I talk with Facebook ‘Returning the Favor’ series host, television star, voiceover artist, author and philanthropist Mike Rowe about work, money and stealing clothes [classic article]

As first seen in GI Money magazine

Mike Rowe, is so busy that even showering became part of his work – back in the day when he did Discovery’s Dirty Jobs, a concept he created.  As his main website (www.mikerowe.com ) puts it, he transformed cable television “into a landscape of swamps, sewers, ice roads, coal mines, oil derricks, crab boats, hillbillies, and lumberjack camps.” He’s narrated hundreds of documentaries about “space, nature, war, serial killers, hurricanes, dinosaurs and how stuff works.” Mike’s also filmed commercials for many of America’s favorite brands, including Ford.

Mike’s just-shy of a million television viewers broke series premiere records with Somebody’s Gotta Do It. He has 5 million Facebook followers.

It’s not all about him, though: he founded mikeroweWORKS (www.mikeroweWORKS.com ), a foundation dedicated to promoting skilled trades and raising scholarship money to help people learn them. In 2011, he testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee about the importance of changing perceptions and stereotypes around blue-collar work. Last year, Mike and Caterpillar worked together to launch PROFOUNDLY DISCONNECTED, a new initiative focused on technical recruitment as well as the book Profoundly Disconnected®, A True Confession From Mike Rowe available at www.profoundlydisconnected.com

Speaking to him on the phone, it was hard at first to shake the sense of talking to the tv with his familiar voice. But, Mike’s utterly down-to-earth and sharp as a razor . . . even before his morning coffee. 

How do we get the message out in a non-patronizing way that we need more shoe repairers and fewer English majors?

You have to find all the people in those industries and shine a big, bright light on them. That’s kind of what I learned doing Dirty Jobs for 10 years. On Somebody’s Gotta Do It, we target a few of the industries. They need better PR, that’s for sure.

Like a spokesperson?

I don’t think a spokesperson is the answer. In this age of social media, in 2014, we have to find a more credible way to connect the dots. I know a guy, he won a scholarship from us. He was 22. He now makes $180,000, makes his own hours, paid cash for his house, just had his 2’d kid, has no debt. It’s kind of like in the military: who would you rather listen to about joining – a recruiter or a satisfied (member of the service)?

What’s your take on the Horatio Alger stories? Do they need to be brought back? Can everyone bootstrap themselves in this country?

I don’t think any sentence that includes “everyone” or “anyone” is enabled is helpful. It’s tempting. Parents and teachers want the recipe for success. There are elements of Horatio Alger I love. It’s empowering. But people get confused, linking Horatio Alger with ambition. It’s a mistake when we say, “Follow your dreams, follow your passion.” Success and happiness is a journey. A big Dirty Jobs lesson was that lots of people never imagined or dreamed that they would do what they do. They were not previously passionate about it. Your dreams are functional! You always have a choice. You have to be happy regardless of what you’re doing. If you can take a shit sandwich in life and make it go down, that’s where you get your happiness.

You’ve advised people that they may need to relocate for a job. There are some people sleeping in tents in the Dakotas, etc. What, if any, responsibility do corporations have to ease the effects of the real estate market for their workers without creating company towns?

I wouldn’t say that the corporations have responsibility for housing, but it’s just plain good business. If I’m trying to attract the best and brightest, being able to live is fundamental! We have to do things for a bigger reason than avoiding corporate malfeasance. But it’s weird that this country is becoming less mobile than it used to be. We’re the people who were pioneers, who settled the West!

You’re a smartass. How much of your personality have you shown to potential employers?

My industry is odd. If you have a steady job in media, you need to be responsible for your brand. I’ve worked for every major network and cable channel, but I consider myself a freelancer now. I don’t work for CNN.  I don’t work for Discovery.  I work for the people who watch me. I was very candid when I spoke to CNN. But Jeff Zucker was the new president of CNN a year and a half ago. He came up to me in a restaurant in New York and told me he wanted me on CNN! I nearly spit in my soup. I asked him, “Why the hell would I go on CNN? It’s a news channel and I hate the 24 hour news cycle.” When I met with the people at CNN, they said they would be my family. I told them I have a family of my own! I told them all I needed was one hour a week, jet fuel and a crew. I wasn’t nervous. When you are nervous at a job interview, 9 out of 10 times you should be: you might actually get it!

You (were the new star of a network) that laid off 300 of your colleagues (today). Does that weigh on you?

Yup. I used to just work for myself, you eat what you kill. But I realize that now I have a crew of 20 people who depend on me for their livelihood and God knows how many network people . . . if it didn’t weigh on me, I’d be a schmuck.

Have you had any family or loved ones serve in the military?

Sure. My dad was in Korea and my uncles were in Vietnam. Everybody on both sides served. Both my grandparents served in the Big War. My younger brother was in the Army. First and foremost, I’m a fan.

You spend a lot of time on the road. Do you have any thing that you do or bring to make being away feel like home?

Yeah. I’m on the road 300 days a year. The first couple of years, I really struggled with it; I wasn’t getting anything done. Now when I travel, I take my laptop and Kindle. As long I have a fully charged laptop, I can work 6 hours on a flight. If it’s not charged for some reason, I can read my Kindle and I love that.

What’s a splurge for you?

I’m looking at an overstuffed leather chair, it faces the Golden Gate Bridge out my window. On the right is a fireplace and on the left is a table with a bottle of really good wine and a little rye. On the table are books by John MacDonald. While I read, the dog licks my toes and occasionally, the girl feeds me grapes. It’s very Roman!

What’s a waste of money to you?

I’m kinda cheap, or as my dad says, “thrifty”. I don’t own much at all. I’ve lived in the same apartment for 15 years, it’s something like 1,400 square feet. It’s in a modest building. I haven’t bought a piece of clothing in 10 years! I have wardrobes at CNN: khakis, t-shirts. I take ‘em! I think I stole all of them. They know it. I would never buy a new car. I never had any debt; I get that from my dad. The only four-letter word that was forbidden was “debt”. I went to (what was Essex) community college. How could I beat that, at $24 a credit?





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