This month's cover is graced by another one of our faves, CNBC's Jon Fortt who we see everyday as Co-host of Squawk Alley where, he shares his insight on what's going on with startups as well as tech companies. In addition to rocking an array of menswear that is transitional winter/spring style, he shares with us how he got into the industry from journalism to broadcasting, his approach to his work and more.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us your background and how you got into broadcasting and ultimately to CNBC?
JON FORTT: I’m kind of an accidental broadcast guy. It was never a big goal of mine to get on TV. I actually started out working for newspapers as a print reporter. There was a national newspaper chain called Knight Ridder and they had this amazing scholarship for aspiring journalists and media businesspeople from ethnic minority groups. Every year, they’d pick four high school students to win a financial award, and more important, summer internships during college. Unfortunately, Knight Ridder doesn’t exist anymore, and there aren’t enough programs like the one they had.
Anyway, I worked for a Knight Ridder paper called the Lexington Herald-Leader after college, then got a job in Silicon Valley at the San Jose Mercury News just before the dot-com bust. I eventually made the move to magazines, editing at Time Inc.’s Business 2.0 and writing for Fortune. That’s where CNBC found me. They’d have me on every now and then to talk about Apple, which had become my specialty. Back in 2010, they decided they wanted to take a chance on a new correspondent, and fortunately, I was it.
AM: We know that you enjoy talking about tech companies, startups, products and services. What is it about technology that makes you so passionate and do you have a specific topic within it that you really enjoy focusing on?
JF: That’s a cool question, because I don’t think anyone’s asked me in that way before. It’s a little bit of an accident of timing that I’m into technology, I think. I got out of high school in 1994, the same year the web browser was born, and I think that has a lot to do with it. I got to the college newspaper and we were suddenly facing this question of what we were going to do about the web. Some of us started learning HTML, and built the first website for the paper. (I don’t think I had much to do with the final product, but it was fun to learn.) Not long after that, the paper got its first digital camera, which was seriously high-tech back then. It could only shoot black-and-white photos, and the resolution was really bad, but it was about 10 times faster to get a photo shot and processed compared to the darkroom. It became clear pretty quickly that technology was going to be the edge I would need in my career to get things done faster and at higher quality. That’s what I like covering most, I guess – the way seemingly small ideas can completely change the way we get things done.
AM: When we're watching CNBC, you talk about a range of companies and startups - and you have a fresh and fair approach to present it to those of varying levels of understanding - how important is it to make these topics relatable to a wide, as well as a niche audience?
JF: Maybe it’s the writer in me, and maybe it’s the time I spent doing tech reviews. I try to remember that there’s no excuse for making the audience feel dumb. Our audience is smart, but a big portion of our viewers aren’t into all of the jargon – they’re people managing stock portfolios preparing for retirement, or retirees trying to understand the forces that are affecting the stocks they own. The temptation is always to match the wonkiness of the guests we have on – economists and investment managers – to sort of prove that I can go toe-to-toe in the conversation. But I think it’s always important to remember why I’m there: as a representative of the viewer.
AM: We love the Fortt Knox Podcast. How did it come about and what is its mission? What are some of the challenges that live interviews bring?
JF: Thanks! The Fortt Knox Podcast was born because I felt like I was leaving too much good stuff on the cutting room floor. I mean, sometimes a Fortune 500 CEO is willing to spend an hour with me, and I’ve got five minutes of live air time. Depending on what’s happening in the news, maybe I’ve got to ask about the company’s stock price, or something political – if that’s what’s moving markets that day, it’s what you’ve gotta do on CNBC. That’s a third of the live interview time, gone. Why not record a longer interview, and offer it up to people who want to go deeper?
The mission? There’s a line I say to introduce each episode, and I think it sums things up: “We’re going to learn how the very best climbed to the top, and pull out lessons along the way.” The stuff I do live on CNBC is mostly for investors and fans of the public markets who want to understand where to put their long-term dollars. Fortt Knox is for people who want insight into building their careers, who want to understand how high-achieving people get things done.
At the same time, because I’m a little crazy, I decided it would be cool to do a live streaming show, Fortt Knox Live. That’s also weekly, and a CNBC producer, Evan Falk, works closely with me on it. The mission behind that is to answer the question, "What are the best ways to manage your time and money in a culture where tech is taking over?"
AM: Walk us through what it is like to prepare as a Co-Anchor for Squawk Alley and for your podcast Fortt Knox? Wow, what does your day look like when you're preparing for Squawk Alley and then when you're getting ready for your show?
JF: It’s sometimes a bit nuts. I get up in the morning at 6 or 6:30, and I immediately check my phone (iPhone X at the moment) for headlines and indications of how stocks are likely to begin trading that day. I look for emails from the producers about changes to the guests and timing of the show. I copy that over into a folder I keep in the cloud in Microsoft OneNote. (See, I’m not a total Apple guy.) Eventually, I walk to the train, about a mile and a half, and catch New Jersey Transit to Hoboken and then a PATH train to World Trade Center. I’m really conscious of all the spots where I will and won’t have Internet access, because I’m compiling my research for Squawk Alley the whole way. I walk from World Trade to the New York Stock Exchange in Lower Manhattan, where we broadcast the show live from the floor.
After Squawk Alley ends at noon, I might head up to the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square to record a Fortt Knox Podcast interview, or on Wednesday to stream Fortt Knox Live. From the Nasdaq I’ll make my way to CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I finish the in-office day there. I might be editing the audio for the podcast, which I produce and edit myself, or I might be planning the next Fortt Knox Live with Evan. Or I might be pouring over stats and trying to figure out how to boost the distribution and quality of both the podcast and live show. Sometimes that bleeds over into time at home, too. But I try to get home by 6, in time for dinner with my wife and two boys, who are 7 and 9. I like to give them a hug goodbye in the morning, have dinner with them and get them ready for bed if at all possible. That means bringing Fortt Knox work home sometimes, but ideally the kids don’t see too much of it. I try not to pull out my phone much in the evening. One of the upsides of technology is that it helps us to be more flexible in where and when we work. Of course, that can backfire if we use it to overwork ourselves, but it can also give us more time with family if we can work it right.
AM: What's your hectic time of year in terms of covering tech and startups?
JF: I used to say it was the springtime, but now, with Fortt Knox, there is no slower season. If things are getting slow, it means I need to step up my game in booking guests.
AM: What are your impressions on the state of the crypto asset ecosystem? Do you have any recommendations for people interested in the space?
JF: I’m not one to give in-depth investment advice – that’s my colleague Jim Cramer’s gig – but I’ll say this: if you’re doing it right, investing is a game of skill, not a game of chance. You shouldn’t put your money into anything unless you believe you have a decent idea of what makes its value go up and down. I see a lot of people putting money into cryptocurrencies who have no idea what’s making prices move. Some people say, “If you just put 1% of your net worth into cryptocurrencies, it’s OK.” But let’s be real, if 1% of your net worth is $2,000, and you buy some Bitcoin and it doubles, you’re either going to sell it and say, “that was fun,” or you’re going to be tempted to start chasing it and put $10,000 in. Hey, unless your 401(k) is fully funded with the match, you have 6 months’ worth of expenses saved in cash, you're carrying zero student loans and you're not carrying a balance on any credit cards, don't even think about putting more than a couple hundred bucks into cryptocurrencies. It'll distract you from more important uses of your money and time. That’s the advice I’d give family, anyway.
AM: We love that you call it like you see it. How does your approach to journalism best bring out the story? How have you adapted with new media and distribution platforms along the way?
JF: After a certain period of time, with certain subjects, I think the audience gives a journalist permission to offer what I’d call “informed analysis.” How’s that different from opinion? Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, right? Informed analysis is different. You get to deliver analysis when people understand that you have a bit of background in the subject, and you can give historical context for why something is likely to happen, or why a product or strategy is important or risky or not. I try to be careful about that, but I think the “call it like you see it” approach is important in today’s journalism, when some executives or companies might be trying to put up a smokescreen or overhype technologies. The key is that the analysis be informed.
AM: Who are some of your favorite interviews so far on-air? Who are some people you’d love to have a session with?
JF: Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, is fun because he has this unique approach to leadership. He doesn’t take the drill sergeant approach, or the admit-no-faults approach that’s popular in some circles of leadership today. He’s thoughtful. Jeff Bezos was great too, but it’s been too long. I’d love to have him back. It’s also been a few years since I last talked to Mark Zuckerberg on air. Now would be a great time for him to sit down with me again. Subtle, no?
AM: What would you tell those that are interested in getting into broadcasting and podcasts? Anything to add with tech-specific shows particularly?
JF: The great and horrible thing about getting into media right now is, you no longer have to ask for permission. If you’re really passionate about telling people’s stories and about sharing knowledge, you can just do it. If you have a broadband connection, a PC and a phone, you have everything you need to start showing the world what you can do. So whenever young people tell me they’re interested in getting into media, I’m like, “Show me what you’ve done.” Don’t tell me, show me. And I’m not looking for top quality necessarily, but I’m looking for drive and evidence that this person is getting better. Often, young people can’t show we much they’ve done. And that tells me you’re not truly passionate about media, you maybe just like watching videos. There’s a difference.
With tech-specific shows – it’s just like anything else you’re interested in. Be a voracious student of the area you care about, hone your craft as far as how you write, and speak, and present information, and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go.
AM: When you're not on air, what can we find you doing?
JF: I’ve become something of an amateur photographer lately. I shoot with a Sony A7ii, a full-frame camera I got from an eBay auction a year and a half ago. (The secret with those auctions is to use a sniper program like Gixen.) I just recently put together the newsletter for my youngest son’s elementary school PTA. It was 12 pages, full color, far too elaborate.
AM: How do you maintain balance between your schedule from being on air, hosting events and your family?
JF: I try to limit the business dinners and do lunches instead. Then there’s the whole being home for dinner thing. I read the kids a Bible story, read to them from a book (right now we’re in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, powering through C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series). I tend to be the parent who primarily handles bigger projects like book reports, speeches and science projects. My philosophy is, if I make specific commitments at home the way I do at work, I have to move other things to make them happen.
AM: What's your personal style on air and how does that differ when you're running errands or out on the town?
JF: I’m one of those guys who knows what I like, but I wouldn’t say I qualify as someone who’s deep into fashion. If I’m just going to be around the house, it’s sweats or the same athletic gear I wear to work out. If I’m going out, I’m one for dressy jeans, a button-down and layers. Lately I’m into more details, collars and cuffs, and quality stitching. It’s the nice thing about being an adult who’s not growing anymore and being able to maintain a pretty constant weight. Quality stuff lasts. Some of my favorite pieces are more than 10 years old. I’ve got a couple of leather jackets that I picked up in Italy on our honeymoon 11 years ago.
AM: What fitness studios do you go to?
JF: I know this is sacrilege, but I don’t do fitness studios. CNBC has a free gym at headquarters, and when I’m doing what I should, I get in there two or three times a week for some time on the bike and a few weights. My staple now that I’m over 40 is body weight exercises – pushups, pullups, planks, squats, lunges – that sort of thing. At home I’ve got resistance bands, which are great for promoting flexibility and muscle elasticity. I get the fitness studio thing - the camaraderie, the motivation - but it's not my thing. The last gym I went to was a Gold's in Silicon Valley. I went at 5 a.m. with the old people and bodybuilders, and it was a cool $15 a month. Very business-like. Come to think of it, if I were single I’d feel differently, but at this point I’m not trying to meet new people at the gym, you know?
AM: What are three must-haves that you take with you to work daily?
JF: I’m not going to count my phone, because that’s a gimmie. I’ve got to have my Anker portable battery, because there’s no way any phone can get me through a full day on a single charge. I always carry my Tascam DR-40 with two XLR mics for podcast recording. And I’ve got a pair of JLab Audio Epic2 Bluetooth earbuds.
AM: What's currently on your playlist?
JF: I’m all over the place. I’m still bumping A Tribe Called Quest’s last album, and I have a mild obsession with Dua Lipa’s New Rules – particularly that spot in the chorus where the rhythm shifts from 3-2 to a standard back beat. X Ambassadors are the most underrated alternative band out there… “Love Songs Drug Songs,” and “Unconsolable” get heavy rotation from me. And of course real hip-hop from The Roots, Mos Def, Nas… I don’t touch the new mumble rap stuff.
AM: What charities/organizations do you support?
JF: We’re longtime supporters of World Vision and Children International, and over the past five years, we’ve stepped up our giving to International Justice Mission. IJM is a pretty phenomenal organization that goes into communities around the world and works to free slaves. Their work includes victims of human trafficking, the fishing industry, brick-making operations... you name it. They work with local law enforcement to not only liberate people, but also bring criminals to justice through the courts.
AM: If you weren't working in your current field, what you be doing?
JF: I thought about taking a year off after college and trying to make it as a singer/songwriter. I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to that. In high school, I took architecture classes and thought I might do that for a while. Whatever I’d be doing, it would probably have to involve bringing creative concepts to life using technology.
Jon's shoot took place in the Hudson Yards and Hell's Kitchen neighborhoods, which are two hot areas in the city on the west side in midtown. Throughout the shoot, we showcased luxury living at Sky, which is developed by The Moinian Group. We wanted to know more about why this property has had so much buzz due to its location, amenities and more.
ATHLEISURE MAG: What is the concept behind Sky Residences?
THE MOINIAN GROUP: The largest residential tower in the country, Sky debuted in January, 2016. With an abundance of resort-like amenities and services, Sky was designed to provide the ultimate luxury experience for its residents. The 71-story building, which offers studio to two-bedroom homes, sits at the nexus of two thriving neighborhoods – Hell’s Kitchen and Hudson Yards – allowing residents to immerse themselves in best-in-class services while experiencing one of Manhattan’s most vibrant, growing communities.
AM: Who developed this property?
TMG: Leading NYC developers, The Moinian Group are the development team behind Sky. The Moinian Group is one of the top national real estate entities to develop, own and operate properties across every category including office, hotel, retail, condos and rental apartments. The team's portfolio of 20 million square feet spans across many major cities including New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Bold New York handles the leasing for the building.
AM: Who created the interior design?
TMG: The stunning interiors at Sky were designed by celebrated architecture and design firm, Rockwell Group. Founded by award-winning visionary David Rockwell, Rockwell Group was also responsible for spearheading all of the building’s design features.
AM: What amenities are offered?
TMG: Sky leads by example in luxury residential living, featuring a myriad of world-class amenities including including an outdoor deck with two zero-edge pools; a private park; full-service spa with nail salon; professional-sized basketball court designed by Carmelo Anthony; water club with Turkish hammam; indoor/outdoor yoga spaces; billiards lounge and café; two libraries with fireplaces; a Spot Canine Club; and a 10,000 square foot fitness floor. The building also features world-renowned artwork by Yayoi Kusama, including a larger than life, carved bronze pumpkin in the building’s infinity loop motor court, as well as the two Kusama “Infinity Net” paintings in the building’s David Rockwell - designed lobby. Sky also features Gunther Forg’s Lead Paintings.
AM: What bespoke services are offered?
TMG: Sky offers a 24-hour doorman, valet services, on-site lifestyle concierge service by Luxury Attaché, Spot Canine Club, exclusive events, in-house room service from LifeCafe and a full-service spa with an adjoining nail salon and massage studio.
AM: Tell us about LifeTime Athletic at Sky.
TMG: LifeTime Athletic at Sky - NYC's premier health and fitness club - features an unparalleled array of amenities and services. Residents can enjoy four fitness studios with offerings such as Pilates, Yoga and Cycle in addition to a full range of group fitness classes. The 70,000 square foot space also offers LifeSpa, LifeCafe, expansive indoor lap pool, spacious locker rooms with lavish amenities and towel services. LifeTime provides an ease of access to all residents, allowing them to take an elevator straight into the fitness club and enter through the residence entrance.
AM: Tell us about the neighborhood.
TMG: Sky is positioned right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, the home to many of NYC’s famed theaters and award-winning restaurants. Residents are also in close proximity to the iconic Highline and West Chelsea’s renowned art galleries. The booming Hudson Yards District, set just a few blocks from Sky, will soon feature brand new office towers along with more than 100 new luxury shops and restaurants.
AM: What is next to Sky?
TMG: The retail space next to the Sky residences is curated by the Moinian Group. This past year The Moinian Group created Sky Art, a nonprofit art center founded by Frahm & Frahm and The Moinian Group that featured exhibited work from Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. The artist's latest collection, I <3 John Giorno, was designed as a tribute to American poet and activist, John Giorno. The location, now named Sky Space, has been transformed into a premier event venue fit with high ceilings and glass curtain walls.
AM: How can people contact you?
TMG: For more information visit liveatsky.com, email us at email@example.com, or call our leasing office at 212.588.0042.
PROPERTY PHOTOS COURTESY | THE MOINIAN GROUP