met him. I wasn’t, you know, just taken by him, but I did think he was definitely a smart guy. He probably should’ve dumped the Merrill deal if we’re talking about what was best for the shareholders, but it would’ve been hugely problematic for the nation.
When are you guys going to have the next generation of CEOs on the show? Have you approached Lloyd Blankfein’s sons yet? I’m sure Andrew Ross Sorkin has already started currying favor with them.
Not yet, but that’s a good tip! I’d love to have them on. We’ll have to do that.
Let’s say you’re the captain of the Wall Street softball team. Who gets picked first, who gets picked last?
I’d take Jamie Dimon first. Seems good at sports. Young. Tough. Last, I’d pick Chuck Prince, who’s probably too busy dancing.
Who gets busted for juicing?
[laughs] Everyone popping into my head is a journalist—I can’t say anymore!
How long until the next crisis?
Probably quite a while, though I’m sure very nascent bubbles are being formed right now. It’s going to take a while for anything to fully inflate and collapse.
Why is your column better than Jack and Suzy Welch’s?
I’d never put myself up against Jack and Suzy. It’s flattering that you would even say that.
Bess Levin is editor of DealBreaker.comDownload the 2009 Warren Buffett Letter & 2009 Annual Report to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
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