Even winning a million dollars in CNBC’s Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge couldn’t persuade waitress Mary Sue Williams to either quit the job she’s held for 20 years or to play the stock market — this time with real money.
“I’m still going to work,” Williams, 46, said on TODAY Monday. “You have to. I’m not going to invest. I learned in this contest it’s too high-risk.”
The mother of two from the small Ohio town of Clairsville, set in the Appalachian hills not far from Wheeling, W. Va., appeared nervous in what she said was her first-ever trip to New York. In her introduction, TODAY host Meredith Vieira had called her “the American Idol of stock challenges.”
More than 375,000 people entered the CNBC challenge, which carried a single prize — a cool million for the winner. The contest ended on July 8, and along the way CNBC disqualified a number of contestants who were found to be not playing fair.
Many of the contestants were professional traders with Ivy League business degrees. Williams, who has applied unsuccessfully several times to be a contestant on the reality show “Survivor,” is a former welder-turned-waitress who had never owned a stock in her life.
She and her husband, a cook at a local Denny’s, had entered the contest separately at the urging of Williams’ mother-in-law, Lauretta Williams, who has some long-term stock investments and is a dedicated viewer of CNBC. Her husband, Mark, was eliminated early, but Williams ended up beating everyone.
She bought what she buys
Taking a page from Warren Buffet’s book, Williams invested in companies that made products with which she is familiar, such as WD-40. She used the Web site earnings.com as a reference.
“I looked at different companies that had either no debt or money on hand,” she said. “I picked one company for each day of the contest.”
When a CNBC representative showed up, Ed McMahon-like, at her door with a big check for a million dollars, Williams, clad in a bathrobe, “was very surprised; very, very surprised.”
She has two daughters, Sarah, 13, who will be a freshman in high school, and Jenni, 19, who is a nursing student at Kent State University in Ohio.
Williams said her winnings will be used to pay for her daughters’ education.
So, she was asked, can she give the nation a stock tip?
“No,” she said almost apologetically, “I can’t.”