One of Canada’s most recognizable financial journalists never planned to be an expert in business. She once wrote the Level 1 Chartered Financial Analyst exam but failed by a hair, “entirely because of bond pricing.”
Amanda Lang’s road to becoming the face of business news at the CBC, where she is senior business correspondent and has hosted The Lang and O’Leary Exchange for nearly five years, was one of apprenticeships. She has made a career strategy of grabbing opportunities as they arise, driven by a what she describes as a craving to keep “learning for a living.”
After growing up in Ottawa and Winnipeg, the youngest in a large family – along with her twin sister Adrian – Ms. Lang studied architecture at the University of Manitoba. She stuck around precisely long enough to earn her bachelor’s degree and a strong conviction that architecture was not for her.
“I was just bad enough at it that I was unwilling to pursue it,” she says over lunch at Kit Kat restaurant, a well-trodden Italian joint in Toronto’s theatre district, around the corner from CBC’s headquarters. “I’m not capable of going and being bad at something.”
Architecture did, at least, give her a certain facility with math. Her first job “as a real journalist” was at the Financial Post, “and my first day on the job was the first day I’d ever read that paper. Literally. It was the first time I’d ever had to think about stocks or stock markets.” The qualities that allowed her to do that – “My willingness to be ignorant was very high” and “I've never been inhibited by wanting to look smart” – have served her well through jobs at CNN and BNN.
Now 43, she calls her career detour “the lucky accident of my life.” As she sees it, coming to business with “no preconceived notions” let her forge the measured, curious but still firmly pro-business stance she adopts on air. To her, businesses are like most collections of individuals: Basically good, but capable of acting very badly. And while she points out misbehaviour when she sees it, she is mystified by the amount of anti-business sentiment she encounters.
“Are people pulled aside in high school and told business is bad?” she exclaims.
This outlook made her a natural match for her long-time co-host Kevin O’Leary. Before lunch arrives, she explains why she thinks the program’s pugilistic format has worked: Mr. O’Leary is brash and unwavering in his capitalist gospel, and her counterpunches are more moderate, nuanced and sensibly sassy. Their sparring yields welcome dissonance on a television dial with no shortage of echo chambers.
But she has seen her fair share of upheaval around her of late, and doesn’t hesitate when asked if she can envision doing the show with a different partner. “Sure. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, there will be a show that isn’t me and Kevin,” she says. “At some point, he’ll move on, I’ll move on – you know, the audience may move on.”
It is mid-July as she ponders this uncertain future from one of Kit Kat’s wooden-slatted booths. Not even a month later, Mr. O’Leary will make good on her prediction, breaking up the duo’s 12-year on-air partnership, which began at BNN, to sign on with Bell Media. There, he announced last week, he’ll contribute to a range of programs, while at the same time deepening his commitments with American network ABC.
Ms. Lang says she met the news with mixed emotions but took it in stride, and it “had a feeling of inevitability.” Yet while Mr. O’Leary is a polarizing figure, his defection marks the loss of another big name for a corporation struggling through budget reductions and 657 job cuts that have pushed familiar faces like Linden MacIntyre and Steve Armitage out the door. CBC plans to shed up to 1,500 more positions over the next five years.
The notion that the country’s public broadcaster is suddenly “on the ropes” or “down and out” is one Ms. Lang disputes, noting the CBC still ultimately has more resources than its foremost private rival, CTV. “It’s a shame that it’s a declining pot, but we’re not going out of business,” she says at lunch.