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Alex Cullen
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Michael Everson

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ALEX CULLEN A business student’s clever video gets the attention of producers at CNBC show Mad Money.
 
Really, it was fate that brought Jim Cramer and his CNBC show Mad Money to The University of Iowa in November.
 
Fate that UI senior Alex Cullen would stumble on the show one night three years ago. Fate that Cullen, who really didn’t know what career he wanted to pursue at the time, would be so taken in that he decided to make his living in finance. Fate that a genetic predisposition for premature baldness would leave him looking strikingly like the show’s host.
 
And so the fates conspired, and on Nov. 12, hundreds of thousands of people across the country tuned into Cramer’s nightly CNBC show to see his take on the day’s business news in front of 1,400 screaming fans at the Iowa Memorial Union Main Lounge.
 
“I thought, ‘why not Iowa?’” Cullen says. For Cullen, Cramer is as much a muse as a financial guru and media celebrity.
 
Cullen, a senior in the Tippie College of Business from Downers Grove, Ill., figured he would pursue a career in business somehow. Both his parents were in business, and so it seemed to make sense.
 
He came to Iowa to major in business, unsure of his exact career path, until that day he saw Mad Money on TV for the first time. The show is known for its yelling, button-pounding, chair-throwing, bobblehead-decapitating, Steadicam-baiting, “boo-yah”-shouting host, Jim Cramer. A financial expert and former hedge fund manager, Cramer is also known for his honest, sometimes iconoclastic and frequently controversial views on investment markets.
 
“Cramer’s crazy antics caught my attention and got me interested in the markets,” Cullen says. “He helped me change my focus from not really knowing what I wanted to do, to knowing that I wanted a career in finance. I hoped to bring him here to meet him, and also to help bring some visibility to the University.”
 
Cullen decided he wanted Iowa to become a stop on the show’s annual college tour. The show makes several stops each year at college and university campuses across the country, each with the atmosphere of a football game, with yelling, screaming, and pom-poms that match (and, in some cases, further amp up) the already high energy level of the host.
 
The first step was to produce a video, so Cullen enlisted the help of the Financial Management Association student group, of which he’s president, and put together a storyline.
 
“The show is creative, different, and interesting, so I knew that what would appeal to them had to be creative, different, and interesting, as well,” Cullen says.
 
The video, “Road to the Mad House,” is, indeed, all of those things. The video riffs off the theme “Cramer is running for president” and features Cullen as Jim Cramer, his face goateed and his balding head shaved into a horseshoe pattern so that he bears a striking resemblance to the host.
 
Co-produced and directed with UI film student Steve Healey, the 15-minute video features Cullen’s Cramer on the steps of Old Capitol, extolling the virtues of The University of Iowa while exhorting the crowd to make him the president of the United States of Cramerica.
 
The video won over Mad Money’s producers and the wheels were set in motion for the November broadcast.
 
The evening proved to be a huge success, with UI mascot Herky, the cheerleaders, and a room full of “boo-yah”-shouting fans. Cramer answered questions about insurance companies (stay away from them), John Deere (tough sledding in the short run, but the company’s future is bright, so hang on to the stock), and the government bailout of investment banks, automakers, and other big companies that are drowning in debt (he’s philosophically opposed, but it’s necessary for the strength of the economy).
 
Back at CNBC’s New Jersey studios the next night, Cramer praised the Iowa crowd and said UI students should be proud to go to Iowa (and their parents should be proud to send them there). He even name-checked Cullen during one segment, thanking him for pointing out that one of Barack Obama’s economic stimulus proposals was to let investors make early withdrawals from their 401(k) accounts without penalty. Cramer had not heard about the proposal until Cullen brought it up and said that if it becomes law, it would increase the financial pain on already-beleaguered insurance companies that manage retirement accounts.
 
Curt Hunter, dean of the Tippie College of Business, praised Cullen for his hard work and his vision.
 
“He really took this initiative by himself and displayed great ingenuity, creativity, and leadership,” Hunter says. “It’s a demonstration of everything we hope for in the students we educate at the Tippie College, and we’re grateful to him for his hard work.”
 
The video that Cullen submitted to Mad Money producers can be found on YouTube in two parts:

Story by Tom Snee; Photos by Tim Schoon

January 5, 2009