Q&A with Sandra Smith
Wheaton native, Fox News host and business correspondent, and Republican debate moderator
Photo courtesy of FOX Business Network
FROM FINANCIAL RESEARCHER TO co-HOSTING ONE OF THIS YEAR'S REPUBLICAN NATIONAL DEBATES, Wheaton native Sandra Smith’s career has taken some interesting and fortuitous twists. The daughter of a floor trader at Chicago’s Mercantile Exchange, the Wheaton Warrenville South grad became interested in financial matters at an early age. But Smith was also an accomplished runner who went on to compete for LSU, where she was on an NCAA Championship track team. Upon graduation, she took a job as a stock analyst at Aegis Capital Group in Chicago. Within a few years, she became Director of Institutional Sales and Trading at Terra Nova Institutional, where her boss tapped her to do guest TV analyst appearances. Soon thereafter, she was hired by Bloomberg Television.
In 2007, she moved to Fox Business Network, where she now serves in a number of capacities, while also co-hosting Fox News Channel’s news and current events talk show “Outnumbered.” The 35-year-old Smith recently made news herself when she and Fox Business colleague Trish Reagan became the first dual female team to host a national political debate.
What did you enjoy most about growing up in Wheaton?
Sandra Smith: I have fond memories of walking home for lunch in grade school. I went to Madison Elementary School and my house was a short walk away. I always looked forward to noon-time when the bell would ring and I walked over a small wood bridge to my childhood home, where my mother was always waiting for me with a smile and a warm lunch.
What did you and your friends like to do for fun in the area?
SS: We loved to ride bikes growing up. It was a real treat in the summer to ride our bikes on the Prairie Path to downtown Wheaton to get ice cream or pick out some candy at the Popcorn Shop.
What were some of your favorite subjects in school?
SS: Math. Always loved math and still do.
You were involved in track and cross country at Wheaton Warrenville South, serving as a team captain your senior year, and continued at Louisiana State University (LSU), where your team won an NCAA Championship in track and where you competed with teammates like Olympian Lolo Jones. What sparked your interest in running, and who were some of your influential coaches, teammates or mentors?
SS: My dad entered me in my first 5K when I was in about 1st grade. It was such a fun challenge and it really boosted my confidence being able to complete it. Running had me at hello. It was something I immediately enjoyed. I will always remember John Stacey, my coach at Wheaton Warrenville South, and my co-captains in high school — Kerry Kagi, Kate Kennedy and Jenny Graham. We really all had something very special going the four years we ran together in high school. I went on to run for the great Coach Pat Henry at LSU. He dramatically elevated my running career to the NCAA Division I level and it was an honor being coached by him.
Do you still run or compete? How does it fit into your daily life?
SS: As much as I can! It is still my release. My daughter just turned three, and we have already run two races together. Just 1-mile fun runs, but it’s a start!
When did you become interested in business, trading and investing?
SS: In my early high school years, my dad started taking me downtown to the Chicago trading floors for summer work. He was a Eurodollar and S&P 500 floor trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and later developed his own quote platform. I would do various jobs for him, helping him at his office. I always felt like I had such a head start as far as understanding the business of trading compared to my peers.
Was it an interest you always wanted to pursue or did you have other aspirations when growing up?
SS: It was a very natural decision for me to study business in college. I never knew I would end up a business journalist, but that, too, was a very natural transition for me when the opportunity presented itself.
What is the first piece of advice you’d give someone looking to begin investing his or her money?
SS: Know your risk tolerance and do your own homework. Set goals and stick to them.
What is the biggest or most significant change you’ve seen in the industry, having covered business news through some of the most turbulent years in the U.S. economy?
SS: The electronic nature of the business has dramatically changed everything. Trading floors are nearly extinct. Also, regulation enacted as a result of the financial crisis has stifled the banking
industry. Everything has changed.
After college, you worked in Chicago building experience in stock analysis, investment management and trading. What were your goals during this time?
SS: To gain as much knowledge as possible and to build my contact base.
Do you prefer the research and analysis side of business or working with clients and portfolios?
SS: Both. My nerdy side loves diving into earnings reports and analyst notes. My fun, outgoing side loves building relationships with customers.
Your first television reporting role was with Bloomberg Television. When did you first become interested in journalism and broadcasting?
SS: I was sitting on the trade desk at Terra Nova Institutional, only a year or two out of college, when my boss asked me to start doing guest spots from the trading floor as a way of marketing our firm. I would go on various financial networks to discuss the news of the day and how it was impacting markets. I guess it was rather impressive to see a young woman on a trading floor on business television talking about customer order flow and S&P 500 charts. After only a few TV appearances, Bloomberg TV called and flew me to New York to pitch me on becoming a business television journalist. They made me an offer, and after careful consideration, I moved to New York to begin a career as a journalist shortly thereafter.
Was this move a natural transition or a totally new venture for you?
SS: It felt very natural to me. I had an amazing contact base for a young reporter. I tapped all my sources from my trading desk days to break and cover stories.
You’ve stayed in television ever since and contribute on a number of Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel programs. Walk us through your typical day-to-day schedule.
SS: Every day is different. Many days I start at 4 a.m. to be live on “Mornings with Maria” (Bartiromo) on Fox Business Network from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Every day I host my own program, “Outnumbered,” on Fox News Channel from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Then there are days I fill in for Megyn Kelly on “The Kelly File” in the evening or on “Fox & Friends” on the weekend. I also still go
on many other shows across both networks. My days are long and always different. There are lots of press and media events. It’s always a challenge. But it’s good to be busy in the business! And I very much enjoy it.
What kind of work goes on behind the scenes at networks like Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel?
SS: Lots of research. Lots of preparation. Lots of planning. It never stops.
What is your favorite part of your job and what’s the hardest part?
SS: Favorite: The people I meet. Hardest: Staying on top of every bit of news that is happening worldwide. Can’t miss a beat!
What would most people find surprising?
SS: Getting hair and makeup done every day sounds glamorous, but when you do it every day, that too, becomes work. I love to wash my face and throw my hair in a pony tail right after my show is over!
You recently made history with Trish Regan as the first dual female team to host a debate during the Republican primaries. Tell us about that experience.
SS: Hands down, it was the highlight of my career. It was an incredible honor to moderate on the presidential debate stage. Twice!
What kind of preparation was involved?
SS: Weeks of researching what candidates have said and done, and then constructing questions.
How did you prioritize your questions?
SS: It constantly changes. The priority of questions constantly changed based on the news and current events. We would add questions, modify questions, and many times just throw them out.
How did you keep the candidates on track?
SS: We set rules ahead of time. As far as timing, we used a buzzer and lights. And if we felt a candidate didn’t answer a question, we would follow-up.
Would you like to moderate national political debates again in the future?
SS: Of course!
This has been an intense political season, not just for the candidates but for the media as well. What do you see as some key differences this time around as opposed to previous election cycles you’ve been a part of (both in terms of the issues of interest this year and how the media has been covering the candidates and events)?
SS: There are many differences. The electronic nature of this election has changed a lot of things for candidates and the media. Look at Trump, for example, and his use of Twitter to get a message across.
Is there anything else you’d like to try in the broadcasting business?
SS: Yes! I feel like I try something new every day! You have to keep your options open.
How often do you and your family get back to the western suburbs for a visit?
SS: I am literally answering these questions from the dining room of my childhood home in Wheaton as we speak! And it’s the first time I have been here since Christmas. We try to come when possible, but it’s not that often.
What do you like to do and see when you’re here?
SS: See family and friends. I have two small children, ages 1 and 3. I love traveling back to the Chicago area with them so they can just play and be with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
1. If you could interview anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Vladimir Putin would be a very interesting interview at this moment.
2. Favorite places to eat when in town?
Boka and GT Fish & Oyster are favorites, but we really like all of Boka’s Chicago restaurants.
3. Best words of wisdom you’ve received and from whom?
My boss, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox TV, told me to “just be yourself.”
4. Interest or hobby that most people don’t know about?
Fly-fishing and upland bird hunting. And I have a German Short-hair pointer named “Whiskey.”
5. New York or Chicago pizza?
Chicago. Brick’s Pizza on Lincoln Avenue downtown!
6. Favorite TV show or movie?
TV: “The Voice.” Movie: “Sound of Music.”