Marketplace host, Kai Ryssdal, with Weatherhead alumna Nikki DiFilippo (MBA '94)
Q and A with Marketplace host, Kai Ryssdal
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal and his team from American Public Media’s popular news program stopped in Cleveland on June 20, 2014 to present “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers”. Prior to the event, held at Playhouse Square, Ryssdal found time to give a word of advice to business students and share the secret to keeping Marketplace relevant to the casual listener.
W: You’ve had an interesting education and career path before starting out in radio. How did you end up transitioning to radio?
KR: As you know, I spent 8 years in the US Navy and then I spent 4 years in the US Foreign Service working overseas. My wife and I were in Beijing, China working in the embassy there and she wanted to go to graduate school and I wanted to do something that was not government service. She wound up at the graduate school of business at Stanford and I kind of moped around for a while. I was 34 years old, freshly married, about to have a baby and my wife was a student and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My wife sat me down and said, “Listen, you need to think about what you want to be and I think you should try journalism. You’re the guy who gets up at 5:00 in the morning on a Saturday to read the NYT’s. You ought to give this a shot”. I wound up with an internship at KQED, the public radio station in San Francisco. I started as an intern at age 34.
W: We have a large international student population, many of whom have never been in the US before. After spending part of your childhood in Europe, what was the hardest part of transitioning to the US culture?
KR: This goes way back. We moved overseas when I was 2 and I was in Danish schools for a number of years speaking Danish. When I came back to the US, my brother and I were in remedial English for a long time. I was 10 when we came back. You can learn things about your own country living outside it that you cannot learn when you’re living in the United States and the same experience is I’m sure true for the International students at Weatherhead. It gives you perspective. Being overseas, whether it’s a Chinese person here or an American person abroad the value of international travel and international education is perspective and context. I’m a huge believer in this. My wife and kids and I have traveled extensively because we value the idea that you have to understand other people and cultures to know more about yourself. That’s why fundamentally internationally aspects of education are so important. The biggest regret I have in my life is not going overseas and studying abroad during college.
W: Part of the curriculum we teach is manage by designing and disrupting the “normal” way to approach a problem. How do you think this will help our graduates as they enter the workforce?
KR: Disruption is the name of the game right now and in fact disruption has been the name of the game for a long time. Just look at Marketplace for a minute and how it fits into the public radio environment. When we started 25 years ago we sounded like nothing else on public radio. The people who founded Marketplace disrupted that eco system and they established this thing that was successful. The problem with disruption is the risk. There is a downside risk and you have to be able to build in the risk tolerance.
Disruption is the key to success in almost anything; not just media but in education and in finance. I’m looking at my IPhone right now, that’s disruptive technology. Disruption is the name of the game and if you guys can find a way to teach that and make it stick, then the students that come out of Weatherhead are going to be better served.
W: With the emergence of FB, Twitter and other platforms, how do you think social media and web technology is changing the business world?
KR: I use Twitter every day and I rely on it as a news source, but I think I might be getting a little tired of Twitter. And if I am getting tired of it, what does that say about the casual user? The business impact of social media is that it has to keep people’s attention. The problem with social media is that I don’t think we’ve found the one that is going to stick for the long term. It is so dynamic and fast moving that while they have changed business in a lot of ways, I don’t think we’ve seen where social media will wind up.
W: How do you keep Marketplace relevant and engaging for casual listeners?
KR: That goes back to the founding precept. We are not a show run by economists and MBA’s and people with trading licenses. We are just people that want to tell stories and the truth is none of us care about business and economy – that is not why we are in this. We are in it to tell stories and our device and methodology is to take business and the economy as a way to tell stories that matter and stick with people and that will make them understand why they have to know about the American and global economies. We are interested in what it means for the consumer. We keep ourselves interesting. I have to keep myself entertained and if I can do that, then I can do it for everyone else.
W: What advice would you have for students graduating from business school right now? What should they know about the economy?
KR: Risks. You’ve got to take risks. When they called me to take this job at Marketplace, we had a 3 year old, my wife was pregnant and had a good job at Yahoo and they wanted me to work on the morning show which meant getting up literally in the middle of the night and going to work. We decided that the upside risk was way bigger than the downside risk and it paid off. Had we not taken that risk, I don’t know what the heck I’d be doing today, honestly.