Recounting hard work, Erin Burnett ’98 tells path to fame

She may be known as the “Street Sweetie”, but Erin Burnett ’98 is more than just looks. A little over a decade after graduating from the College, Burnett is already an international superstar, globally respected for her business analysis. In fact, Burnett is currently the co-anchor CNBC’s Squawk on the Street as well as the host of CNBC’s Street Signs.

The hard work and success that have come to characterize Burnett’s work as a business analyst was already apparent during her time at the College. In both academics and athletics, Burnett excelled due to her consistent dedication to everything she tackled. “I’ve had only a few students who worked as hard as Erin did. She is one of those people who just thrive on hard work, and that extended not only to her thesis and her classwork but also to field hockey. She’s just one of those people who really bust their butts all the time,” said Jim Mahon, professor of political science, who taught Burnett and even later co-wrote an article with her.

Despite her workhorse mentality, Burnett still made the best of her time at the College. “I loved Williams – loved it!” she said. Burnett found her particular niche at the College as a member of the field hockey team, and she fondly remembers her experiences with her teammates, some of whom became her closest friends while at the College. “The bus rides, the keg parties on Saturday night” were among Burnett’s fondest memories from her college experience, along with weekend nights out in town. “We would go to the Pub. It was the place to be,” she said.
Since graduation, however, the road has not always been so easy for Burnett, as she has often encountered professional discrimiduring throughout her rise to the top. “At first people make judgments about appearances,” she said. At one point, a string of Photoshopped pictures of Burnett posing for the cover of Maxim even surfaced. Despite such attempts to discredit her authority as a financial broadcast journalist, Burnett has risen above it all. “You have to be confident and learn something from it,” she said.
During her time as the first CNBC journalist to broadcast from the Middle East, Burnett was able to gain a greater perspective on her understanding of local economies, building on her knowledge from her college days. The experience has even given Burnett greater insight in analyzing the changes encountered in the popularly discussed region. “It has definitely changed,” Burnett said. “When I first went, it was a real boom time for the economy.” Now, with the money from the oil boom running out, the countries are looking to new leaders to pull them through the challenges that surround them, as well as the ones that lie ahead. “Some [countries] have people in their thirties in charge,” Burnett said. The younger leaders have great passion and enthusiasm for their causes, which helps to motivate the rest of the country to rebuild and revitalize their infrastructure.

As a broadcast journalist, Burnett has also spent a lot of her time traveling. Recently, Burnett has worked in Washington, D.C., but she has also traveled to New York to work off the set of the New York Stock Exchange. However, Burnett’s job is not solely domestically focused, as she also frequently goes abroad to study global issues pertaining to the economy. “I’ve been in Africa to promote economic growth,” Burnett said. “More and more people are investing in Africa; it can become a growth engine.” She has also broadcast from each of the four burgeoning economic leaders: Brazil, Russia, India and China. “China is full of incredible energy right now,” said Burnett of her time in the emerging economic powerhouse.

Although Burnett’s rise to fame may sound like a dream come true, she came to the College with entirely different plans. “I actually wanted to be an archaeologist,” she said. In fact, Burnett didn’t consider journalism as a profession and didn’t participate in any of the activities that the College offered for prospective journalists. “I didn’t do any of that,” Burnett said, “I never thought of it as a career.” Instead, Burnett’s entry into the world of broadcast journalism was rather serendipitous, beginning with a chance letter to an anchor that spiraled into the successful career she has today.

When asked about the ways in which the College had shaped her life, Burnett recalled the close relationships that she and her classmates had with their professors. “I had a couple of really influential professors,” Burnett said. In her senior year, Burnett took one of the College’s celebrated tutorial classes, which further sparked her interest in political economy.

For Burnett, one of the greatest aspects of her college days relates to the unique ability of the College to endow its students with the capacity to experiment with novel academic subjects. “What you can get at Williams that you can’t get at places like Harvard is the confidence to take risks, to go with your gut, because you’re young enough – and stupid enough – to do it,” she said. “And that’s a great gift.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Li,
Senior Editor