Wilhelmina CEO Bill Wackermann shares his biggest money mistake — and why he won’t spend a lot on food
The Wilhelmina modeling agency has represented some of the most iconic faces in the entertainment industry, including Whitney Houston, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Nicki Minaj and Henrik Lundqvist. The firm was founded in 1967 by Dutch supermodel Wilhelmina in New York City. Today, it’s worth a reported $30 million and has locations in cities like London, Los Angeles and Miami. The agency became one of the first firms to create a Curve division for fuller figured models.
Bill Wackermann has been its CEO since 2016. Before that, he served as executive vice president and publishing director at Condé Nast, He recently talked with MarketWatch about his spending habits — and his biggest money mistake.
See also: To find models, agents no longer scour shopping malls — they check Instagram
What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever been given?
Two things: If you can’t afford it — if you know the money’s not in the bank — don’t buy it. When I graduated college I got into credit card debt like everybody else and it took me two or three years to get out of it. I maybe had $5,000 [in debt], but the first job I had out of college was teaching English making $21,000 a year. It would have taken me 30 years to pay that off at that salary. I cut up my credit cards, maybe three years out of college, and I’ve only used a debit card ever since. So if it’s not in my bank account, I don’t buy it.
What’ the last great thing you purchased?
They say you always want the car you could never afford when you were in high school, so last year, I bought a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560SL. I drive it twice a year, but I wanted it. I felt like I would have liked to have had it when I was in high school at some point. So I have it.
What do you not mind spending a lot of money on?
I love spending money on travel; good sheets; fashion; clothes; shoes; cashmere sweaters; and family.
What are you a cheapskate about?
Food — and that sounds strange coming from the CEO of a modeling agency. I was just in Norway and I wound up at TGI Fridays and I sat with a friend of mine at the bar and had a pint of beer and mozzarella sticks. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. To me it’s about the place and the people — I won’t spend a lot of money on food.
Biggest money mistake?
Selling too early. When you’re younger and you start making more money you start investing more. I flip houses and I bought this one house [in East Hampton] right before the market crashed in 2008 and it was sort of a multimillion-dollar purchase. Instead of holding it — which I probably could have — I got really nervous and I sold it. I said, ‘I have to sell it; everything is falling apart.’ Now it’s double its value of what I paid for it because it was such a great location and it was the right spot. I kind of knew it in the back of my head, but I haven’t forgotten that lesson: sometimes if you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Sit the market out a little. Unless you really need it to pay your mortgage, it will come back. It may not come back in the exact same time you want, but the market will come back, especially real estate. It was a dumb decision. [I lost] probably $200,000. It’s an expensive lesson.
How do you know when it’s time to make a new career move?
If we really are in tune with ourselves we know when to leave that job — we’re just afraid. I always say, ‘what you fear controls you.’ If fear is your motivating factor you’re not in a good place for your career or your life. So know it, it’s getting in tune with yourself to say, ‘I’m going to get out there, and I’m going to make a change.’ The change may be scary, but I’ve never heard anyone say after that ‘I want to go back.’
Do you ever plan to retire?
I don’t know my kids always say ‘dad we can never see you retiring?’ I think work hours and work flexibility is changing so much today that I like to think I’m doing something I’m passionate about whether that’s making a garden, teaching a class or working a 9 to 5 job; I don’t want to stop.
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