When President Ronald Reagan accepted the University’s invitation to come to the Queens, NY, campus in 1985 to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, Chris Ruddy ’87C was waiting in the VIP room in then-Alumni Hall to shake the president’s hand.
“As an undergraduate, I was active in President Reagan’s reelection campaign in 1984,” said Mr. Ruddy. “I worked on the ‘rapid response’ team during that campaign, and a year later I got a call from the White House telling me that President Reagan was willing to meet me during his historic visit to St. John’s.” The college job taught Mr. Ruddy how to field inquiries and learn to quickly respond and communicate with the masses—skills that would help to define the multimedia business he later built.
As the Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Newsmax Media Inc., Mr. Ruddy today presides over the burgeoning success of the media company that includes the news website known as Newsmax.com. The site boasts an estimated 20–30 million monthly visitors and is the third-most viewed political website in the country. Newsmax Magazine has more than 400,000 monthly readers and the company’s cable news channel, Newsmax TV, launched in 2014. Soon to be in 80 million homes, all of the major cable operators have added the popular channel, including Fios in New York, U-verse, DIRECTV, and Spectrum; the addition of Altice is imminent. Mr. Ruddy employs more than 165 people at his headquarters in Boca Raton, FL, and at his office in Manhattan; both places are now mandatory stops for high-level politicians and business influencers looking to reach Newsmax’s vast and growing audience.
Mr. Ruddy founded Newsmax with a $25,000 investment in 1998 from the family of the late William J. Casey ’37L, ’71HON. The tech boom of the late 1990s was followed by a swift and severe collapse. However, Newsmax thrived under Mr. Ruddy’s stewardship because he was able to harness the power of communication in a rapidly moving digital age.
He can trace his affable and natural communication attributes back to his modest childhood on Long Island, NY, where he grew up in a large family as the son of a Nassau County police lieutenant and a homemaker. “In a big family, you learn how to speak up but also how to listen, negotiate, share, and get along with others,” noted Mr. Ruddy, the 12th child in a family of 14 children, who says his management style is collaborative as a result.
When describing his college experience, Mr. Ruddy recalled, “I attended Chaminade High School, a terrific school which has long steered students toward St. John’s.” With acceptances from Columbia University and St. John’s University, Mr. Ruddy chose the latter. “I wanted to be at St. John’s so I could participate in the Honors Program,” said Mr. Ruddy, who was impacted by professors such as John B. Greg, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric, Communication and Theatre, who teaches public speaking and debate, and the now late John J. (Jack) Coffey, Ph.D., Honors Program Director, Associate Professor, and Chair of the Philosophy Department. “The education I received was first-class, the professors were accessible and learned, and I was glad to be part of a big urban campus that had a great student body.”
Mr. Ruddy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1987, graduating summa cum laude, and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He also did stints at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Mr. Ruddy worked as an investigative reporter for the New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is a self-described “news junkie” who reads and watches “just about everything.” His wide-ranging appetite for news from a variety of sources and vantage points is not unlike the company he keeps. He counts current President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton as friends.
“I have an eclectic group of friends and I enjoy different perspectives—always have.” He has known President Trump for more than 20 years and the two are also neighbors at the president’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, FL. “President Trump and I may come from different ends of Hillside Avenue, but I understand the New Yorker in him.”
While the entrepreneur’s successful career now regularly puts him in the company of global business leaders as well as a diverse and bipartisan group of powerful political figures, Mr. Ruddy maintains a gracious and unassuming nature. Newsmax revenues have topped $100 million in recent years, but he remains loyal to his roots and makes giving back to the University a priority.
As a proud and generous supporter of alma mater, Mr. Ruddy was inducted into The Founders Society, which recognizes those who have provided or pledged cumulative gifts of $1 million or more to St. John's during their lifetimes. “The alumni network is very connected in the business world,” he said. “Everything about St. John’s provided a launching pad for my career.”
Having such a central role in the national journalism sphere is something about which Mr. Ruddy is contemplative. He recognizes the importance of the media in today’s society, laments the pervasive decline of print journalism, and is mindful of the echo chamber that often exists in television news.
For Mr. Ruddy, it is important that Newsmax provide in-depth and comprehensive news on diverse topics including politics, finance, health, and even global news. “There is a growing sense in the news media that you simply tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “At Newsmax, we try to break through that.”