From Banker to Anchor: How MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle Nailed a Major Career Change
Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.
For 14 years, Stephanie Ruhle worked her way up the investment banking ladder to become a powerful executive at Deutsche Bank. She loved her job, was well-regarded in her field, and felt like a role model for her kids. Oh, and she was making bank. “One of the things that's great about the financial industry is, it's really financially rewarding,” Ruhle says without hesitation. “That helps us be our badass selves because you have more options in the world.”
But then she pulled a career 180. Ruhle quit her high-powered position for a shot at an on-air reporting gig — something she never tried before day one on the job.
Ironically, her pivotal moment came while she was giving a speech to young women about why it's great to work in STEM fields, like finance. It turns out, Ruhle was more interested in traveling the country to disseminate under-reported information about STEM industries than actually working in one. In short, she wanted to be a journalist. And when she was introduced to Andy Lack, who ran Bloomberg TV at the time and now runs NBC, her media career was instantly born.
“Andy said to me, ‘In the new world of media, there is not going to be anymore TV presenters reading a teleprompter, going off a script. In the new world of media, you're going to have people who know the content, who love the content, and are passionate about it.’” Ruhle remembers. “And I said, ‘Well that's absolutely me.’” The problem? Ruhle, then 36, had absolutely no TV anchoring experience. But she told Lack how much she wanted a chance and convinced him to give her one. “He said, ‘We'll take a leap if you take the leap.’”
They leapt — and stuck the landing. So far, Ruhle’s worked her way from news anchor and managing editor at Bloomberg TV to NBC News correspondent and anchor of MSNBC Live. She’s made herself a household name in business and political commentary with smart, quick, and honest reporting. She's earned praise for sticking to the facts and calling out misleading or errant info guests can spew on live TV. “Thus far in media, it's worked out. And I think it's because we're in a time where if you can just own who you are, I think people accept you for it.”
Taking it to the bank: Ruhle may have left banking behind, but she can't recommend it enough for women starting their careers. “I think it's a great industry for women because you can do really well financially at a young age. So you could potentially leave, go into a different career, [or] start a family,” Ruhle says. At the height of her banking days, she traveled to conferences and colleges talking to young women about entering finance fields. “I could never understand why women were only in certain industries and not others,” she says. “And I think a lot of it has to do with people ending up in industries where someone who looks like them did that before. For example, my husband played lacrosse at an ivy league school, and if you walk onto a trading floor, it’s filled with guys who played lacrosse at an ivy league school — not because there is any correlation between being a trader and playing lacrosse, but it's what they're exposed to.”
Career 180: As Ruhle's public speaking engagements heated up, so did her passion for journalism. “In many ways I don't think journalism is any different from banking. And I don't think that banking is any different from parenting,” Ruhle explains. She saw banking and finance as relationship businesses hinging on human connection. “In banking, I figured out what do my clients need? And how do I build relationships so that they'll trust me?” Ruhle says. “And that's how I try to approach my kids, and it's how I try to approach journalism asking what is my audience looking for? What are the stories that we want to tell, and how do we do it in the most kickass way?”
Crying on live TV: Ruhle runs a segment on her MSNBC Live called “Monumental Americans,” in which she features people overlooked by history. It’s become an emotional series for Ruhle — and she’s received flak for that. “Most days when we're talking about these monumentals, I end up crying a little bit on TV,” she says. “I think at a different time, or even now when I get criticized for [crying], you're right. It is not what a TV anchor would do, but like it or not, that's the best you're going to get from me. All I can do is be myself.”
On motherhood: Ruhle says her kids are just starting to notice what she does on TV. “I'm most proud when I hear my kids say, ‘My mom has a TV show and she wants to make the world better. She wants to make the world smarter. She wants schools to be better,’” Ruhle says. It’s affirming for her to hear that the new career she’s chosen actually does have an impact, on her audience and her kids.
Political shift: Ruhle admits that politics weren't always front and center on her radar. “But right now, the reason I think it's so important is because it's about decency,” she says, explaining that her hope is to close the widening gap between the extreme right and the extreme left. “Let's find our way back to the middle because you and I could disagree on lots of things, but in real life if you came over to my house for dinner, and we disagreed on whatever topic, you wouldn't leave mad and I wouldn't leave like, ‘I told her.’ In the middle, there are great people doing great things every day. And those people can be us.”
Follow through: “A badass woman doesn't have to be superwoman throwing a car across the street. It’s about integrity," Ruhle says. "People confuse integrity with the idea of a high moral standing. I think integrity is saying you're going to do something and doing it.” That kind of follow through is what allowed Ruhle to be so successful in her career — and it's what she looks for in people, colleagues, and especially causes. “What really hurts the women's agenda are junky women's initiatives, the half-assed ones starting women's groups for the sake of it.” Instead, Ruhle would rather support initiatives related to business, finance, and career advancement for women including The White House Project, the Corporate Investment Bank (CIB) Women's Network (which she co-founded), and the Women on Wall Street (WOWS) steering committee.
Dealing with Twitter trolls: As a public figure, Ruhle’s faced her share of social media trolls, who tear her down for getting emotional on TV or for making controversial comments. But that won't stop her from debating her guests. When she does ruffle some feathers, she prefers to apologize outright and move on. “Social media is amazing because it's opened a platform for so many people to have a voice — but that voice can get inside your head, and it can really mess with you,” she says. “The only way to avoid that is to have a strong sense of self. I can't say that I have one, but I can tell you I'm working really hard on it.”
Best advice: Find your support system — even if that means not always being the star of the show. “One thing that I learned along the way is that when you win by yourself, yeah, that's great to be the solo champion. But when you lose alone, there's nothing worse,” Ruhle says. “I think a lot of ambitious women have this idea that, ‘I need to have sharp elbows. It's me versus the world.’ Now that I'm 42, I don't want to be me versus the world. I want to be me with the world.”