Media Mogul Wendy Williams on Why She's So Happy She Ignored the Worst Advice She Ever Received
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
If you’re a fan of Wendy Williams, her signature greeting -- “how you doin’?” -- is instantly recognizable. Williams has long been a fixture of the New York media scene, and a constant voice on the radio since the late '80s. She was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009, but once she got her own TV show, her star status skyrocketed.
“This talk show came along at a time in my life where I've lived enough,” the 53 year old told Entrepreneur.
The Wendy Williams Show, which has been on the air since 2008, nets a viewership of 1.7 million people every morning. And while Williams spends five days a week in the studio filming her show, it is far from the only venture she’s juggling. She launched two mobile apps, Wendy Digital, which gives fans access to Williams’s day-to-day life, and Wenmoji, which let users share their feelings via text with more than 100 very expressive cartoon Wendys.
The Emmy-nominated host also has a fashion collection with HSN and oversees a philanthropic organization called the Hunter Foundation with her husband and business partner Kevin Hunter Sr. The foundation focuses on supporting family services, the LGBTQ community and drug rehabilitation and development programs for young people living in inner city communities.
We caught up with Williams to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
1. How do you start your day?
At 5:30 the alarm goes off, and I'm the first one to wake up in the house. I take a fist full of supplements to keep me going and scream for our son to wake up and put the dog outside. I let my husband sleep about maybe a half hour or more. I wake up with the Fox 5 Morning News. I like local news before I care about national.
2. How do you end your day?
TV, definitely. When I’m home, I need my TV on -- not that I’m sitting there watching a specific show, or watching it intensely, but I have to have it on -- and on in every room -- so if I walk into my kitchen from my living room, I can still see what’s going on. It helps me unwind.
And I end my day by sleeping. I'm the worst friend if what you want to do is have face time. I'm the worst. I'm not leaving my house. What I've become, since having this show, is more a phone friend. In my previous life, I used to be more about [face-to-face interaction]. Now you know our son is 16, this show is going into its ninth season. You have to know how to prioritize.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Barron's Profiles of American Colleges, because the possibilities are endless. We had two Barron’s Guides in my house growing up, one upstairs and one downstairs. I have an older sister who is seven years older than me, so she went to college first. I found myself reading through the book in about sixth grade because I was so curious to know all about the different schools I could possibly attend, when it [was] my turn to go to college.
From looking at the population of the towns vs. the number of people who attended the schools, to finding out all details of each school -- pricing, surrounding schools in the area, social life -- it’s really a fantastic guide. The Barron's guide changed my life because it affirmed everything that I wanted [for the future], and I would pore over it.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power. It is not a traditional book you read from cover to cover. It’s a book that you will always come back to when seeking great advice from a different perspective -- whether it be business [or] personal. I’ve had this book for years, and I always find myself going back to it.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
That I have bills to pay and nobody is going to pay them but me. I have a son that I would like to leave a legacy to. If I do all this work -- I've been a broadcaster for over 30 years -- and I have nothing to leave for him, except a bunch of bills, then I failed him as a parent. So my strategy is, get up, get out and get into the groove.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Once I got that Barron's Guide, I wanted to be a newscaster or radio personality. I grew up in New York tri-state area, and so I had the best influences with our New York broadcasters.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
Never tell talent to change their style. In 1988, I was told that by a boss, who happened to be a woman. She called me into her office and she called my style "dinosaur." I cried in her office; I couldn't believe it. I dried my tears in my wig! I immediately went outside, got in my car and called my father. He said Wendy, “just stay true to who you are."
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My husband. We've been together for 20-something years and married for 18. He's my manager; he's my confidant. He's the one person in a situation who can tell me, “take that off, it doesn't look good.” Why would I trust anybody else?
We come into the studio together, we have a son together, we have a life together and a future together. So he is my most trusted person. Everybody else is a “yes” person.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I took a trip with my husband two years ago, where there was not going to be a TV or phone service -- and he knew this. I didn't find out until we got on the plane. I had no book, no magazine. We had to talk the entire time, but you know what? Talk is good.
10. What inspires you?
Making people laugh and bringing the world together. I consider our show the “United Nations” of talk shows. When you look at our crazy audience, you see old and young, you see red, yellow, pink and green people. That is really inspirational.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
I was about 10 and in summer camp. I was really good at making lanyards. The problem is that I was selling them for 50 cents a pop. What I learned from that is don't sell yourself short, because even back in the ‘70s those lanyards were at least worth a dollar.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
I worked in a shop that sold T-shirts, shorts and memorabilia on Asbury Park Boardwalk. This is back in 1980. The owners were older white people, a husband and wife, and they had no problem with saying to me, watch the black people. I have no words for that. You've got some nerve.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
My dad told me choose a career that you never have to call a job, except for some of the time. A job is something arduous.
My mom told me, “Wendy, always have your own money. You have your own bank account. You can share over here, but always have something for yourself over there.” She's a smart cookie.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I've been given a lot of bad advice, and most of it was based on my style of delivery. I don't know where those people are right now, but we're going into season nine.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Nobody's paying my bills, so get up girl, get out of here. You have people relying on you. The buck stops at me. I have staffers who have been here for many years. I have a responsibility, and I take this very seriously. And that responsibility is me and Kevin's -- that's my husband and son. I have a responsibility to this entire building.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
Uber. With kids, it's a game changer. When I was a kid, every time I wanted to go to a friend's house, to the movies or if I had a job on the boardwalk, mom or dad would have to drive me. Now, Uber is on his phone, I don't even have to do it on my phone.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I know how to balance work, if I want to keep my personal life the way it is, which is wonderful and glorious. The way to balance is to have supreme cooperation from those people around you.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I love laying around, swigging out of the orange juice and and watching Judge Judy all day. I'd rather do that, than answer the phone and go out to dinner at 7.
I'm a worker bee right now, because I'm looking at retirement. The way I refuel is by staying in the house and minding my own business.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I pull out my pen and pad, so that anything I think about, I write down. Secondly, I speak with my husband. He is my business partner, and we bounce ideas off each other.
20. What are you learning now?
All money is not good money. Just because somebody wants you to do something, doesn't mean you need to do it. What are you going to do with a billion dollars?
I've got a limit -- even to staying on TV on a regular basis. I love being here, but I'm not that girl who needs to work until she's 70 years old. I want to retire young, honey. I want a convertible and I want to keep moisturizing and I want to enjoy, my life, my family and I want to go [more] into philanthropy.
[The show is wonderful] but I would rather leave, than be kicked out. I don't want to get cancelled. I would like to say, "ladies and gentlemen, today is the last day of the show." But in the meantime it's a really heady ride. This is a whole lot of fun and I've really enjoyed every glamorous, ridiculous moment of it.
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