CHRONICLING CAPITALISM. Francine Lacqua is the London-based award-winning anchor of the Bloomberg Television daily weekday programme The Pulse with Francine Lacqua. She also presents Leaders with Lacqua and is a Bloomberg editor-at-large, fluent in English, Italian and French.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Francine Lacqua, you were born in Italy but raised in several different countries?
My father being a foreign correspondent during the Cold War, we lived nine years in Moscow and then Washington. My parents put me in the French school because wherever you are there’s always a place for you in the French school. My father sat me down when I was five and said, “Francine, with the kind of life you’re going to have, you can either choose to be a citizen of the world or not to belong anywhere.” He gave me that choice, and I knew from early on that I was going to be a citizen of the world.
Right from the start of your career at Bloomberg in 2000 you interviewed very important people and reported on momentous issues?
I was successful because I could speak a few languages. Bloomberg decided that by sending me to places such as Davos and OPEC I could do television hits in Italian and television hits in French. The questions were very different depending on whether it was for Bloomberg Italy or if it was for Bloomberg France; I also understood the national sensibilities of what they wanted to ask.
“The economy makes people vote. At the end of the day, it always comes back to the economy.”
Francine Lacqua, Bloomberg TV focuses on business, but over the years you have interviewed prime ministers, actors, fashion designers, bankers, industrialists, managers?
As our editor-in-chief says, “You chronicle capitalism.” When I started at Bloomberg over 20 years ago it was a very financially-focussed channel, but the 2008 economic crisis changed the perspective of how finance could impact our daily lives. If you’re a politician or a fashion designer, at the end of the day you need money to be able to realise your vision. I interview people with the same common thread of trying to understand the world in which we live and how they fit in capitalism.
How do you decide and prepare for who you’re going to interview?
Our team is democratic in determining who we should interview and what the best outlet for that person is. I have a live show every day: an hour where I interview the movers and shakers of the world. My preparation is constant reading and a day-by-day understanding of current affairs, always through the lens of business and capitalism. Then there’s a longer format interview, either a podcast or a half an hour show called Leaders with Lacqua, and there I focus on what we want to understand from influential and leading people from the world of business.
Do leaders like to come on Bloomberg TV?
We have a big reach and access is made easy by the fact that we have many chief executives and C-suite viewers. If you interview a chief executive of a FTSE 100 company they’ll say, “Wow! The feedback I got from speaking on Bloomberg is incredible.”
It requires a lot of preparation to prepare the questions and topics, but I learned early on that in an interview a conversation has to happen. When you’re a young reporter you can be so attached to your questions that you miss the magic of having a conversation with another human being.
Did this happen to you?
Yes, with George Soros. I was struck by his intelligence and shining a spotlight on problems that interested him, but watching it back I saw that I was too focused on my questions and did not place enough emphasis on the conversation.
Did it go better with Warren Buffett?
Warren Buffett was on a trip to Italy to look at companies and I was sent to follow him and try and convince him to do an interview. I would see him every evening in the hotel lobby – and I’d say, “Mr. Buffett, I really just need an interview.” In Milan he talked about how he liked Cherry Coke, which was very difficult to get in Milan in 2010. I found some to give to him and said, “Here’s a Cherry Coke, we really need an interview!” That made him laugh. He saw the persistence and dedication that I tried to bring and in the end he said yes. The interview was all about acquisitions and I remember being struck by the clarity and common sense he brought to the conversation.
You also interviewed Bill Gates.
The first time that I met him was in Davos and he was very friendly. People were starting to talk about AI and I remember being so impressed by how sharp his mind was. Sometimes you meet someone that thinks of things a bit differently, and with him I had this impression.
“Here’s a Cherry Coke, we really need an interview!”
Francine Lacqua, how was Mario Draghi, the former Prime Minister of Italy?
One of the most difficult. I interviewed him when he was European Central Bank (ECB) President. He was very good, very confident, one of the most well respected statesmen.
Central bankers must be very careful what they say?
For Bloomberg, central bankers are like rock stars. With one word or two the market can change, currencies can move. Sometimes it’s not appreciated how carefully calibrated you need to be with your words. I have a great admiration for central bankers; it’s not an easy job to communicate and set monetary policy.
Are central banks really independent from politics?
They’re meant to be. If you’re the ECB, you have a mandate, which is inflation. If you crush the economy to make sure that inflation is in your target it’s a big responsibility. If they do have pressure from politicians I don’t think they bow down to that, but if you’re going to announce something big which could be a monetary bazooka you need to make sure that the messaging is powerful. The central banker needs to be able to be a strong communicator and get everyone onside to speak with one voice.
It’s a personality difference. I only interviewed Tony Blair when he was leader and then afterwards, and he and Keir Starmer communicate very differently. Maybe Keir Starmer doesn’t feel he can be as charismatic or as challenging as he might be if he were in power. He perhaps does not want to take risks.
What is your impression of President Macron?
I’ve interviewed him in both French and English and he’s more efficient in English because he used to be in banking, so in English he’s straight and to the point. Now he’s a politician, but as a politician you also need to be very clear so that people understand everything, and in French he’s more padded; he makes bigger speeches that are very eloquent but can lead to him being perceived as out of touch.
You interviewed the English Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor?
He’s a very efficient communicator. When you lead a party that’s not united and have to speak to different parts of the party it makes it very difficult unless you have the strength to say, look, I’m going to go this way, and if you follow me you follow me, and if you don’t you don’t. Recently he’s in election campaign mode and a lot of the hesitation on certain subjects is because they’re trying to poll to see exactly what goes well.
What do you think of politicians who follow the polls day by day, like in Italy?
I did not interview Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, but I had 5 minutes with her and I found her very effective as a politician and as a communicator. She’s very determined. The fact that you are a slave to polls is also because of social media; now you have data for everything.
Francine Lacqua in Davos with ECB President Christine Lagarde
Francine Lacqua oOn stage in New York with Gavin Newsom, Governor of California
Francine Lacqua with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Qatar
“I thank my parents for two things: my energy and my stamina.”
Francine Lacqua, is Antony Blinken a good American Secretary of State?
We did the interview in Paris, after the U.S. made the French mad over submarines following an agreement with Australia that they hadn’t told the French about. He speaks French perfectly and I was very wowed by that. State is always impressive because it’s a proper machine and everything is micro-managed to the second. No one’s late, ever, from Treasury or State in the U.S.
How do you feel in front of tough politicians?
If you interview a head of state who is very controversial at the time you need to have a laser focus on what you’re trying to get out of the interview. There are various ways of achieving this. I was taught from one of my first bosses that you have to use your personality. If you’re a very tough person, you can be very tough. If your strength as an interviewer is being smart or asking disarming questions, then you do that. Play to your strengths.
Do all politicians have to deal with basically the same problems?
The economy makes people vote. At the end of the day, it always comes back to the economy. You can make all the promises in the world, like we see in Italy, but if you cannot manage the economy well, you get nothing done.
Is it quite different to interview a celebrity?
I had a fireside chat interview with George Clooney for 45 minutes in front of 10,000 people. Between us was a real fire, and he kept on saying, “It’s too hot! My face is burning!” and everybody was laughing, thinking it was a joke. But it was really hot next to that fire! It’s an art interviewing celebrities and one that I’m not used to so I enjoyed it because it not in my comfort zone.
What about a starchitect like Norman Foster?
The beauty of some of the things that he’s done is undeniable and you could interview Norman Foster in six different ways, but I want to understand the cities and buildings of tomorrow through his eyes. He designed the Bloomberg building, where I work, with a way of walking down the stairs that is meant to slow you down so that you meet and speak with other people. Small, thoughtful things that the architect puts in place influence our lives.
How do you organise your own life as a mother, a wife, living in London?
Through WhatsApp! I’m very organised and I’ve never had mother’s guilt. I love my kids and see them as much as I can. We FaceTime. We talk a lot. I have a great relationship with them. I always tell them where I am and we have interesting conversations about the things I see. I’ve never treated them like babies.
Your job means you have to be perfectly dressed early in the morning to interview a person and can spend a week who knows where on the road?
I thank my parents for two things: my energy and my stamina. It takes quite a long time for me to get tired, and even early in the morning I’m up for the challenge. I wake up at 4.30am so I have long days, but not needing a lot of sleep and having a lot of energy means I get a lot done.
Do you have a method in your interviews?
I prepare for what I want to get out of the interview, and then I put all the notes away and try and have a conversation. Once you’re in a live interview you can tell if the conversation is going well or not. If it’s not, you attempt different tactics and decide whether you continue with the same line of questioning or go to something completely different and then come back to it.
Do you try to be neutral in your interviews?
I have to be neutral. To be credible, news coverage must be neutral. My boss sometimes says, “If you make enough people mad, that’s one way of being neutral.” Fair treatment for everyone!
What would you suggest to a young reporter?
Be human. Prepare your questions, put them to one side. Interview the person in front of you like a human being; it comes naturally if you listen to what the person says. If you don’t understand something don’t be afraid to say so because it may make you sound stupid; there’s a big chance that a lot of people also don’t understand it. Every time I’ve done that viewers write in saying they had the same question. You can’t waste a question, but with time you learn to trust your instinct to interrupt or follow up when it doesn’t feel right.
Thank you very much for this interview.
All images courtesy of Bloomberg Photos unless otherwise stated.
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