Quest for excellence

NEW BEGINNINGS (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2015 - 9:00am

How do you measure the success of a man?

In the case of Richard Quest, CNN’s prime international business correspondent, the barometer of success is in his capacity to be grateful for the lessons he learned from his parents and in his ability to look back and thank life for its many adventures and misadventures.

Quest, the 53-year-old Englishman who is based in the Big Apple, is one of the most easily recognizable members of the CNN International team. He is the presenter of  Quest Means Business, which airs on weekdays, and the monthly Business Traveller. His passion on his subject matter and the wit and flair he pours to it are the proven and tested formula why Quest, at any given time, can destroy the myth that business or business reporting is dull and dreary. In fact, he has the uncanny ability to make hard economics an entertaining subject matter. And if it’s any test to his empowering humor, he was the only reporter, as far as I know, who has made the almost-always serious Dalai Lama laugh so hard that His Holiness almost lost his composure during the interview.

To say excellence resides in Richard Quest is to underline the obvious. But what should also be seen at the forefront of his undeniable excellence are his experiences at childhood. “I grew up in a typical English, middle-class, Jewish family in Northern England. I was born in Liverpool in 1962. Then we lived in Leeds. Growing up in the ‘70s was brutal; those were very hard times, economically speaking. In the UK, there were three-day week strikes, oil crisis, high inflation, industrial unrest, changes in government,” he says during an interview Thursday at Makati Shangri-La, Manila.

It didn’t help that he did not do good in school. “I did badly in high school. I don’t know why but I failed all my exams. Then I took them again. The British state school sector in the ‘70s was in absolute turmoil because the then labor government was introducing comprehensive education. Those who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, in the state sector of education, I think, got a terrible education. I don’t speak any languages. My Mathematics is all that poor.”

Interestingly, for someone who was poor in Math, Quest is one of the best in the field of business reporting. He quickly retorts: “You don’t need Math to do business reporting. Business is all about choices that consumers make.”

The circumstances in the ‘70s in the UK notwithstanding, Quest’s quest for excellence was about to commence. “You gonna have to make it yourself,” was the teaching of his late father Ivor, a doctor, to him and his two elder sisters and his twin sister. The practical side of life, Quest learned it from his father. “I learned the artistic side from my mother Sonia, who is now 85. My mother did sculpture.”

“My father taught us thrift. He was the man who instilled in us the idea, because he was a doctor, that there was no business to pass on. He said education was crucial,” Quest remembers.

As part of educating the Quest children, Ivor, to get everybody’s attention, would make outrageous political comments, usually at mealtime. A passionate discussion among the family would ensue. “It was like a war zone. We were arguing and debating,” Richard remembers fondly. He did not know it then but that heated exercise was a nurturing matriculation to what Richard and his siblings would accomplish and reap in their lives in the future. “My father passed on in 1993,” he says, a sense of longing thinly betrays the joyful constitution on his face. 

So, in college at the University of Leeds, Quest “blossomed at a more relaxed educational environment” and he discovered the reach of his imagination. He took up Law. And he persevered to carve his dream. He was confident he was not going to fail his father — he was going to make it.

“I went to a Law school, finished it. Then I got a scholarship in the US, went for the Bar finals and was called to the Bar in the UK in 1984/1985. I never practiced. Then I was called by the BBC to be one of its graduate news trainees. I did that and then went to the financial unit.” He worked at the BBC, where he was the North American business correspondent, covering Wall Street for 12 years.

As CNN’s foremost international business correspondent based in New York and presenter of Quest Means Business, which airs on weekdays at 10 a.m., HKT on CNN International, Richard Quest is the authority on the “definitive word on how we earn and spend our money.” CEOs and global finance ministers make it the order of their day to be guested on Quest Means Business, which started airing in 2009. The list of the guests who have appeared on his show looks like a high-profile menu of the global movers and shakers, including world leaders such as David Cameron and Petr Necas of the Czech Republic; the biggest names in banking such as Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and Robert Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank; European policy makers including International Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde, EC president Jose Manuel Barroso, and former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn; and some of the most influential names in corporate America including DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Ford CEO Alan Mulally.

Quest’s flair in reporting has made him a unique figure, if not an institution himself, in the field of business broadcasting. He has regularly reported from G20 meetings and attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland each year. Quest has covered every major stock market and financial crisis since Black Monday in 1987 and has reported from key financial centers globally including Wall Street, London, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Hong Kong. He was recently in Manila to cover the APEC Summit.

Every time one sees him on TV, one is absolute in thinking that Quest is the perfect example of a man whose gift of gab is of enormous proportion. Has he ever been tongue-tied or taciturn? “I am frequently tongue-tied when I can’t get the right word. And getting the right word is very important when I am interviewing. I need to choose the right word because I don’t want (my subject) to have any wiggle room or opportunity not to understand me. That is very important,” he says.

He also admits to having on-cam bloopers. “Just recently I called someone a ‘whore’ when I was supposed to mention the word ‘horse’,” he laughs.

Quest is single and gay. “I am 53, I am comfortable being gay. Most of my adult life, it’s never been a secret. I knew I was gay when I was in high school,” he proudly says. “I am just fortunate I have lived in two of the most gay-friendly places in the world, New York and London.”

He adds, “I am blessed to work for a company that basically says, ‘We don’t care who you sleep with; we care that you are not discriminated about because of who you sleep with.’ I recognize that there are people in the world who have a very different road to follow and that’s why I talk about it more.” He is active in empowering gay organizations in every opportunity he gets.

Quest knows how to take himself lightly. He turns on his gadgets the minute he opens his eyes because of the need to know of what came up the night before. He meditates. He goes to the gym every day. He ends the day, in summertime or wintertime, with a cup of hot chocolate. Before he sleeps, he turns off his gadgets knowing fully that if there are breaking news or other important matters that he should know, the people who matter most to his professional and personal life know how to contact him through his landline.

Quest just doesn’t live for today. “I live in the day,” he says. “Yes, I make plans for tomorrow but I don’t get so consumed by it. The time you spend with your family and friends, whatever you could be doing, enjoy them now. I live in the day.”

How do you measure the success of a man? For Richard Quest, it seems, success is in the constant quest for excellence. Excellence is the fiber of his being, the tapestry of his soul, the compass of his spirit. Yes, he lives in the day — but he also knows how to remember the people and things he should be grateful for.




(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)


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