Media Moves

CNBC’s Chu on the Alibaba IPO, covering the NFL and socks

September 18, 2014

Posted by Chris Roush

Dominic Chu is a markets reporter for CNBC. He appears during CNBC’s Business Day programming and contributes to

Previously, Chu was a New York-based markets correspondent for Bloomberg Television, where he covered the stock, bond, currency and commodities markets. During that time, he interviewed some of the world’s top money managers and business executives, and he also was part of the team that covered Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombings. In addition, Chu handled sports business reporting for the network.

Chu brings extensive knowledge of the financial markets, having worked in sales and trading for UBS Investment Bank, mutual fund management for Hennessy Advisors and investment management for Seascape Capital.

Chu, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in hotel administration from Cornell University, spoke Thursday by email with Talking Biz News about his career, covering the upcoming Alibaba initial public offering and covering the National Football League.

What follows is an edited transcript.

Why did you decide to switch from Wall Street to covering Wall Street?

It was actually a really nerve-wracking decision. My life and career were at a sort of crossroads. It was back near the depths of the financial crisis and Wall Street wasn’t the same place as it was back when I first got into the business after college. I was given an opportunity to audition for a job covering financial markets and apparently did well enough to get a job! Then, it was a lot of self-reflection, soul searching and consultation with friends and family.

I got lots of encouragement, as well as skepticism. In the end, I figured if there was a time to take a chance like this to reinvent myself and refocus my career in a different direction…this was it. If it didn’t work out, at the very least, I’d have a great story to tell later on in life. Fast forward to today, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

What did you need to do to get up to speed about business journalism?

There was a lot to learn, and not a lot of time to do it. I was fortunate enough to have a slew of mentors and industry veterans to help get me up to speed as efficiently and effectively as possible. It started off as basic pointers on how to develop and tell stories. Eventually, it became more about what kind of insights you could bring, and what sorts of topics would drum up robust discussions.

What helped the most was having managers who were patient enough to ease me into my role, and then ramp up when I demonstrated I could handle it. I was happy doing my work coming out of the bullpen, and eventually working my way into the starting rotation.

What was the hardest adjustment to make?

Early on in my journalism career, one of my first managers told me that I should minimize my use of “I think” in my stories. Instead, the focus should be on laying out facts and the opinions of experts, so that ultimately, it’s the reader, listener and viewer that can make their own judgment call. That’s gotten easier with time, and hopefully, our stories, discussions and guests can frame issues with varying viewpoints.

Are you able to use the friends you made on Wall Street in your reporting?

Absolutely! The folks I crossed paths with during my Wall Street days have become some of the best sources of information for my stories. Many of the brokers, traders, salespeople, portfolio managers and corporate executives from my prior life have been able to lend all kinds of perspective to the stories we tell.

My primary role here at CNBC is to help tell stories about the stock market, and what’s happening week-to-week, day-to-day, and even minute-by-minute. They help provide important context and color, as well as ideas on other story angles.

What’s been the toughest thing about covering the Alibaba IPO?

The sheer size of it — and I don’t just mean how much money they are raising in what could be the biggest IPO in the history of mankind. There are so many different story angles, people involved, businesses it impacts, potential investors, etc.

Luckily enough, there isn’t just one person tasked with doing all of it. Our network has done a great job of surrounding and tackling the story. Whether it be Kayla Tausche’s deal reporting, or Susan Li and Eunice Yoon on the ground in Hong Kong and Beijing, etc. We’ve all got a part of it, so that makes covering the Alibaba IPO that much easier and more comprehensive.

Who do you see as more interested in that story — Wall Street investors or average Main Street investors?

I’ll offer an opinion here and use “I think.” According to an Ipsos poll commissioned by Reuters, 88 percent of Americans weren’t aware of what Alibaba Group Holdings was. If that’s the case, I think this is much more about professional investors or market aficionados than it is about Main Street.

I was chatting with a producer the other day about an informal poll we did of local shoppers in a nearby mall. Many of them didn’t know about Alibaba as a company, or that it was going to be a huge IPO. A fair number of them did make reference to the folk tale of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves. You get the impression that while it’s of huge interest in Wall Street circles because of the historic nature of the money being raised, there’s still a relatively large part of the population that isn’t aware of what this company is or what it does.

Is the Alibaba story primarily coming from SEC filings, or are there other sources you are using?

The best part about being part of such a great team here is that all of us have multiple sources that we are checking in with. For me, a lot of it has to do with how the market feels about the valuation, the IPO itself and how it will trade on the first day. That involves talking with floor traders, brokers, money managers and anyone else who might have an interesting take.

Others are speaking with bankers in the underwriting syndicate, and still others with potential investors in the actual IPO. The filings can help provide a framework, but it’s all of our collective sources and resources that really help bring the story to life.

Speaking of big stories, what’s it been like covering the NFL as a business?

The beat is awesome! My mom is a huge San Francisco 49ers fan, and a lot of that rubbed off on me, especially because I was born and raised in the Bay Area. Being able to report on the business of the game has been a real bonus. However, these days, there are a lot more negative headlines coming out of the league than positive ones.

We are first and foremost a business and financial news network, but the recent stories coming out of the NFL are of interest to our audience. So in addition to covering the business aspect of the league, and professional sports in general, we are spending a certain amount of time bringing viewers the latest headlines from the league, and its major business partners/sponsors.

What lessons could the NFL learn from how businesses work with the financial media?

Getting out ahead of a story and having a strong voice in how that story is told from the get-go is important. In that way, the league did what it could, but in the eyes of many, didn’t do it well enough, or with enough transparency. Many parts of the market that we cover are public in nature. Publicly traded companies have to disclose news on a regular basis to not only satisfy regulatory requirements, but also to demonstrate that they have nothing to hide.

Regular communication with the media, if even just to say that progress is being made, could go a long way in establishing trust. The league is doing that to a certain degree, but obviously there are those out there who think they could be doing more. There’s no clear cut formula or recipe for crisis management, but being clear and candid often helps matters.

Can you get Allen Wastler to wear kilts more?

Allen is not just a hugely positive influence on our newsroom, but also just a great guy in general. I enjoy every chance I get to work with his team, and even more so when he wears his family tartan around the newsroom. Our TV managing editor Nick Dunn instituted a themed dress day called “Crazy Pants Friday” that still happens now and then.

I feel fairly confident that Allen’s kilts will qualify, and also feel confident that if we all bring it up enough, he’ll make his clan’s colors a regular addition to his wardrobe rotation!

What is your favorite pair of socks to wear, and where do you buy your socks?

I’ve been partial to my Psycho Bunny socks. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I enjoy receiving socks around the holidays, especially because those family members that give them to me know that I’ll wear them regardless of what they look like! I’d like to say that my socks are an original statement around our newsroom, but the truth is there are a number of folks around here that have signature socks, like Tyler Mathisen and Scott Matthews. I hear even [senior vice president and editor in chief] Nik Deogun has some interesting ones on from time to time.

As for where to buy them, I’ve been known to troll around the bargain bins at larger department stores in the area. I love great socks, but I love getting a great deal on them even more!

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