by Danielle Cantor
Bobbi Rebell is a Certified Financial Planner, host of the Financial Grownup with Bobbi Rebell CFP® podcast, and co-host of Money with Friends. In 2017, after the success of her book, How to Be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom, she left her job as a global business news television anchor and personal finance columnist at Thomson Reuters to expand the Financial Grownup brand of financial education. Previously Bobbi worked at CNBC, CNN, and PBS' Nightly Business Report. She continues to work as a news anchor, and is a frequent keynote speaker, emcee, and conference host/moderator working with top brands to amplify their message. Bobbi graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her certificate in financial planning from New York University. She is working on her next book: Raising Financial Grownups.
Who in your family influenced you as a leader?
My mom, who is no longer with us, has been a big influence in my life. She was the first female president of our synagogue, which was very controversial at the time. Some people resigned from the synagogue because they were so offended by a woman becoming president. We would go to temple and she would sit on the bimah, and I was very proud of her. She was also president of Hadassah for many years, and Jewish organizations were a big part of her life. Later in life, she became a lawyer. That taught me that even if women stop working in their 20s, 30s, or 40s to be home more with their kids, a second career doesn't have to be a second-rate career. You can be a laywer; a doctor; a CEO. I became a CFP [Certified Financial Planner] at 47 – which is no small feat. The idea that you have to do the same thing for 50 years is ridiculous. If you start a career at age 50, you're probably going to work at it until you're 75. That's 25 years! That is worth investing in law school or an MBA.
Was finance part of your family dynamic and discussions when you were growing up?
Once we were old enough to understand the value of money, we got allowance in the form of budgets. Instead of getting a certain amount each week, we would go to our father and break down our anticipated needs for the upcoming semester. He would give us money, and after that we were on our own. I had a very bad habit of underestimating, because it seemed horrible to ask my parents for this large check when they were already paying for college. To this day I regret not asking for enough money when I studied in Paris, because I couldn’t afford to do certain things, and I couldn't pick up a job on the side.
Did that lesson lead you down the path to a career in finance?
I went into financial journalism because my dad wanted me to work on Wall Street, like he did. When I was in college, I wanted to get internships in journalism, but I still needed him to support me financially. The compromise was that I would intern not at CNN in general, but at CNN Business News, so that when I came to my senses I would be ready to go work on Wall Street. I did learn a lot… and he's still waiting for me to go work on Wall Street.
Has leadership come naturally to you, or is it a skill that you've chosen to learn and develop over time?
The funny thing is, I have actually tried to avoid it. In fact, I turned down a promotion at Reuters twice, for all the classic reasons that women turn things down: I had a child, two stepchildren, a husband, and a dog, and I really didn't want to be in a management position. I also have a lot of the imposter syndrome and fear of failure that many women often do – and we should not. Finally, the third time he offered it, my (male) boss, to his credit, said to me, "This is not a choice; you will be in charge of this team." So I became the head of U.S. Business Video. And it was fine.
It’s a challenge to learn that you are a leader, you just have to accept it and make it happen. It’s taken until I've been in my 40s to see myself as other people see me. I took my son to the bookstore and he saw my book with my picture on the cover. I was so proud – because there was my book, in the middle of all the real authors. If you walked into the bookstore you would see that book among all the other books and think, "Oh, she's an expert." And I am: I worked in journalism for more than 20 years and I am a Certified Financial Planner, so I am completely qualified to write a book about finance. But we always feel like we're playing grownup, when in fact we are the grownups.
Becoming your own boss is a very grown-up thing to do: How did you arrive at the decision to leave your full-time job and build your own brand?
There was a three-year plan to leave the job; I didn't just walk in and say “I quit.” I had come up with a brand; I had done a lot of legal work trademarking Financial Grownup; I had income coming in on the side from freelance writing projects and opportunities that were coming from the book. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, it's important to have side hustles – a lot of different income streams, some of which you can ramp up and some of which you can slow down, depending on which are the most viable at different times.
Now that you've juggled your way to success, what gems of advice can you offer other women trying to do it all?
I think it's important, instead of doing work-life balance, to do work-life integration. Randi Zuckerberg has a book called Pick Three: She has segmented her life into five areas, and she says that on any given day you can do three. I even segment my week: I have a client job that takes every Monday. Tuesdays and Thursdays I work on my podcast. Wednesdays I try to do external meetings. And then Fridays I reserve for social things. Any time I want to meet a friend, I know I should not have a podcast taping or a client meeting. It really works. Another thing that I do – and I have to give credit for this to Samantha Ettus, who wrote The Pie Life – is to put every activity in the Golden Triangle between your work, your home, and your children's school. When I was writing my book, every day I would drop my son at school at 7:30 a.m. and go to the same place, between the school and my office, to work on my book until it was time to start my workday. When you're meeting somebody, pick a place in your triangle so it's on the way to wherever you're going next. That will save you so much time and aggravation.
Did you learn anything surprising when you were researching your first book?
I learned how messy everyone's lives are when it comes to money! I told people, "I'm going to interview famous high-achievers and get them to share very personal money stories for this book." Even my biggest supporters said, "People aren't going to tell you their personal stuff." And yet, I have Sallie Krawcheck sharing a very graphic and specific account of how she discovered her husband cheating on her when she got home from a wedding. And I have Jim Cramer from Mad Money talking about drinking heavily and living out of a car at one point. I have the founder of Well+Good, Alexia Brue, talking about her battle with cancer. The higher-achieving a person is, the more they want people to understand the reality of their backstory and what's behind the pretty Instagram.
Your next book is for parents of older kids. Why is it important to teach teens and young adult children about money?
There are a lot of wonderful books for little kids about money. Where I see a need is for the tools to support and educate kids transitioning from high school to college to the working world. And parents need to pro-actively step into that role. My stepchildren, ages 19 and 22, listen to me talk about money all the time, yet even as a personal finance expert, discussions are a challenge. The book is going to speak to parents of kids ages 16 – because that's often when they get their first jobs – to 26 – when they have to get their own health care. That can be a whole decade of gradually learning to be a financial grownup. Taking over expenses, learning how to manage credit and debit cards, moving into their first home. And remember, many of these middle-aged parents were the so-called helicopter parents. But if their adult kids are not financially independent, it will prevent the parents from enjoying their own retirement and empty-nest life.
The book will focus on specific ways parents can teach kids about the many financial things we wrongfully assume they have figured out for themselves. How do you teach a child to read their first paycheck? How and when do you wean them off your family plan bills? How much to tell them about your own finances? How great could it be if, instead of muddling through these things, we went in with a plan?
Women have played key roles in your career, but landing your first full-time job at CNBC started with asking a man for a favor. What happened?
After college, I wanted to work in business news. I couldn't seem to get past HR to reach CNBC's hiring manager, Beth Tilson. We had a neighbor who was a regular guest on CNBC, and I knew that he knew Beth. I ran into him in the neighborhood and said, "I'm trying to get a job at CNBC. If I give you my résumé and cover letter, would you please bring it to her?" "I can't do that," he said. Why? "It might jeopardize my spot as a guest. I just don't feel comfortable." Figuring I had nothing to lose, that night I went to his house to give him my résumé anyway. His wife answered the door. I explained the situation, she said, "I'll take care of it," and within 48 hours I got a call from Beth Tilson, who said, "So-and-so gave me your résumé. You sound amazing. I don't have an opening right now, but things can change in a moment, so why don't you come in, because if he was willing to bring me your résumé, I know I need to meet you." A week later, somebody quit and Beth called to offer me the job. I never would have gotten that job if that man's wife had not answered the door. That woman was my advocate; when her husband didn't want to stick his neck out to help a girl looking for a job, she challenged him. Then the woman hiring manager reached out and said, "You must be great. Come on in." Women at all levels need to do what I call warm introductions: Connect women they know, value, and trust so they can work together. It's priceless.