His career path started in fish and chips to a priestly calling, ultimately winding its way to the world of business and television. Now, 30 years later, former Danbury resident and FOX Business Network (FBN) and FOX News Channel (FNC) SVP, Managing Editor and Anchor Neil Cavuto, is not only celebrating a milestone in the world of business reporting, but also his personal challenges that include multiple sclerosis. March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month and the 55-year-old author and award-winning broadcaster who hosts FNC’s “Your World” and FBN’s “Cavuto,” offered insight into that and more as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: It is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month and I know you are afflicted with the disease. How has it made you a better person?
A: I think I’m less focused on stupid things. But that didn’t start with my getting MS that actually started a decade earlier when I was battling cancer, very advanced Hodgkin’s disease. Up until that point, I was a Type A jerk – far more interested in climbing the ladder, than giving a rat’s-you-know about whose hands I was stepping on. It was all about me and my career – the next gig, the next big assignment. I know it sounds trite to say we all have to stop and smell the roses, but for me, it was a good pot of marinara sauce, and simply taking the time to appreciate sharing a simple meal, and moments, with my family. So many wonderful relatives and dear friends have passed away in the course of my battles. I just wish I spent more time being with them and simply chatting, and less time thinking about me and constantly battling.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in dealing with the disease?
A: MS is unpredictable. My condition is particularly unpredictable. One moment I can be fine and thinking lucidly and clearly, and the next I’m falling down and seeing spots before my eyes, before seeing nothing, at all. It’s the erratic extremes of this disease that I find the most troubling, and frankly, annoying. I can never be sure. An attack can come at any time, sometimes in the middle of an interview on air. I’ve learned to adjust, but it’s never easy, and I can tell you, it’s never, ever, welcome!
Q: I did a little research and while you attended school in that fine city of Danbury, your first job was not in broadcasting but in fish and chips. Was it a detour and how did you end up in business broadcasting?
A: I was 16 and Arthur Treacher’s Fish n Chips had just opened a restaurant in Danbury. Jobs were tough to get so I applied and was rocketed to manager at 17. I did learn a lot about business and money and not wasting product in that job. It is a delicate balancing act. I learned about cash flows and budgets, and actually, come to think of it, I learned a lot on that job. When you run a business to make money you learn a lot. I ate so much when I worked there because we could eat for free. The French fries, the chips, were thick and fried in saturated in oil. Now it would be considered death on a plate.
Q: But you still didn’t explain the path to broadcasting.
A: It was a circuitous path. My first goal was to be a priest. I went to Immaculate High School in Danbury. I loved journalism and planned to be a priest and teach. My Irish mom was very happy about it. I started in the priest seminary program at St. Bonaventure and realized I just wasn’t cut out for it. So I had to break it to my mom. My father, who is Italian, said ‘good, there is no money in it.’ I decided to pursue journalism instead and his joke was that only I could find a job that pays less than a priest. I just had this interest in business and journalism and sort of stumbled in by way of a couple of production projects.
Q: How did life in Danbury help your career path?
A: My father moved around a lot. He was an executive with an Industrial American Can Co. I was lucky though. I went to the same high school for all four years and did have the virtue and benefit of being in one place for a while. There were a lot of lasting friendships and relationships made and I love that area of the state. That’s where I got into things. I helped start and served on the Danbury Youth Commission and that was quite a civic duty early on. I was just a nerd in high school. I was always the guy they said had a great personality.
Q: How has life on tv changed since you began?
A: A lot has changed. When I started just doing work on financial shows like CNBC’s Nightly Business Report, it was the only place you could see stock prices other than newspapers. Now there are hundreds of sites. Now we are not only giving data but context as well. I fear though, in some cases, it is going from serious to adding some entertainment components and in our profession that is the conundrum. We can’t think of it as just a way to inform people anymore and we have to deliver the news in a new way without dumbing it down.
Q: You are celebrating 30 years in TV business reporting in 2014. What are you proudest of during your tenure?
A: There is no single event. Just trying to make sense of bull and bear markets, crashes and crashettes, the meltdown five years ago, the Latin American fiasco. You get to see so many calamities over a lifetime that you do get a business perspective. The market has an uncanny knack of emulating our country. I don’t mean to sound native Yankee Doodle Dandy view of the world but it is a remarkable testament to capitalism and our country in terms of how the U.S. is weathering its difficulties. I like to think no matter what crap we are thrown in life, we see more good than bad.
Q: Any financial advice for us in 2014?
A: Rather than paying 18 and 21 percent to those credit card guys get your debt under control. I know it is simplistic but once you get control on what you owe you are well on your way to making money. And the same thing applies to our country. Before we get pie in the sky riches ideas, think about this. It is money in money out and everyone needs to understand that. While we are doing better and we definitely are, what I fear is that when we are celebrating and getting giddy, we are being shortsighted. I welcome the optimism but this country has these enormous bills and we should be addressing that. Those bills are going to choke our kids. It is time to make some long-term adjustments because it is going to be prohibitively expensive if we don’t do something about the national debt.
Q: Because it is MS Awareness Month, what advice do you have for those who are diagnosed with it?
The first thing MS patients have to get in their head is this disease messes with your head, quite literally. From lesions in the brain, to similar markers along the spine, it can and will incapacitate you. The only difference in MS patients is how much. When that happens, it’s frustrating as hell…but more often than not, in the moment, we think it’s hell, and constant hell, at that. That’s when we need to remind ourselves…that as debilitating as the moment can be, and as progressive as those moments can “get” to be, they shouldn’t mentally get the better of us. I try to count my blessings, and my family, and my friends, and of course, a very supportive network of bosses and colleagues. Think good, it will get you through bad. I’ve discovered it’s very easy to bitch. But I’ve also discovered few people want to listen to you bitch. So I don’t. For myself, for them, I don’t dwell. I just deal. That’s the secret to carrying on with this disease riddling your body. Don’t let it steal…your soul.