Mark Haines, 1946-2011: crazy uncle, lover of ketchup.
While I was waiting for the elevator to go back to my office from the NYSE floor this morning, the CEO of Heinz, Bill Johnson, came over to say hello. "I'm sorry about your loss," he said. "Mark was a great lover of ketchup, and a great lover of Heinz products."
He was indeed.
His death came like a thunderclap on the NYSE floor. His eating habits (Doritos and ketchup for breakfast) were legendary. Whenever I brought up this in private conversations, he stared at me blandly and said nothing, his way of saying, "So what, Pisani?"
This morning, traders on the NYSE floor congregated in small groups, as if a head of state had died. It was worse: from the moment he came on the NYSE floor in 2006, Mark was embraced as one of their own.
Every day, he made a sweep of the floor as he entered and exited. Every day, he stopped at the same trading booths to talk to the same traders about the few topics that truly animated him: the Mets, tomatoes, lacrosse (his son is an avid player), and his family.
He cared nothing for clothes, coming into and out of the NYSE wearing the same homeless-person uniform: beat-up Docksides shoes, sweat pants, and a decrepit parka. Even his worn-out ties were objects of ridicule.
He was not a man who suffered fools gladly. I knew him for twenty years. He was no saint. While he became famous for being tough on CEOs, he could also be abrasive and dismissive.
He was not impressed by titles, reputation, clothes or most other outward measures of success. He cared about whether what you said made sense. You didn't necessarily have to agree with him, but if he thought your argument was trivial or silly, he was relentless, and often nasty.
I first worked with him in 1990, when I was the Real Estate correspondent. By then Mark had been in local TV for over 20 years, and to say his personality was fully formed was an understatement.
Even then, before Mark created his now-legendary partnership with David Faber, Joe Kernen and Maria Bartiromo on Squawk Box, Mark was the early morning anchor and I was with him doing real estate reports.
On one of those early days, after he was particularly hard on a guest, I turned and said, "Why were you so tough on that guy? You were really kind of mean to him."
Haines looked at me blandly and said, "Pisani, I gave Spiro Agnew a hard time."
And he did. He went back that far.
My colleagues and I spoke often this morning about his calm leadership during that terrible day of Sept. 11, but he was like that during other times of high tension. There were many moments during the 2008-2009 financial crises when the NYSE floor was in a mild panic. Mark had come down on the floor to anchor the 9-11am ET in 2006, and on those days he was a calming presence.
While many saw his style as casual, almost indifferent, he could be tenancious, ferocious even. I first saw him when he was an anchor in Philadelphia, in 1985. He was covering the MOVE uprising, where a group of militants had taken over a series of homes in west Philadelphia. When the police dropped a bomb on the roof, a huge fire broke out.
Mark climbed on top of his TV truck (this was not something an anchor did back then) and spent roughly the next day and a half perched on that truck.
He never minced words. In one of our last on-air discussions, during the IPO of LinkedIn, the main topic of discussion was whether or not this was the start of a new internet bubble.
My argument: no, this is not 1999, and investors will not allow dozens of IPOs to come at silly prices. Mark would have none of it: "It's a bubble," he declared flatly on the air, and then as he was walking off the floor that morning, came up to me, stared at me with that poker face of his, and said (seconds before I went on the air), "Pisani, it's a bubble."
Today, 50 traders have come up to me, shook my hand and said, "I'm sorry about your loss." I'm sorry about your loss. Like he was a member of my family. And he was.
Mark Haines was that crazy uncle that always made the adults a little uncomfortable, made the kids laugh, made all of us feel that there was a little bit of magic in that curmudgeonly frame.
Frank Sinatra, when asked about the death of Dean Martin, famously said, "He has been like the air I breathe — always there, always close by."
And that's how all of us at CNBC — and the NYSE — feel about Mark Haines: always there, always close by.