W.O.W! Working Out With The Men of Wilhelmina




Bill Wackermann is the CEO of Wilhelmina International Inc, having recently taken the helm at the famed modeling agency at the end of January. Although our paths had not crossed previously, Bill and I have common bond, having both spent many years at Condé Nast – he on the business side, most recently as the publisher of Condé Nast Traveler and Glamour, and me on the editorial side at Allure, Womens Sports & Fitness and Self.

Bill is someone who clearly takes his workouts very seriously–not just for the physical benefits, but also the spiritual ones. For this installment of W.O.W, we decided to try something new, a workout neither one of us had done before. Imagine my disappointment (not!), when Bill’s publicist asked if he could bring along two of Wilhelmina’s male models to join us — especially when I checked out the portfolios of CJ Koegel and Chris Ryan. All I can say is these are the days when I really do love my job.

We met up early Monday morning to check out the Flex 90 class at Flex Studios, a jam-packed 90-minute combo of TRX, Barre, and Pilates (30 minutes each). Taught by Jessica Cadden Osborne, coincidentally a Wilhelmina fitness model herself who we featured last summer in a SUP Yoga story, she put us all through our paces in one relentless, supercharged workout.



While we both spend a lot of time working out, TRX, Barre, and Pilates are workouts you can’t fake your way through. On their own, they’re challenging enough, but together they are a brutal. They force you to use those little muscles that the big ones usually compensate for — in addition to a whole lot of core. Bill and I had our fitness put to the test, and I’m proud to say we held our own against the young studs. We chatted the next day about the workout, his new job, and how his approach to fitness is very much in tune with his philosophy on professional success:

Bill Wackermann: Hi! My butt hurts!

SOS: I was just going to ask if you were sore,

BW: How are you?

SOS: I’m sore. I don’t normally do this kind of stuff. I feel it in weird places, like under my rib cage and in my hip flexors… you know, the muscles you never use. I thought that workout was amazing.

BW: I thought we kicked ass considering we were with two professional fitness models! I thought we did great!

SOS: I know! I wanted to talk to you about that. I don’t know how old you are, but I just turned 51.

BW: I just turned 48 on February 7th.

SOS: It feels good to be in shape and be able to keep up with the kids don’t you think?

BW: It definitely does (laughs)… although it’s definitely getting harder.

SOS: For me and for you, we’re both in a business where you’ve got to look good. You’re the head of a major modeling agency and a company filled with beautiful people. Is there pressure for you?

BW: I’m kind of humbled to work in the company that I get to keep, and yes, I’m surrounded by beautiful faces, but I don’t know if I personally feel that pressure. I think what they want in a CEO is someone who can help create opportunities for their careers and bring value to the shareholders. I hope I can do that with a little bit of style (laughs), but I don’t know if that’s a prerequisite for my job.

SOS: You’re obviously in great shape. What’s your normal fitness routine? You were telling me it’s different depending on the seasons.

BW: I think the most important thing is knowing your body type. For my body type it’s hard to put muscle on and so I like lean muscle. I have this image in my head as I get older of the 22-year old surfer. That’s my body inspiration. I want to be lean and strong and fit, but do it in a way that feels right for my body type. I do a lot of weights. I lift because I think it keeps the muscles strong. And I do a lot of cardio, Crossfit and Barry’s Bootcamp — things that spice up your routine a little bit and create some muscle disruption so your body doesn’t get used to the workout.


SOS: I do find as I get older that I have to shake it up. Something that got me into crazy shape before, my body gets used to and I have to find something else.

BW: And as I get older I love going to the gym but I don’t want just a gym body. I want to feel strong. I want to feel fit. I want to feel healthy.

SOS: Well, I think that’s become a trend, too. If someone is telling me they’re going to the gym and just lifting weights, I think to myself, ‘Why? What’s the point of that?’ For me it’s about functional movement, and being in shape so that you can jump into a crazy class like the one we just did.

BW: And survive!

SOS: Yeah… hold your own! Do you play any sports?

BW: I do. I play tennis. My partner and I are both tennis players and our two favorite things to do in the summer out in East Hampton are play tennis and then go to our favorite restaurant, this place called CittaNuova, sit at the bar, watch tennis, and have a beer. It’s not really a health routine, but it’s still my favorite thing. You’re playing tennis, you’re watching tennis, and then you’re enjoying why you exercise, right?

SOS: Absolutely!

BW: For me the ability to have a couple beers, to have some pasta if you want it, is why I exercise — so I can enjoy those things and lead the best life I can have. Not so I can starve myself.

SOS: I agree with you 100%. Life is too short. No one is saying go out and pound beers, but if there are things you enjoy, just balance it out on the other side.

BW: Everything in moderation

SOS: Talk to me about your diet.

BW: I have the palette of a 14-year-old boy. Literally if there were a Happy Meal I would eat it, but I try to eat cleanly and lean. That changes though. During the winter you allow yourself to have that bread at the dinner table. You’ve got that sweater and overcoat you can hide in. Then as the seasons change, I start limiting the goodies and really eating as cleanly as possible, and that really starts now. I’m a huge cookie eater. If there is one guilty pleasure I have it’s Italian bakery cookies, the ones you get downtown at Venieros on the Lower East Side. I literally have no ability to say no. For sure that’s my weakness… and bread. The Panera around the corner from our office is like Needle Park. I find every excuse to go have a tomato soup with piece of bread and I think it’s really the bread that I want.

SOS: Listen, if I could just have wine and bread for dinner I’d be very happy. It sounds like you’re living a healthy life though. Enjoying the good stuff, but doing what you need to do to be lean and fit and feel good.

BW: Working at this job at Wilhelmina and at my previous job at Conde Nast, there are so many young people who just talk about diet. In my experience people are so abstemious. They deny themselves all of this stuff and then they go on a cleanse with lemons and cayenne pepper. I think a healthy diet really is the key to everything. While exercise is incredible, an hour on the treadmill is only going to be 400-500 calories. That’s like one candy bar.

SOS: I think any trainer will actually tell you that diet is more important than exercise. You can work out as much as you want, but if you’ve got a layer of fat, it’s not going to show up.


BW: People say ‘I’m not really eating that much. I’m not going to have lunch,’ but then they have this huge Frappuccino latte, or whatever it is, and that’s like 1200 calories. I think if you cut that out you’d find that staying in shape and staying fit is much more manageable.

SOS: Your body goes into starvation mode then too, and keeps weight on. It doesn’t burn calories, it saves them because it thinks, ‘If she’s not going to feed me I better hang on to this fat.’ If you’re denying yourself bread all the time, all you are going to do is want bread and then you’re going to eat the whole bread basket.

BW: How about you? What’s your approach?

SOS: It’s a lot of similar stuff. I’m someone that always used to diet and I was much heavier. I’ll tell you what changed it around for me mentally, because food had taken on these mythological proportions, was running my first NYC Marathon. When you are training for a marathon, food becomes your fuel. You have to have carbohydrates. And so when food becomes your friend, it loses its allure as this forbidden thing. You really learn how to feed yourself, how to fuel yourself. That completely changed my relationship with food, so I just started eating more normally. Really, it’s what you were saying, everything in moderation. If I want to have a piece of bread, I have a piece of bread. I don’t have ten pieces of bread. And that’s the key. But I know if I’ve gone out and had wine at dinner—and drinking is what puts weight on really quickly for me— I’ve got to wake up and go do some serious cardio. And then, you know, it’s done.

BW: Yeah, exactly.

SOS: Let’s talk a little about fitness, not just for the body, but mentally. For me, working out first thing in the morning is what gets my brain going. I really can’t function without it. I wonder how working out helps with your new job and your career.

BW: For me it’s as vital a part of my mental health and my life as eating is, as relationships are. There is a sense of vanity I’m not denying that’s there, but for me fitness is really not about the external part. While that’s a benefit, it’s about mental health for me. If I haven’t worked out in a couple days I feel it. I feel the stress level rise. All the clichés that are out there about the endorphins and mental health benefits have been really true for me.

SOS: I can’t go a day without it.

BW: I wake up in the morning and I have a routine. I take the dog out for a walk and I’m in the gym by 6:30 to get a good full hour in. If I’m having a stressful day, I will go back to the gym, not because I’m thinking about what I ate for lunch, but because I’ll just do a half hour of cardio and it will take me down. I’ll work through whatever those issues were that I was stressed about and it puts me back in balance. Its almost like it resets the clock a little bit. When you tell people you do two-a-days the impression they get is that it’s strictly a vanity play, but that’s really not even entering my mind. I think of going to the gym, whether it’s going with my partner, Mark, or by myself, as a treat for myself. You know everyone chooses their religion. You can go to a house of worship and pray and have that quiet time, but the gym is also a place for people to go and reflect on themselves. There’s a peacefulness that’s attached to it.

SOS: I think when you have that attitude, it’s easier to be fit because you’re not working out because you have to, but because you want to. The boutique fitness industry has opened up so many workout options. The key is if you find something you love, you’re going to get in shape – not because you have to do it, not because someone is making you do it, but because you want to do it.

BW: I have a pet peeve. I do not go to gyms that are down in basements. I need natural light. I don’t want to work out in a place where I’m in some dark room with no windows. That to me is soul-less. That is not what fitness is to me. I will go a gym 20 minutes out of my way because it has natural light, versus the gym closer to me, because it’s not just about getting it over. It’s about the process of being there. It’s like I can watch a movie at home but I love to go out to the movies, too, for the experience of being in the theatre.

SOS: Turning away from fitness for a bit, I wanted to ask you about your new job as CEO of Wilhelmina. We are both former Conde Nast people and I’m curious about life for you in this new-ish industry. Tell me about the new gig.

BW: You know if I thought about the next move for me outside of Conde Nast, I could not have thought about a better opportunity than the CEO of Wilhelmina. It allows me the opportunity to take my relationships in editorial and in fashion and in photography, with tastemakers that I had the pleasure to work with at Conde, and bring them into creating opportunities for our talent at Wilhelmina. And that is really a great privilege. My mission at Wilhelmina is to continue to create these opportunities at the highest level. The purpose of my job here is not to make money, that’s the by-product. The purpose of what we do at Wilhelmina is to create opportunities and fulfill dreams. For every kid that sits in some part of the world who dreams of being a model or in front of the camera or dreams of a different life — for us to be able to do that for every kid that’s six feet tall in 7th grade and has to hide their tail where they live, you don’t have to hide it here. We welcome you and we can create opportunities for you. You’re recognized and special here. And to me, if we do that well, we will be financially successful. And that’s a great purpose to have. I’m really honored to have this chance and it’s a great segue from the years I really valued working at Conde Nast.

SOS: What you’re saying is actually very similar to your philosophy about working out. If you do something you enjoy, the body and the fitness will come. It seems as if it’s a similar approach in business. If you’re creating opportunities for your talent, yes, the financial rewards will come.

BW: I don’t know if I’ve ever articulated that before, but thank you for recognizing that. I think you’re right that my philosophy as a human being is if you’re passionate and you do something because you enjoy it, if your motivation is true and really heartfelt, the results come. They always do.

SOS: Just a last question, because we both come from this industry, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the magazine business and what you think the future in publishing holds.

BW: I don’t have a crystal ball but I know that it’s an industry going through a change right now, and I honestly feel that those decisions will be made by a generation that is younger than I am. The reality of thinking about your life, and looking at your age, is recognizing that how I consume media is completely different from the way it is consumed by a 14-year-old today. I think those individuals will be the ones to decide how they want to consume media and in what way. It’s exciting for me to sit by the sidelines and watch. Obviously the modeling agency is very connected to print advertising, but I’m confident that the people who are making those decisions today are going to come up with new and innovative ways to engage the consumer.

SOS: Wow, what a great way to wrap it up. Thanks so much! I hope our paths—and our workouts—cross again.