Bloomberg’s Women Behind the News: Laurie Hays

February 15, 2013 — Bloomberg News Executive Editor Laurie Hays talks with reporter Christine Idzelis about learning to read tea leaves in Moscow and the outlook for Europe from a Davos perspective.

Laurie Hays, Bloomberg News executive editor in charge of global company news, says she learned to read tea leaves as a Wall Street Journal reporter in the opaque political atmosphere of Moscow in the early 90s.

“After covering the Kremlin, I felt that I could pry information out of just about anybody,” she says. “It was a very good experience in tea leaf reading — figuring out between the lines what was really going on in a story.”

Hays, who joined Bloomberg in 2008, knew early that she wanted a career in journalism. At 16, she was the first female editor of Phillips Exeter Academy’s newspaper, The Exonian. She wrote for the Harvard Crimson as a college student and then, with a degree in American history, bought a car and set out for an internship at the New Orleans afternoon paper, the States-Item.

“I grew up in a family that was very interested in the world,” said Hays, who was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. “My father, especially, was always reading to us from the newspapers.”

The Louisiana paper hired Hays at summer’s end in 1979, sending her to the Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes to cover murders, politics, and feuds between the warring Perez brothers, she says.

She joined the Wall Street Journal in 1986 and spent almost four years in Russia. She then worked as bureau chief in Atlanta and New York, and served as national news editor and deputy managing editor for investigative reporting. She now oversees more than 400 reporters and editors around the world on beats from technology and consumer reporting to mergers and acquisitions.

Hays spoke with Christine Idzelis, a Bloomberg reporter covering U.S. loans since December 2010. She previously covered the buyout industry at The Deal for about six years. Idzelis grew up in New Hampshire and studied philosophy and political science at Boston College.

Idzelis: After traveling to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in January, what company news themes do you expect to focus on this year?

Hays: We think there’s going to be a lot of M&A activity. Companies have a lot of cash. We’ve seen some big deals this year, including Dell, which we broke. And I think we will continue to see a lot of disruption in Europe — high unemployment and a lot of structural issues for companies dealing with layoffs and rightsizing of the work force for a slowing economy.

Idzelis: What was the sentiment surrounding Europe in Davos?

Hays: The Euro is holding strong, but Europe is in chaos. The U.S. banks feel like they’re out of the woods now, but the European banks still have a lot of work to do while de-leveraging. They are very concerned about that.

There’s a lot of concern about climate change and how the world is changing and how we can adapt to it. There were a lot of sustainability discussions, which I think are important. There was a lot of talk about aging because we are living in societies that are growing old very quickly.

Idzelis: How has Bloomberg’s news coverage evolved under your leadership to better reflect the role of women in the global economy?

Hays: Under the inspiration of Bloomberg News women’s initiative, we are looking harder than ever for women to quote in stories and to cite for their leadership roles.

We broke a lot of great stories last year. Among the ones I’m most proud is pointing out that Ginni Rometty, the new CEO of IBM, wasn’t going to be able to wear a green jacket at Augusta because she’s a woman. Unlike her predecessors, she was not being accorded the respect of the club, even as a big sponsor. We broke that story. And it really pretty much went everywhere.

Idzelis: Where do you see women making the biggest advances at U.S. companies?

Hays: Rometty is running the biggest company any woman has ever run, I believe, out there. There are some more women coming on boards of directors and boards that are willing to look below the CEO level, which is new. Certainly in Europe, because of quotas that are being imposed in the U.K, and Germany, I think, they are starting to bring more women onto boards and they’re really making a push.

I see women getting angry about the lack of progress. There may be an anger building among women who thought that they would be getting CEO jobs by now.

Idzelis: What do you think it’ll take?

Hays: I don’t know what it’s going to take. I’m a little stumped. Sheryl Sandberg is coming out with her book called ‘Lean In’, which I think will be controversial. A lot of women have tried leaning in, and they’ve been pushed back out.

But if more women become really outspoken — there was a whole panel at Davos with Christine Lagarde and Drew Faust and Sheryl Sandberg, and a couple of other women in Europe — maybe you’ll see some change.

Idzelis: Apart from the story on Ginni Rometty, what other influential stories are you most proud of since joining Bloomberg?

Hays: I’m very proud of the Dell deal. That’s an enormous LBO. It’s the biggest tech deal ever. So we’re very proud of that. We broke Glenore, Xstrata last year, and the talks between EADS and BAE, which fell apart, but they were definitely ongoing.

Idzelis: You were a reporter in Moscow while working for the Wall Street Journal. Why Russia, and how did spending time abroad influence your career?

Hays: We went to Moscow in 1990. My husband was working at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was asked to be the bureau chief there. There was so much going on that the Wall Street Journal was just delighted to have me be a tag-along spouse. I worked there for almost four years. After covering the Kremlin, I think I felt that I could pry information out of just about anybody.

It was a very good experience in tea leaf reading and figuring out between the lines what was really going on in a story. There was a lot going on there.

Idzelis: How did you manage raising a family while staying on track to becoming a top editor?

Hays: Well, first of all, I was blessed with great children. They have always been really the best thing that ever happened to me. I have two girls. They are now 24 and 22. If I hadn’t been so lucky, it might have been harder. They’ve always done really well in school, and they’ve been very understanding of my need to work. My husband has been extremely supportive. I had fabulous babysitters and nannies. It’s just a matter of being able to stay focused on one job or the other, and to juggle. So when I’m home, I’m home. When I’m at work, I’m at work.

Of course, the Blackberry then came along. I don’t know if I would have been so successful if I had been raising children with a Blackberry. I think that would have hurt us.

Idzelis: What’s the best career advice that you’ve received, and with the benefit of hindsight, is there anything that you might have done differently?

Hays: I think one thing that really powered me along over the years was my first editor, Jack Davis, who hired me in New Orleans. He once just made a comment saying that he thought that I was smart, and that I could figure anything out and get on top of it right away.

So every challenge that I’ve had, where I thought, ‘oh, my gosh, this is so complicated, I’m never going to be able to make this work,’ his words come back to me. He imbued me with a lot of confidence. I think that’s been the biggest help.

And Dan Hertzberg, who works here at Bloomberg now, was always looking over my shoulder, and making sure that I moved up to the next level of my career. That was also very reassuring — that there was somebody looking out for me. I call him my rabbi. In retrospect, I would not have done anything differently, except maybe come to Bloomberg sooner.

Idzelis: Anything else that you think you’d like to highlight?

Hays: My advice to all women is just to stay focused. Don’t get sidetracked by doubts and fears, and pursue your goals. You will get there.

There will be days when it sucks, and there’ll be days when it’s great. You just have to be willing to put up with all of it. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be a straight shot. And there are going to be days when you feel like throwing your hands up, or your kids are sick, or something bad happens, and you may think you have to give it all up. But you don’t, because the next day things could be much better.

So, just keep going. Persevere. You will get there.

Photos by: Lori Hoffman, Bloomberg

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