NEW YORK—For the host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” Jim Cramer ’77, graduation
from Harvard College was one of the worst days of his life.
Cramer, who was the outgoing president of The Crimson at the
time, wrote an article criticizing Alan Heimert ’49, then the
influential chair of the English department and a former History and
Literature teaching fellow, for misleading the Faculty of Arts and
Heimert had spoken out against expanding the History and
Literature department, which some considered elitist and too selective,
warning that if the department opened up its enrollment, the
student-faculty ratio would rise.
A trusted professor, whom Cramer would not name, came to him
in his last days of senior year with the news that Heimert had told
faculty members during a closed session of the History and Literature
department that he’d “buffaloed” the Faculty into believing that this
ratio rise would actually happen.
Cramer confirmed this story with two other professors, and
wrote his last Crimson article slamming Heimert, saying that his words
were “rooted more in fiction than in fact.”
Cramer says, with his graduation quickly approaching, he thought he could get away with the article.
But Heimert was Cramer’s House master, and it would be Heimert who would give Cramer his diploma.
According to Cramer, in a customary commencement statement
about the seniors in the House, Heimert said, “To Jim Cramer: Who
graduated magna cum laude in Government, he says he wants to go into
journalism. I hope he comes to me for a recommendation. Because I won’t
give him one. Because I won’t give him one. Because he called me a liar
in print.” Cramer was waved off the stage and didn’t get his diploma.
“My parents were in tears,” he remembers. “They didn’t stop crying all the way home.”
But vindication came a few weeks later. “We got a handwritten
letter from President Bok apologizing on behalf of the University for
the travesty that was my graduation.”
He also got letters from the Dean of the College and ultimately Professor Heimert himself.
“I gamble,” Cramer says, looking back at the incident.
Twenty-eight years later, the
journalist-turned-stock-broker-turned-TV-show-host has the same
risk-taking mentality as he did during his undergraduate years.
The path from graduation to his current stint as host of CNBC’s hit show “Mad Money” was one of extremes.
He worked unsuccessfully as a journalist for The Tallahassee
Democrat and The Herald Examiner of Los Angeles, graduated from Harvard
Law School, worked at Goldman Sachs, started his own hedge fund, and
then co-hosted the CNBC stock analysis show Kudlow & Cramer. His
show now attracts 384,000 viewers five nights a week. It has turned
CNBC’s 6 p.m. slot into one of its most highly-rated hours.
If you’ve never seen “Mad Money” before, picture a pro-wrestler, stockbroker, and Dr. Phil combined.
Cramer throws furniture, pushes buttons to make campy
sound-effects and graphics flash across the screen, and takes up to 25
calls from viewers wanting stock advice in the ten-minute “Lightning
Round” segment. He is also co-founder of TheStreet.com, an online stock
research company worth $15 million, and Cramer Berkowitz, a $450
million hedge fund.
According to an Oct. 31 article in BusinessWeek, Cramer is worth between $50 and $100 million.
Cramer is a study in contradictions. He learned from liberal
thinkers and protested against Nixon in college, but says he loved
working with his thesis advisor, former Shattuck Professor of Urban
Government Edward Banfield, whom he calls “reactionary” and who was
later memorialized by Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield
’53, former Harvard and current Pepperdine University Professor James
Q. Wilson, and Weatherhead University Professor Samuel P. Huntington.
Cramer calls himself a McCain Democrat and says that money won’t make
you happy—that it’s almost a curse. He grabs a legal pad and scribbles
“$” and “Happiness” in big, messy letters. He writes “Sports”, “Rigor”,
and “Business” above that.
“If you wanna play in this league,” the former Crimson sports
writer says, pointing to the word “Business,” “this helps,” pointing to
“$.” “If you don’t, fabulous. ‘Cause this”—pointing to “$”—“is a major
butt-kick in the ass.”
This demonstration is a bit confusing, since his show is
called “Mad Money” and is all about, well, making money. And much of
Cramer’s career has focused on profiting off the stock market.
And according to a book by Nicholas Maier, who worked under
Cramer at his firm, some of that profit-making may have been slightly
less then ethical. “Trading With the Enemy” criticizes Cramer for using
his CNBC appearances to sway the market in his favor and for working
his employees into the ground.
Cramer has since left his position at the hedge fund to focus on the show.
Maier writes in his book that Cramer started each day with the
statement, “I love the smell of money in the morning” and would smash
computer monitors, throw chairs, and bring employees to the point of
tears if prices fell later in the day.
“My firm was a bargain”—Cramer writes this out too—“I will
make you rich if you do everything I tell you. But I will at first
humiliate and mistreat you—boot camp style—until you do.”
The chair-throwing antics have carried over to the show, but
the climate at TheStreet.com seems farther away from Maier’s
description of Cramer’s former life. Cramer’s cubicle at the
TheStreet.com office on Wall Street is right next to the desks of his
research team, comprised of young men in their twenties and early
thirties. The guys have small basketball hoops at their desks and toss
Nerf balls at one another as they write up columns about the best stock
picks for the day. Cramer comes over and picks their brains for stock
ideas and information. He gives a few high fives, and then he’s off to
Englewood Cliffs, N.J. to film “Mad Money.”
While the research assistants call Cramer demanding, working
at TheStreet.com is “uplifting,” says Will Barielski, a 25-year-old
graduate of Monmouth University in New Jersey. The research assistants,
he says, learn from Cramer and work on “idea generation all day.”
Perhaps still retaining the anti-elitist sentiment that drove
him to write about Heimert and that embittered him against
commission-based stock advisors, Cramer puts a premium on getting to
“the people’s” level.
Cramer understands the extremes of poverty and wealth. After
graduating from Harvard and finding his journalism career financially
unsustainable, Cramer was homeless and living in his car until he got a
job at American Lawyer magazine and was accepted to Harvard Law School.
“I’m just ashamed,” he says. “I don’t want to say I feel
guilty about the wealth I have. But I’m ashamed that we’ve gotten to
the point in this country where we believe that being poor is just your
own damn fault.”
He acknowledges that perhaps 90 million households in the
U.S.—out of about 110 million—have the resources to take his advice on
the show and invest in the stock market. He says he doesn’t want to
give the impression that trading stocks is an easy way to make money;
he counsels his viewers to spend one hour per week researching every
stock they own.
“If you don’t have time and money, don’t look at me. Go to
some bogus guy,” he says. “For twenty years of my life I only worked
with people who were incredibly rich. Now I can work with people of
much lower economic means and I’m very proud of that. That’s why I like
my life now more than my previous life. But that doesn’t include
He offers people independent advice through what he calls the first example of “one-to-one” journalism.
“The people are right,” he says, after giving a mini-history
lesson about Trotsky and Lenin’s idea of the “lump-in proletariat”—that
the peasants can’t be intellectually independent. “It took me a long
time to realize that the Lenin-Trotsky model was corrupt. That the
institutions that help people are corruptible. But that the people
themselves are just dynamite.”
Cramer calls journalism in particular the most elitist
institution in the world. The new phase of journalism will take place
on the Internet, he says, where journalists will be more of the people.
“The future of journalism will be people who like people, not
people who hate people,” he says, not at all joking. “It’s a new model,
of which I’m the only one who embraces.”
In an hour-and-a-half, Cramer has covered Trotsky, journalism,
and Harvard, and it’s clear as he explains his method that he does not
think in a linear fashion.
“At Thanksgiving he is very, very excited. And there’s a
million things he wants to talk to everyone about,” Cramer’s nephew
Cliff Mason ’07 says a couple of weeks later in the Greenhouse Café.
Mason is Cramer’s source about popular culture and young people in
general, and part of the reason, Cramer says, that his show appeals to
a younger crowd.
“It’s not all about stocks. He says very little about stocks
at family gatherings,” Mason adds. “It’s all about everything. It’ll be
about books, it’ll be about history, politics, whatever’s going on.”
And most of Cramer’s interview focuses on everything but that day’s stock market.
“The purity that I wanted at college I couldn’t attain in the
real life until I had money,” he says, his voice dropping a little. “I
regard 100 percent of my ability to tell the truth and have an impact
on the truth to be because I have money.”
But with wealth, Cramer feels that he is now free to help make the world how he wants it to be rather than accept it as is.
“In my world Bob Cratchit makes out like a bandit,” Cramer
says, referencing Charles’ Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. “He pays for
Tim’s operation, and he’s not beholden to me. And he buys his own
Goddamn fucking turkey. He gets rich. In ‘A Christmas Carol’…he’s just
a beneficiary of Scrooge’s munificence. In my world, he’s Scrooge’s
—Staff writer Katherine M. Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.