Suze Orman takes compliments well. For instance, when she showed up to the National Press Club this week for a presser with TV commentator Tavis Smiley and Prof. Cornel West, Tony Gallo, who heads up the newsmaker program, told her she looks much better in person. Her reaction? “Thank God.” Another compliment came during an elevator ride to the first floor where she was doing an interview for CNN. This one was on her hairdo. “We did it ourselves,” Orman boasted. “We’re trying it.” By “we” she means she and her life and business partner, K.T., who was along for the ride. “I can’t tell other people to save money and not do it myself. I saved myself $200.”
As charming in real life as her SNL impersonator, Orman was just what you’d imagine her to be: blonde and chatty with spanking white teeth, and in your face about your finances. Case in point: Suze wasn’t in the building 10 seconds when a woman recognized her in the elevator and began sharing her financial woes. This scenario would repeat itself for hours as complete strangers poured out their pain. The woman said she avoids reading her column in O Magazine because she “can’t face her truth.” Suze started asking her why not, what’s stopping you… and then the woman got off on the 10th floor.
The press conference involved poverty and Orman unveiling her new prepaid card — the Approved Card — which she’s hoping will revolutionize how people experience their money. “We barely have the heart to look in the mirror and tell ourselves how we’re doing,” she told a packed room of media and ordinary people who came to share their hard luck stories. “The one fascinating thing about money is you can’t look at someone and know they’re poor,” she said, instructing an unemployed woman in a black suit to stand and be the poster child for poverty. “There should be no face of poverty in the United States,” Suze stressed, making her point. As for her new card, she said emphatically, “This card is to give people a viable alternative. I have put my name on it. I have put my reputation on it. And no financial institution or blogger is going to stop me.”
At the end of the presser, Gallo concluded: “I judge each event by how many people fall asleep and how many leave early. We had absolutely zero — the highest possible score.”
I trailed Suze and K.T. to her interview with CNN. Not surprisingly, behind the scenes Suze is no-nonsense and doesn’t like annoying surprises — so she’s a tad irked that the CNN spot wasn’t better planned. “She hates lipstick and she hates makeup,” remarked K.T. “So we argue — it’s the only time we do.”
“She’s not a prima donna at all,” said CNN Commentator Hilary Rosen, whose firm, SKDKnickerbocker, is handling Suze’s press for the card.
Finally we gathered in a quiet conference room on the first floor of the building for five questions with Suze and discovered one thing for certain: She knows her way around a Fishbowl metaphor.
1. Who are your favorite journalists?
I will forever love Anderson Cooper. I love Blitz. I like to say, ‘What’s Blitz doing today?’ [She was apparently calling him this well before ex-GOP Presidential hopeful Herman Cain.] I like Ron Lieber. He’s a thorough reporter and sure writes what he believes. I miss Larry King a lot. He’s really curious and he listens. Why do you like Anderson so much? He’s not scripted. He’s listening to what you are saying. There’s something about him that makes him human. And he’s cute and he laughs like a 13-year-old girl. Every single day I make sure I’m there to hear him. Obviously I like David Gregory. I think he’s done a great job taking over and has made it his own.
2. Do you ever have media interviews that don’t go well, and if so, what happened and what went wrong? I’ve had interviews that didn’t go well because the reporter hadn’t really done their homework. They didn’t have enough knowledge. They gave answers in the way they thought they heard it. Have you ever walked off a set? Never. If I ever thought that was a possibility, I wouldn’t walk on.
3. What is your media diet — what must you read and watch? CNBC. Bloomberg. CNN. Wall Street Journal is a must as is the New York Times. USA Today. Financial Times. I get most of my information from Huffington Post. I think Huffington Post is one of the greatest things to happen to media in a long time.
4. Journalists are notoriously low-paid people. What are some things that they could do right now to alleviate financial worry? The more money you make the more you spend. The less you make the less you spend. You don’t need to impress anybody by what you’re wearing. You have permission to wear the same thing over and over again. Given that, you have permission to live below your means but within your needs. Everybody can make more out of less. You have to put it in a fishbowl and look at it and feed it. You have to keep yourself afloat. You have to keep changing the water.
5. It’s an election year. Who are you backing for president? Obviously President Obama.
After the interview, Suze and her small entourage boarded the elevator. A gentleman’s voice could be heard saying, “Hey! I’ve seen you on TV!”