Excellence by the Graham

CNBC President and CEO Pamela Thomas-Graham is worth her weight in gold as the highest-ranking African American in the ultracompetitive cable news industry

It’s nearly 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-July. Outside CNBC headquarters in Fort Lee, New Jersey, it’s a gorgeous day. The clear, cerulean sky is full of nothing but fluffy, white clouds and the sun is shining brightly. A cool breeze tickles the trees, and they sway gently back and forth, giggling in unison. Indoors, in the CNBC newsroom–lined with rows of muted monitors tuned to various financial programs–there’s something else stirring in the air.

Countless feet scurry across the carpeted floor, while hands trade off papers and mouths deliver breaking news to attentive ears. Shoulders prop up phones while fingers pound furiously on computer keyboards in wall-less cubicles. It’s symptomatic of the everyday flurry of activity spurred by the close of the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq–the arteries to the heart of the cable news network. When the financial markets shut down, the other blood vessels–the nearly 400 professionals constantly pursuing, deciphering, transmitting, and receiving information–work even harder to gear up for CNBC’s post-market commentary shows.

As Pamela Thomas-Graham makes her way around the floor, the activity intensifies. And on this particular day, congratulations are in order. Business Center, CNBC’s 6 p.m. newscast from the New York Stock Exchange–and the No. 1-rated evening business news show on cable television–averages 302,000 viewers a night, but the show’s Monday night ratings were even higher, with 352,000 viewers tuning in.

Ron Insana, co-anchor of the breaking news program, stops to receive Thomas-Graham’s “job well done.” They chitchat briefly about the deteriorating Argentine market and CNBC’s new ad campaign bearing the life-size faces of Insana and his anchor-in-crime, Sue Herera.

A few minutes later, Thomas-Graham stops by Herera’s desk to offer more well wishes. Herera–a broadcast veteran who has been with CNBC since its inception in 1989–greets her with a big smile and a warm, two-handed handshake. “You’ve been a tremendous support to us and the show,” she says graciously to Thomas-Graham.

Then Herera turns to me and says, “She really understands the competitive nature of this business and what we have to do to get this done. She gets it.”

In a field where information is king and ratings rise and fall depending on whether viewers can use it, Thomas-Graham’s adeptness as a quick study serves her well at CNBC. As its president and chief executive officer, she has to know what her anchors–all of whom report up-to-the-minute financial and business news sans teleprompters and scripts–do. That includes all the factors that drive the markets, everything from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s interest rate hikes and cuts to the latest dotbomb disasters.

But she’s up to the challenge. Over the course of her career, Thomas-Graham has repeatedly demonstrated that not only will she “get it”–whatever the “it” is that she’s focusing on–she will excel at it.

A triple Harvard University degree-holder, she, at age 32, became the first black woman and youngest person ever to make partner at the world-class management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. At 36, she was named president and CEO of CNBC.com,

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