Mihaela Schwartzenberg

Cover Feature. Photography by Marius Baragan.

In an exclusive interview, we meet Mihaela Schwartzenberg in Monte Carlo.

Mihaela Schwartzenberg is a Romanian businesswoman, television host and producer, social activist, bestselling author, and columnist. She is also a goodwill ambassador for United Way Worldwide, Hospice House of Hope, and Save the Children and the founder of the charitable children’s assistance foundation Fundația Ayan. 

Our editor was fortunate enough to meet Mihaela recently at the beautiful Villa Monaco, and instantly knew he would love to feature Mihaela on the cover of Relentless. A strong, successful, influential and glamorous woman, Mihaela oozed the values of our magazine, so we were delighted when she accepted!

Mihaela has been in the public eye her whole career, and her partner no less so, being Felix Baumgartner, the Red Bull athlete who broke the speed of sound in freefall from the stratosphere.

Mihaela’s career has also been stratospheric, embarking on her professional journey upon relocating to Bucharest subsequent to her studies in philology and foreign languages. Her career trajectory has been illustrious, encompassing diverse roles across various sectors.

She commenced her career as a secretary in the inaugural post-revolution government, subsequently assuming the role of a referent at the Office of Foreign Relations and Protocol of the Senate. Mihaela then ascended to the position of head of the cabinet at the Romanian Senate, followed by her tenure as the director of the International Festival Dakino for three editions. Additionally, she served as the director and co-organizer of two editions of the esteemed international model show, ‘Look of the Year.’

Transitioning into the realm of television, Mihaela established herself as a prominent TV host and producer, achieving preeminence with shows such as ‘Duminica in Familie’ (Sunday in the Family) at Antena 1 and ‘Your Lucky Star’ at Pro TV. Notably, she was the first female journalist to produce war documentaries in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006. Throughout her career, Mihaela has contributed her talents to esteemed networks including Tele7ABC, Pro TV, Antena 1, and B1 TV.

Mihaela’s influence extended beyond hosting, as she served as a jury member on Romania’s Got Talent at Pro TV for six years. Additionally, she showcased her versatility as a host for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ on Pro TV and, since 2017, as the host of ‘The Farm’ on the same network. Her contributions to entertainment also include appearances in six Romanian films and voiceover roles in animated movies such as Turbo (2013) and Bolt, where she dubbed the films in Romanian.

Moreover, Mihaela is a prolific author, with five best-selling books published by Polirom Publishing House. She has graced the covers of esteemed magazines including Elle, Marie Claire, Unica, Viva, Cosmopolitan, and now Relentless. Beyond her entertainment endeavors, Mihaela is a dedicated eco-activist, collaborating with organisations such as To.org. Her humanitarian efforts have earned her accolades including the Order of Merit from King Mihai of Romania for her philanthropic campaigns and contributions to public discourse. She has been recognized as Woman of the Year five times for her outstanding philanthropic endeavors and social activism. Mihaela has also received the Tocqueville Award for her charitable donations, primarily benefiting hospitals and children.

Residing in Monaco with her son, Mihaela continues her philanthropic endeavors for Romania, exemplified by her 2020 initiative to establish the first trial unit at Fundeni Hospital Bucharest. Concurrently, she remains active as a TV host for Pro TV, embodying her commitment to both humanitarian causes and her professional pursuits.

James picks up the story with Mihaela…

As both a successful businesswoman and a television personality, how do you balance your professional endeavours with your philanthropic work?

There are many reasons we find ways to succeed, but in my case, it was my childhood. I grew up under the rule of communism, in a small town in Romania and never had any financial help from my family, they were both teachers, wonderful parents, but with no possibility to give me any help to start out other than a healthy education. And I was a dreamer, I wanted to do, and to be so much more. I started having two jobs, as a student and then, one day, after the Revolution transformed my country into a democracy, the chance to work in television came, and this is how I spent 25 years of my life, building a name, a brand, a career, straight to the top. Along the way, doing good for others was not only my favourite thing to do, but the more people and companies trusted my efforts, the easier it became to raise money, to build awareness, to do things which I’m very proud of. When you really want to make the most out of your life, you find the time, the right people, and the meaning. And it’s not just about being well organised and having a strong discipline, to me it was always also about being passionate, loving whatever I was doing. 

Can you share with us the journey that led you to become involved in various philanthropic efforts, such as your role as a goodwill ambassador for organisations like United Way Worldwide and Save the Children?

It all started when my name and my career became strong and trustworthy. The TV shows I was hosting and sometimes produced, were on the top of the ratings for two decades. I started by endorsing other people’s humanitarian campaigns, but I wanted to do more than just offering my name as a guarantee. First, I wanted to learn how this really worked and I discovered soon enough that not every organisation or charity event is doing a clean job, in terms of transparency and the use of the donations. I started to ask more questions before I would offer my help and when the answers were not convincing, I would simply say no. My very first personal donation was to a maternity hospital in my hometown – my brother’s new-born baby died at one day old, because the maternity hospital did not have a specific instrument to save his life. I learned a lot from that personal tragedy, and this was the beginning of my path as an expert in humanitarian campaigns. I wanted to donate to a place that literally let my nephew die, to make sure other kids will never have the same fate. But, instead of just donating money, I went there and made a list of the medical equipment they lacked, and it has been lifesaving. I found the producers, bought exactly what they needed, paid entirely from my own pocket, and delivered.  From that moment on, everything I did for others was professional philanthropy, not just lending a hand. That’s the reason United Way Worldwide and Save the Children Romania wanted to work with me. And it was an honour to work with them on various projects, they are, to this day, the ones I trust the most, the ones doing wonders in Romania.

I was also working for years with the Hospice-House of Hope, offering palliative care – one of the hardest experiences for anyone to have, while visiting these places. There are many humanitarian campaigns  I’ve completed personally, creating and completing them successfully – one of the most famous was the biggest air-bridge ever built – we had a devastating flood in Romania and in one night I called all my friends, my family and the people I was working with on TV, I called all the artists, personalities who would pick up my call and next day I was starting a 3 weeks campaign not only to save people’ lives, but to send them food, water, medication and…to clean the mud from their houses. I mobilised every single commercial and military helicopter available, I contracted 32 big companies to donate what we needed, and everybody helped. I flew sometimes 3 to 4 times a day to make sure everybody got what they needed. I woke up at 5 every morning for 3 weeks, been there day and night, except the days I had to change my rubber boots into high heels, put some make up on and host my TV show. I loved that campaign the most, people came together to help in incredibly beautiful ways. A hell of a lot of good work, with a fantastic team of volunteers (my family and my friends).

Your foundation, Fundația Ayan, focuses on children’s assistance. What inspired you to establish this foundation, and what impact have you seen it make in the lives of children?

This Foundation was born after I became a mother. Of course it has my son’s name, I created it with the hope that one day he will continue to help other people, while being proud of his mom a little. I wanted to help children who are orphans or poor, I wanted to do my part and to help the country I’m coming from, even if my life moved me to Monaco, 17 years ago. My foundation reflects my view on how charity should be done – we are not doing fundraising; we do not ask anyone to donate blindly. We identify a need, we evaluate the real cost, we send a very specific bill, with all the details and anyone who wants to help can do it by directly buying the products and send them to those in need. Not saying that people shouldn’t donate money for charities, but I think it’s only fair to demand a follow up on how the money were spent, specifically. My first action from Monaco to Romania under my Foundation, was a premiere also for the International School of Monaco – a humanitarian trip to help an orphanage in Petrosani, Romania. Most of the charity activities at ISM were about raising money or items to be sent to various countries. I convinced them to let me take 20 students, some teachers, and some parents to Romania, because I knew the value of a first-hand visit, something they’ll never forget and something to inspire them for the future. Again, my Foundation was just the logistic organiser, nobody donated any money. Instead, after talking to those in charge at the orphanage, I made a list of things they needed, and we did it. Until this day, the director of the orphanage is telling me about the monthly help they receive after our visit there, from the very same kids and parents who were there, in person. Nothing beats the personal experience in charity. Anything you can do as a volunteer, anything you can do simply by being there, is priceless and so meaningful. 

As an author and columnist, how do you use your platform to advocate for social causes and raise awareness about issues affecting the major issues in the world today?

Well, there are quite different sides of my public expression! The books I wrote are sort of…my reality escape, I write for the pleasure of building different worlds, mixing real life characters that inspires me with whatever my imagination is up to. All my 4 books were best sellers in Romania, so I finally have the courage to try to swim in a different water, writing my first book in English. I love also working as a columnist, I did it for years in ELLE and other newspapers and magazines, but I try to not use someone else’s space for any personal opinion on politics or social issues. That’s something I do on my social media platforms, IG and X, when it’s important to not stay silent. I don’t try to educate anyone, but to inspire people who follow me to do the same, to speak up against antisemitism, against any irrational hate. I never care about anyone’s religion, I never pointed out mine, I think it’s the last thing we need to know about each other-how we pray or not. This is such a private thing and such an irrelevant thing in every social or personal relationship. So, yes, I am that activist who’s using her quite large social media platforms to fight something that shouldn’t even be discussed. Yet, here we are, watching terrible examples of antisemitism all around the world and nobody should be silent about this, I think. The ones who are antisemites, are also a danger for others and we should all stop them. Here, in Monaco, is one of the very few places in the world where everybody lives in perfect harmony, nobody cares about anyone’s religion, background or skin colour, kids grow up respecting each other and respecting the local traditions, laws, and cultural identity.  And it is so easy to be this civilised and to respectfully adapt to the place you came to live in.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Unfortunately, this comes back to hate and intollerance, a different kind, the kind every public person, everywhere, is experiencing while being on magazine’s covers. My biggest challenge was to find a way to keep doing a very public job and raising a kid. After some attempts to simply visit a park with my son, to eat an ice cream, I realised that it’s never going to happen in a normal way – we were followed by paparazzi everywhere, they were writing horrible things about me after my divorce from my son’s father, it was more than the usual amount of shit you get as a TV celebrity. The scandal newspapers were very in vogue at that time, and I was a preferred target. So, together with my son’s father, which is not just an amazing father, but my best friend in the world, we decided that we can’t raise our son like this, we have to let him grow far from all this. This was my biggest challenge, that was the reason I moved to Monaco and never regretted for one second.  The best thing I did for my son, even if I had to sacrifice a lot of my work, my career, my family and my friends.

In your experience, what are the key qualities that contribute to success in both the business world and the entertainment industry?

After competing in both categories, I can tell you that those are very different worlds – if you want to build a strong business, you better be quiet about it. If you want to build a showbiz career, you better  be vocal and loud. The only things in common are the discipline and the passion for it, as well as the right people in your team. Whenever I had to hire people for my business or for my TV projects in the past, I would always advertise it like this – “looking for people smarter than me”. That was always a good starting point to listen to their arguments, to check the level of humbleness or to find a brilliantly creative mind. 

As a television host and producer, what do you believe is the role of media in promoting social change and addressing societal issues?

Well, that’s a very complicated debate, with many aspects to cover. I would say just this – the mainstream media became more and more of a political tool, due to the concentration of media ownership, hard to find the good guys and the truth, in an ocean of personal interests. That’s the reason people turned so much to X (formerly Twitter), where the chances to find what’s really going on in the world are higher, these days. The social media platforms boom is also dangerous, when you look at how Tiktok is influencing and brainwashing the very young consumers. Still, IG remains a safe space for creative people and entertaining content, but it’s not so easy to address societal issues when the wide majority wants to have fun, dance and look at celebrity’s dresses.  Those in the mainstream media trying to do a decent journalistic job are having financial difficulties if they are too independent, so I don’t have many hopes for the future of this kind of media. Strong voices with their own channels, some good podcasters, big accounts on social media platforms they are more likely to take control of what we will know about the reality we are living in. Also, look around, most of the people don’t really want to know what’s going on in countries they are not connected to in any way, so they don’t consume news at all. Some are on a “positive vibes only” as a daily mantra, you will never make them watch any news channel. New times, new rules for the media game and their consumers. Whoever pays attention to keep up and adapt, will stay in the game, and will probably win. Your magazine, for example, is an act of media bravery – try to take a phone out of anyone’s hand with an IG account and give them a magazine to read. You better hope for an out of WIFI area. But, still, the opportunity to read such a glamour magazine between some fancy photos, to find some connection to reality, some ideas to think about, is worth the effort. I love your magazine for the diversity of people on display and the mix between lifestyle, culture, societal issues subtly inserted and…fun! Life should be all of this. 

Can you discuss any particularly memorable moments from your career and any that have had a significant impact on you personally or professionally?

I am that kind of person grateful for anything good that happened in my life, especially to the people who were right next to me or just recognised for any of my achievements. Everything I built or did was from literally scratch, so allow me to be very proud of myself, in many ways. Like anyone with a similar story should be. Doesn’t mean we are not humble. Being proud of your own achievements, especially after years of hard work and hard times in the process, it is as important as being humble. I received many awards, from 5 times Woman of the Year to all the available awards for my charity work in Romania or my TV shows or my documentary as a war journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the one award I treasure the most in my heart is a Medal of Honour I’ve received from the King Mihai of Romania – one of the most respected and beloved leaders of Romania, which, yes, was once a Kingdom.  He came back to Romania from his exile, after the Revolution and I had the chance to interview him exclusively, for my TV show at that time. A couple of years later, after my campaign for the victims of floods, he granted me with this big honour, as a recognition for my social activism and humanitarian work. I never did it for awards, but, God, this was such a big thing for me.

How do you stay motivated and inspired, both in your professional pursuits and in your philanthropic endeavours?

I think I answer for anyone who can relate to this – you can do extraordinary things professionally, if your heart is in good shape, both in the health and in the love department. I share my life, for the last 10 years and counting, with an extraordinary man, Felix Baumgartner. I don’t need to look further for inspiration and motivation, this man is a definition of this. With his movie-like life and astonishing career, anyone can find energy and inspiration to push any limits, like he did and keeps doing it. In other words, I’m happy. I’m a happy and proud Mom, I am loved and in love, I have some amazing friends who feed me their energy too, but in a good way – I always pay back with the same currency. All these people, along with my family, are my power.

What are your thoughts on the impact of social media on modern society, particularly in relation to your life, your privacy, people’s mental health in general, and its influence on global culture?

I always had a very inconsistent social media behaviour, all-in when I had to promote my work projects, long breaks when I felt like I don’t need to be there. After I decided to focus more on my company and my other projects than doing TV shows, I realised one big truth – life is so much better when nobody knows what you are doing. Something I couldn’t enjoy truly, for a long time, with my constant public job. I think we all learned how to deal with social media, we all made mistakes, when we were too caught up in it, but at the end of the day, it’s everybody’s choice how much they want to put out there about their private life. I think it could be a serious problem just for whoever already has insecurities, that’s when social media can exacerbate an existing condition. Like in everything else in life, balance is everything. Remember the times when people had diaries, but got mad when someone read them? Now we are mad if nobody wants to read whatever we put out there. That’s how much social media changed everyone’s life, business, ways of knowing or disliking people. 

Looking to the future, what are your goals and aspirations, both in terms of your career and your ongoing commitment to social activism and charitable work?

Unlike my humanitarian campaigns or my TV work, where I know exactly what to do, my social activism was more instinctive – I reacted instantly at an enormous amount of antisemitism, which had spread way too far and was too dangerous. I want to focus on this for a while, I want to contribute on reducing this absurd hate. We made it so far as civilisation, we can’t let that painful chapter of history happen again, it’s absurd. The radical Islamists can’t be welcomed in any society, and I truly believe that the moderate Muslims or anyone who understands the danger of an Islamic radicalisation should join this fight. It is not a fight between religions, it is a fight between the good people of this world and the ones who want to destroy it. It’s nothing political to simply ask for the return of the hostages abducted by terrorists, it’s just the normal and human thing to do. For a while, this is the focus of my activism, as well my humanitarian activities, directed to the kids affected by this war in the Middle East.  We all live better when this world is in a peaceful state. Our kids might thank us later for not just enjoying the view, but actually doing something for their future. Sometimes, that little something makes the whole difference. 


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