The launch of CNBC in 1989 was a massive leap of faith, at once exhilarating as well as downright terrifying. Many of us came to New Jersey from other locales — I was a local news reporter from the Midwest with a young wife and a newborn baby — but this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a part of NBC's first foray into cable. Oh, did we think we were something!
The truth, though, is that many of us didn't really know what we were doing. Looking back, it's a bit frightening to think of just how clueless we were, not just about business news, but about what this new channel was going to be.
And then along came Mark Haines.
It's funny to think that Mark was only in his early forties back then, because to many of us, he was one of the grownups. He had worked in New York and Philly. Had that amazing, booming voice. Had a law degree, for goodness sake! Just as he would do for viewers for the next 22 years, Mark gave us a sense of stability and security. But he was just getting started.
Six years later, in 1995, Mark gave CNBC what it needed most: its voice. Its personality.
On the premiere of Squawk Box that year, Mark promised "a program like you've never seen before."
Boy, did he have that right.
Squawk Box was unscripted TV--not nearly as common back then as it is today. That meant that if you were going to appear on Squawk, you had better be on your toes. In other words, Mark would bring out your best. And that, it turns out, is contagious. Other CNBC programs took Squawk's cue. They didn't have Mark, but Mark set the tone. Mark brought out everyone's best.
Many of my colleagues have written about their quest for Mark's acceptance, and the genius of Squawk Box (and later Squawk on the Street) was that everyone wanted to be a part of the club — not just co-workers (myself included), but also viewers. But I'd hate for people to conclude that Mark was arrogant. That would be the furthest thing from the truth. Mark loved his job. And just hearing a big, booming "Scotty!!" in the hallway or on TV made you love yours too.
We wanted Mark to notice us not because we were afraid of him, but because we wanted to be as good as him. A generous talent, he would never berate his co-workers when they fell short (his managers, that's another story, but they usually deserved it). Mark's power was positive. For 22 years, he set the standard.
In 2008, I found myself in the unusual position of having to interview Mark for a story about a longtime Squawk guest host who had died mysteriously. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at the New York Stock Exchange that day. Would Mark be resentful? Prickly? Angry with me for dragging him into this?
None of the above. He was gracious and eloquent, putting his friend's life in pitch-perfect perspective. He gave me his complete attention before, during and after the interview, and he sure didn't have to. I learned that day how important Mark's guests were to him, both personally and in terms of their contributions to the program. Sure, he seemed gruff. But don't think for a moment that he didn't care.
He cared deeply.
That's why we all poured our hearts out a bit in public when we learned of his passing. We didn't just lose a member of our family. With Mark's passing, we lost a part of our soul.
But the standard Mark set is still here. Be smart. Be prepared. Don't take any crap, but don't take this stuff too seriously.
So if you depend on CNBC at all, think a good thought for Mark Haines. We wouldn't be who we are without him.