Pulse: Money: Taking Care of Business

What Ali Velshi, CNN’s Bryn Mawr-based money man, knows that you don’t.

Jon Stewart calls him “The Hairless Prophet of Doom.” But if Ali Velshi, the CNN business correspondent, Bryn Mawr resident and, yes, Yul Brynner-bald counterpart to Anderson Cooper’s silver-haired Wasp, is the network doomsdayer, he plays that role debonairly, in impeccable power suits that say “I am someone you should listen to.” And people do — like the millions of viewers for CNN’s Your $$$$$ or Issue #1 or The Ali Velshi Show or The Turnaround, or his newest special, Money & Main Street — not to mention the tens of thousands who bought his book, Gimme My Money Back, since its January release. (“We just barely missed the New York Times best-seller list,” laments his publisher.)

The whole HPOD thing seems a bit unfair, because Velshi is — on TV and especially in person — incredibly, dynamically upbeat. He possesses a star’s charisma that, at a recent lunch in a Center City Marathon, drew fans to the table as if he was a lead on one of Bravo’s juicier reality shows, not a dude in a suit who talks portfolios on an all-news network. But that’s celeb-obsessed Philly for you, and this is where he’s made a nest. His fiancée, Lori Wachs, a portfolio manager at Delaware Investments, lives here — and yes, he says, that’s the short answer to the Why Philly? question. “But that answer underestimates my love for the place. I love that it’s a great combination of urban sophistication and real urban grit. Philly is not for sissies.”

Nor, it seems, is the business of reporting business these days. Velshi manages. (“I’m a huge Jon Stewart fan,” he says. “I was just happy he mentioned my name!”) In a given day, you might catch him on 10 different shows, between CNN, CNN International, HLN, CNN Radio, various podcasts and his call-in radio show.  

The high-octane 15-year reporter, who’s covered everything from Hurricane Gustav to small-business successes around the country, gets excited these days talking about a “new optimism,” insisting that people who figure out how to begin spending wisely again stand to really profit. Here’s what else CNN’s money man had to say about everything from his past to those smart-guy specs to his best investment advice:

“Philly’s on its way to realizing  much more of its potential as we emerge from this recession, with great colleges and universities and hospitals and a strong transportation infrastructure. Although more of a subway would be great.”

“My great-grandfather was a friend of Gandhi; my grandfather was a student at one of Gandhi’s first South African schools. My family was forced out of business by apartheid. My parents moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where I was born, and then to Toronto, where I grew up. My father was elected to the Ontario legislature in the ’80s, the first person of Indian descent elected to a parliament in Canada. I grew up in a political house, which influenced my decision to get into the news business.”

“Thankfully, I’m shortsighted. The glasses add  angles to an otherwise entirely oval face.”

“Before you can really be an investor, you have to have your debt under control and save some money in case you lose your job. Once you’re not fearful, you’ll be freer to spend. That’s how the economy will recover.”

“The opportunity cost of going back to school is as low as it has been in more than a generation. Anything you can train to do in health care is good, from a home aide to pharmacy to nursing to becoming a doctor. Philly has an abundance of health-care training and employers — just look beyond the current employment situation, which is bad, to the future, which is strong. Education is running a close second.”

“Know your risk tolerance. Don’t invest money you’ll need access to in the next five years.”

“In case he’s reading this, I’d like to be a guest on Jon Stewart’s show.”