Rico Hizon: News Anchoring With Heart

BBC World News anchor and broadcast journalist Rico Hizon ON the importance of hard work, preparedness, teamwork and the power of perseverance.

If it’s 5pm in Makati and a respected BBC news anchor says he’s available to chat at 6, you don’t order a Starbucks and put your feet up. You frantically open UBER and pray the roads are clear of traffic. 5pm is the beginning of rush hour. Throw in an impromptu political rally, and you’re looking at the better part of the evening sandwiched between unmoving cars.

I wrangle a ride to meet BBC World News anchor Rico Hizon who has graciously agreed to an interview. To my astonishment, I’m way early. I text him. “Are you downstairs already?” he replies. Either he’s impressed with my enthusiasm or is amazed at the traffic situation. Or both.

Rico is the award-winning news anchor of Asia Business Report, the BBC World News´ daily business and finance program. He also co-hosts the general news-based show Newsday live from Singapore (with a co-presenter in London), every weekday morning.

Rico Hizon in studio

His is a very distinguished career. He cut his teeth with Manila-based GMA News before joining the international news scene with CNBC where he was the main anchor of the morning edition of CNBC Today, Squawk Box, Market Watch and Power Lunch. He later joined the BBC in 2003 where his lively and charming screen-presence, coupled with his daily incisive look at the news and current affairs, currently engage more than 400 million households worldwide.

In addition to his analysis of news and finance, Rico has also interviewed a bevy of international personalities in the financial, political, entertainment and sporting worlds. From Microsoft´s Bill Gates, Virgin´s Sir Richard Branson, Former US President Bill Clinton, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, to Football World Champion PELE, World Boxing Champion Manny Pacquiao, NBA Superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, to Hollywood stars Jamie Foxx, Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler – to name just a few – he’s interviewed a compelling who’s who of the world’s most influential people.

In more than 25 years as a broadcast journalist Rico Hizon is the only South East Asian male anchor to work for two of the world’s most prestigious global news networks: CNBC Business News and BBC World News. He’s the only Filipino anchor at the BBC.

And yet, despite the achievements and accolades (he recently received the Highly Commended Award in the Best News Anchor category at the 2014 Asian Television Awards, Broadcast Journalist of Year from the Rotary Club of Manila in 2012, on top of several other major honors) Rico is a very down-to-earth man, a regular guy who just happens to really love his job. “Even though I’ve been working for the BBC for the past 13 years,” he admits, “every day I still believe that I’m living a dream.”

This is why I wanted to interview Rico Hizon. His seat in the rarified atmosphere of international broadcast journalism hasn’t clouded his thinking. If anything, it’s just intensified his passion and humility. You can see it in his work; whether he’s hosting his show or interviewing public figures, he’s genuinely happy and delighted with what he does.

He’s also accessible, gracious, and very giving. When answering some of my questions, he’ll somehow tie it back to his craft and the people he works with, giving advice along the way, like a sagely uncle who has your best interests at heart. Frankly, he’s the kind of successful yet humble Pinoy we all aspire to be.

We sit down in a small café after a long day and a waiter pours us cool water. “Tomorrow we’ll be at a rally of a Presidential Candidate in Navotas,” Rico says. “Then on Thursday we’ll start cutting the packages, writing and editing.” He ponders his workload and smiles, happy to have spare time. “Now we’re back here early, let’s take advantage of it!”

You’re an accomplished Filipino journalist working for the greatest news corporation in the world, with a massive global following on TV and social media. With all the recognition, pressures, demands and rewards, what keeps you sane and grounded?

It’s really the love for my job. I’m always prepared every day; I do my homework. It’s like I’m going to school every day. I’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years but it’s a constant learning process. I’ll never tell anybody that I know everything about business, about global news or general news because it’s a very fluid situation. I learn from my guests, editors and colleagues. It’s a team effort.

Rico Hizon promo shot

It also helps to always look back at where you came from, your beginnings, where you started. You can never take anything for granted in this business.

I have a very grounded family. My wife, my dad always remind me that we have to remain simple and humble. Each day is important and we have to always be productive.

I love news and very passionate about it. It’s in my blood. I breathe, eat, and live it. Not everybody gets the opportunity to work with the largest and most prestigious news organization in the world. I continue to live a dream. Every program I anchor, I give it 100%. I’m always enthusiastic and energetic. I love what I do!

The joy you have makes it fresh every day.

Yes. I always look forward to a new day and of course, being a Filipino, and being the only Filipino news anchor in BBC World News, when I sit on the anchor’s chair, it’s like I’m constantly raising the Filipino flag. I’m proud to be a Filipino on the BBC.

You have interviewed some major heavyweights throughout your career: Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, US President Bill Clinton, to name just a few. Walk us through the interview process and how you make the most of these special meetings.

What’s really important is you have to do your homework. Do your research. Keep yourself abreast with the latest developments from politics, business, sport and entertainment. It’s always good to be prepared.

Up to now I still read broadsheets, from the front page, all the way to the back page; I try not to miss a beat. I also like reading the opinion pages so I get a different perspective on various issues and cover all potential angles of a story.

When doing your research try as well to find out the likes and dislikes of your guests. These factors will get you ready for any interview, and when you face your guest – you have to listen to their answers, so you’re ready for follow-up comments or questions.

You’ve got to set the tone.

All your background checks, will surely set the mood and tone for the interview.

Do you still get star-struck?

Yes, I do because these are the personalities I read about, watch regularly on TV and in the movies. I admire them for their achievements and body of work.

Was there a formative experience that crystallized, in your mind, the idea that you would be a broadcast journalist?

I was around 11 years old in grade 5. My late mom watches the news regularly and I would sit beside her and admire the TV correspondents reporting from various sites. There were times I would hold a mic in front the TV screen and mimic the reporters.

After that I joined public speaking competitions – from oratorical contests, extemporaneous speaking, interpretive reading contests. This is where I really received an early training course to speak in front of an audience.

But starting out in broadcasting was no easy task. It was very challenging.

I just didn’t become a news anchor after graduating from De La Salle University. I really started from the trenches, from the bottom. Even though I wanted to be a reporter there wasn’t really much opportunity initially.

So with no reportorial openings, I decided to work my way up, learned the whole system from my colleagues in a local TV station. I made coffee for the anchors, wrote and printed scripts, edited reports of correspondents, drove the news car – and the list goes on. I learned the ropes of the news trade. I’m proud of what I did and this served as the foundation of who I am now.

You understood the value of that because you had your eyes on the prize.

That’s right. Despite the challenges and potholes along the way, I never gave up on my dream and persevered. My goal was to become a reporter and then a news anchor. The big bonus was to be an international news anchor.

Any heroes? Any particular broadcast journalists that you looked up to?

I only had a few heroes. One of them was my mentor – veteran broadcast journalist Atty. Dong Puno. I was the segment producer and reporter of his public affairs program and he gave me my first break to co-host a business program called Business Today which he fronted. I would attribute my success to Atty. Puno because he gave me very important advice – salient points on how to conduct interviews and how to present myself on camera.

He would always tell me to love my craft, be passionate about it, just continue to dream, and with your abilities, you can really go far.

I also admired the style of veteran TV news anchors from Bong Lapira to Bon Vibar and Harry Gasser.

Besides Atty. Dong Puno, who else has mentored you and what kind of influence have they had?

My dad was also a mentor. He would always tell me that whenever you’re in your job, you always have to take it seriously, you have to be disciplined. You cannot take it for granted, but on the other hand you must also have fun. Those were some of main values that he taught me. He was a disciplinarian, and he would always tell me, “take it to heart and give it your all.” He’s a self-made man and he really also started from scratch. That’s what he did, he never gave up.

It sounds like a lot of his influence was in the way he lived and you observing that.

Yes, watching him, what he did with the business (my dad’s in the real estate sector), and also being the patriarch of the family as well.

Rico Hizon reporting on the street

How can one be a positive influence when given the opportunity to guide and mentor others?

At work, always be there for your colleagues. A program’s success is not just about the news anchor, but a whole team effort. Be open and approachable in the newsroom. If you need my views and opinion on certain issues – I’m there for you.

I always try to be a positive influence within the newsroom. Be happy and accessible. It makes people comfortable.

How important is failure in one’s journey?

You really have to fail in order to succeed. Right now I’m trying to be a mentor to my 11 year old son. I tell him that it’s important that you study hard and be respectful of elders. These are the building blocks to becoming a successful individual.

If you fail, never give up and keep on fighting to be a better person. There’s always room for improvement in everything that you do in life.

I’ve had many failures in the past but I will never let that pull me down because I know that in failure I will learn many more lessons to make me a better journalist, a better family man, a better person, and a better colleague overall. I believe that when a door closes, there will be another one that opens. Another opportunity.

God is good. He’s always there to help us and back us up. He’s never there to put us down. You have to have faith – there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Keep that upbeat outlook in life.

So far what’s been your most memorable news moment?

There have been quite a few. One-on-one interviews with former US President Bill Clinton, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad also sports superstars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Hollywood celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Steven Tyler.

They were memorable because these personalities had characteristics that I admire in people: passionate, down to earth, selfless, sincere with their goals and ambitions to help people, reform-minded, and dedicated to their work.

I love my job!

These days news travels at hyper-speed online. But not all reports are trustworthy. How can the average person exercise discernment when evaluating online news?

There are a lot of citizen journalists out there, a lot of bloggers, and some of them share or upload news without double checking or triple checking their sources. That is what we’re really proud of at the BBC, we know that the news we broadcast or upload online is factual. It’s not sensationalized, it’s not skewed, it’s confirmed and reliable news.

So would you encourage people to rely on the established networks for news?

Absolutely. You really have to be discerning because right now on social media there are so many unreliable news sources. So be discerning and only follow the respected news organizations for balanced, fair and unbiased news.

Rico Hizon, correspondent

You’re proudly Filipino. As you look at the Philippines’ growth and progress, particularly in the past 10 years, what do you think we as citizens need to do to keep moving the nation – and our countrymen – forward?

We need to keep believing in ourselves and be confident in our abilities. The Philippines is full of talented people. Filipinos are world-class exceling in many sectors such as technology, media, hospitality and services, banking and finance.

Whenever I travel and hear comments like, “Oh it’s lovely to work with Filipinos” or “We want to hire more Filipinos”, I feel so proud. I say yeah, that’s true, and you can find many more of us in the Philippines.

We don’t have to write or brag to the world about it because our actions, our attitude, our performance will speak for themselves.

If you could time-travel and cover a bygone yet historically significant event, what would it be?

Time Tunnel was one of my favorite TV shows back in the 1980’s. If I could go back in time… there would be several centuries I’d like to go back to and report on.

I’m a lover of art, so I would go back to the Renaissance period and would want to meet Leonardo da Vinci, and ask him who was his real inspiration for the Mona Lisa. Michaelangelo would be another interesting person to speak to and know about the difficulties he had painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and sculpting the Pieta and the statue of David.

I’d like to time-travel to the time of Shakespeare. This year, we’re honoring his 400th death anniversary. Would love to interview one of the greatest writers of all time and ask him about his inspiration for writing Romeo and Juliet and Othello.

18th century Philippines is a time I’d like to visit and personally meet our national hero Jose Rizal and ask him, if he had ambitions of becoming the President of the Republic.

What would be your advice to a new generation of Filipinos looking to make their mark in this world, whether it’s in journalism or any other field?

The most important thing is patience, perseverance and being a team-person. There will be a lot of ups and downs, especially when you’re looking for a job. It’s a very competitive world out there right now. So many graduates, competing for only a handful of really good jobs. So in college you really have to do your best. Don’t take your studies and school activities for granted. When you’re out looking for employment, your college records matter. If you’re turned down the first time, try again and try again. You should never give up on your dreams.

But what’s most important is when you’ve already succeeded to always keep your feet on the ground, look back and thank the people who have helped you in your journey to success.

Success is not only about you, but your colleagues who helped you achieve your goals. Remember, to always keep yourself grounded and keep reaching for the stars.

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