Monday, October 4, 2010

Western North Carolina will always be home to Fox Business Anchor Gerri Willis

Western North Carolina will
always be home to Fox
Business anchor Gerri Willis

By James Shea • October 3, 2010

Asheville Citizen Times

Gerri Willis moved away from Western North
Carolina when she was young, but her heart remains
in the mountains.

Willis is a successful journalist in New York City and
hosts “The Willis Report,” a daily business show on
Fox Business Network.

“I have lived a lot of places,” Willis said. “I like
Spruce Pine the most.”

Her family, both on her mom's and dad's sides, trace
their roots back generations in the Spruce Pine area.
Her dad moved to Ohio when she was in elementary
school, but Willis still calls Spruce Pine home.

She recently returned to Spruce Pine and organized
a 75th birthday party for her mother, Betty Conley.
Held at Little Switzerland Inn, the party involved
Willis and her extended family around Spruce Pine.

“She considers Mitchell County her home,” Conley
said. “That makes the people of Spruce Pine happy.”

Getting into the news business

Willis was born in Waynesville but graduated from
high school in Ohio.

She earned a political science degree from Miami
University in Ohio.

After college, she took a job at a small newspaper in
Lima, Ohio, where she covered everything from city
hall to local crime.

Shortly after arriving at the paper in the early '80s, a
local Ford plant announced that it would lay off a
substantial amount of the work force. Willis became
curious and spent a lot of time understanding the
impacts on the local community.

“I realized that the Ford plant would have more
impact than the mayor,” Willis said.

With that epiphany, Willis has focused her career on
business writing. She did a lot of profile writing in
her early years on the people who ran businesses.

“Like a lot of business journalists, I did business
journalism from a feature standpoint,” Willis said.

But Willis sought more knowledge. For example, at
the Ford plant in Lima, she wanted to understand
where and how economics, finance and business
decisions affected people's personal lives.

“I knew it was so meaningful to people and a lot of
people didn't have the knowledge,” Willis said.

Knowing she needed more education, Willis landed
a Knight-Bagehot Fellowship at Columbia University
in New York. The yearlong program teaches
journalists about business, economics and finance.

She stayed in the Big Apple after graduation and
worked at various print publications, including Dow
Jones and Crain's. She eventually landed a position
at CNN, working as a business correspondent.

“It wasn't that different,” Willis said of the transition
to television. “The content is the same, but the
vehicle is different.”

She moved up through the ranks and became co-
anchor of a show called the “Flip Side.” It was a
panel of three women who talked about top stories
of the day.

Willis was then tapped to host a program on CNN
called “Your Bottom Line.” The show explored
personal finance and helped viewers find ways to
save money.
Her own show

Fox Business Network courted her by offering her a
show. In March, the network launched “The Willis
Report,” which focuses on personal finance and
includes discussions with high-profile experts.

“At Fox Business, they have been so nice to me,”
Willis said. “I get to be involved in planning every

She cited Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as an

Willis wants to stay away from the “tick, tock of the
market” and instead help people understand
complex topics. During a recent show, she
interviewed a tea party activist and pressed the
activist of what areas of government the tea party
advocates cutting. Another show took an off-beat
look at the inheritance tax and interviewed a rancher
in Texas and then had a discussion with Steve
Forbes, Grover Norquist and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch,

“We really tap into a wide variety of people, a wide
variety of experts but also regular people,” Willis

The show often ends with a round table discussion
on current events, often discussing nonbusiness-
related topics.

“It's hard to do a whole show just on businesses,”
Willis said.

Conley said Willis was always a shy girl who studied

She always seemed to have her nose in a book but
has blossomed over the years.

“She has worked hard to get where she is,” Conley
said. “We are proud of her.”

Willis is married and lives with her husband, David

She enjoys cooking and gardening in her free time.

“The reason I bought the home was to grow my own
tomatoes, which is just like Western North Carolina,”
Willis said.