Erin Burnett '98 is a rising star at NBC, MSNBC and CNBC

Erin Burnett '98 is a rising star at NBC, MSNBC and CNBC

Erin Burnett '98 was featured this summer in the Sunday New York Times business section, which projected her as a rising star at NBC Universal, where she'd signed a new three-year contract and appears regularly on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.  She's found out that it is hard to hide even in New York City.

"Yeah, I heard from a lot of people when that story came out, but I think the best thing I can do is not look too far ahead and just do my best with all I have on my plate right now, because I know if I continue to do well opportunities that might not even exist today can present themselves," she said.  "I want to be ready for what may be out there, but I'm not looking at this time."

Asked what it's like to have every move of her professional and personal life scrutinized daily, Burnett professes she just isn't in tune with all that. "Maybe I'm in never, never land, but I don't believe it affects me.  Besides I work with such a great team on all my shows I'm confident in what we produce. On the personal stuff – I just try to keep a low profile."

She only applied to three colleges – UVA, Princeton, and Williams, but her binding, early-decision application went to Williams because Burnett, a three-sport star athlete at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del., knew she wanted to play more than one sport in college. Also factoring into her decision was that St. Andrew's over the years had sent a lot of good kids to Williams, including her sisters Mara '88 and Laurie '91, both of whom competed in field hockey and lacrosse for Chris Mason. "I knew I didn't want to play just one sport in college and wasn't sure I wanted to do all three so I picked field hockey and lacrosse."

As it turned out, she didn't even compete in her best sport in college when she lined up for Williams in field hockey and lacrosse. "My most successful sport in high school was squash," commented Burnett.

"Through my sisters I knew that Williams admitted great students and great athletes and everyone who went there just loved it," Burnett stated. "It's kind of funny that in the group of friends my sisters had was Mika Brzezinski '89 who is now on MSNBC's Morning Joe. I knew of Mika but did not know her until our paths crossed at MSNBC. She's been a great friend, mentor, and confidante for me."

"One of the truly great things about Williams is how loyal the alums are," Burnett said. "The best thing for my money, though, is the combination of great academics and great athletics. It's just such a special place."

From Eph head field hockey and lacrosse coach Chris Mason Burnett learned, "how valuable it is to work with great enthusiasm and passion. Watching Chris's incredible drive to win just made you want to perform for her. I remember team dinners at her house where we'd make her drag out her Olympic bronze medal and show us the penalty stroke shoot out so we could watch her shot. It always got us excited to play the next day because of who she is and what she put into the program."

Erin Burnett was this happy
to host her Eph team for
dinner the night before NCAA
tourney game vs. Salisbury

Burnett's favorite athletic memory at Williams came in her junior year when the field hockey team was selected to play in the NCAA Tournament. The first round opponent was to be Salisbury State in Maryland, right near her family farm in Mardella Springs. Mason recalled, "Erin was the only one excited that we had to travel all the way to Maryland to play a game and she got her parents to host the team to a lasagna dinner the night before."

"That dinner with my team at my house was just the best thing because since I went away to school I'd never had my team over for a meal," commented Burnett. "I was just so excited." Little did she know that the next day's game would be a memory maker.

Surprisingly Williams led second-ranked Salisbury 1-0 late in the first half when Burnett doubled the Eph lead.  She flipped in a nifty reverse stick shot off a pass from Melissa Winstanley. Salisbury battled back and scored a second half goal, but they couldn't secure the equalizer and Burnett's goal became the game winner. "It was a pretty big thing in Mardella Springs.  They had a huge story in the local paper about the game and the winning goal coming from a local girl."

Burnett played on some very good Eph lacrosse teams as well, including the 1996 team that Mason guided to an unblemished record of 15-0. Even though the Ephs were undefeated and ranked in a tie nationally for first place with Trenton State, the team was denied an opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament due to a possible conflict with final exams and the Final Four. "The whole team was totally disappointed, but in the end it was a cathartic moment for the school and it gave everyone a point of discussion for framing the notion that Williams kids could do both – play hard and take finals. I'm really pleased to know that every team that qualifies can now compete in the NCAA Tournament."

Burnett majored in political economy and in her senior year wrote a thesis under the direction of her adviser James Mahon, now the chair of political economy. The thesis explored the monitoring of comparative labor standards.  Mahon's father, an accountant who'd worked an labor standard codes, was also used as a resource and this led Mahon and Burnett to publish an article on creating a certification of standards. Their "Complying with International Labor Standards," was published in Challenge, March/April 2001. 

Mahon fondly recalls Burnett the student: "She was energetic, fun, outgoing, considerate, and above all, hardworking.  Not self-indulgent in the least. A lot of work went into her thesis, and she managed to do all this while carrying a lot of extracurricular activities.

"Erin was and is an extremely hard worker.  She really went after her thesis so it's not a surprise to me to see her succeeding in fields where you need to be very bright and relentless in tracking down information."

Upon graduating Burnett had no desire to be on TV, it just sort of happened to turn out that way. Her first job was at Goldman Sachs as an analyst in New York and she loved the job, but after a while she knew she just didn't want to do it forever.

She'd seen Willow Bay anchor CNN's Money Line. Burnett decided that she might want to write for Bay's show so she wrote the anchor a letter. At the same time she applied to a few business schools and casually looked around at other opportunities.

Surprise of surprises -- Bay wrote back and invited her to write for the show. Burnett jumped at the chance to work for "an incredible role model, who was smart, a business owner and a mother, and was on top of her game."

"I went to CNN to work for Willow in New York still with absolutely no interest in being on camera," recalled Burnett. Shortly after that a friend, Michael Silverman, who is now the President of the Tampa Bay Rays, called to tell her he'd just turned down a job at Citi Group to create content for a business site they were starting. "Michael told me he knew it was a good job, but it just didn't fill his needs and he thought I might be interested. Michael really wanted to be in baseball, so I guess today we all know his decision has worked out well for him as well.  Shortly after I got to Citi, I was producing so much content that I had to start doing some of the stories in front of the camera and it wasn't as bad as I'd feared."

Soon Burnett was on her way to Bloomberg News, her last stop before CNBC and getting regularly onto NBC and MSNBC. "Maybe I was just in the right place at the right time or I was a lot better than I thought I was, but I could not be happier now."

Erin Burnett (l.) and Eph head field
hockey coach Alix Rorke at The
Sports Museum of America

This from a woman who's on the stock exchange floor by 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, has two live shows on CNBC ("Squawk on the Street" and "Street Signs"), appears on Morning Joe almost daily, has appeared on the Today Show so many times she's close to becoming a regular there, appears sometimes on NBC Nightly News, and has a spot on NBC News' weekend editions.

Between Morning Joe and her shows on CNBC, Burnett is on the phone with contacts in other markets around the world, usually the Middle East to find out trends and fears. Most oftemn there'll be a show meeting from 3 to 4 p.m. and then she works some more to prepare for whatever else her day holds or what tomorrow offers.

Her "normal day" usually ends around 9 p.m., but likely includes traveling to NBC and over the river to New Jersey to CNBC or vice versa depending on where she's needed most.

"It's exciting to be in the center of financial news, but it does get exhausting after a while, with the constant focus on what's happening and why and what could happen and why."

She tries to work out regularly to maintain her health and sharpness and now she has a Williams field hockey t-shirt to exercise in and that simple grey t-shirt could lift her into the Williams Athletic Hall of Fame, if there were one.

The day after Burnett attended the function at the Sports Museum of America where the Ephs officially loaned one of their 12 Directors' Cups for the next five years, she held up her t-shirt on Morning Joe and chided host Joe Scarborough.

"Joe how do you like my shirt?" When Scarborough took the bait and acknowledged it was a nice shirt, Burnett zoomed in with the zinger. "Hey, Joe, didn't you get a t-shirt recently?" Burnett already knew that Scarborough had been given a t-shirt that noted an Eph baseball victory over Joe's alma mater the University of Alabama, 8-3. When Scarborough tried to brush off the Eph win by saying it was over 100 years ago (1907 to be precise) Erin reminded him that a win is a win.

Asked about a preference in the upcoming presidential election Burnett begged off saying, "Officially I'm not supporting anyone.  History has shown, though, that when there's a downturn in the economy the nation turns to the Democrats, but maybe John McCain and the Republicans can give the American people enough reasons not to change to someone they don't know. Whoever wins, though, is gong to have one large financial mess on his hands."

Those who knew Burnett when she was a student and an athlete at Williams will be glad to know that she's not changed one iota. She's talkative to be sure, but she doesn't pretend to be a know-it-all and she has the patience of Mother Theresa when person after person approaches her to chat and acts as though they know her from seeing her on TV. "It comes with the territory.  They see me on TV and they think – 'I know her.'  I'm glad they watch and I'm glad they're engaged in what's going on in financial news."

Burnett is aching to get back to Williams as she missed her 10th reunion in June. "I never thought of Williams being so far from New York, but when you have the schedule I have right now it could be a couple of blocks away and I'd have trouble making it," she joked. "I really do need to get back for a visit and I hope to be able to do that sometime soon. I just love Williams and Williamstown."

As the interview wound down Erin said, "Please tell Chris Mason and Professor Mahon I said 'Hi.'" Consider it done.