Home, Life, Chicago : Interview with Bill Rancic

Old Bellevue House Stairway

Catching Up With Bill Rancic

For those of you that I know who have often wondered, how the heck I ever got on the Giulianna and Bill show not once but twice and for the rest who’ve wondered “who the hell is the plumbing expert” here is the explanation and a pretty in depth interview with my long time friend Bill Rancic.

Bill and I met in 1986 while scooping ice cream at the legendary south suburban ice cream parlor “The Plush Horse” So suffice to say we’ve known each other for a while. Over the last 5 years or so we’ve worked together on a few of his projects, most of which you’ve probably seen if you’ve kept up with the show. I’ve always wanted to sit down and talk to Bill about his life, his drive, early business ventures, The Apprentice and his continued fascination with real estate and love of all things plumbing. I say plumbing because Bill has a real solid eye for kitchen and bath design, as you will see in the pictures below. I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.

Sean: I remember you working your tail off in high school not only at the Plush Horse but washing boats too. How the hell did you get into the boat washing business at 18 years old? Where you one of those annoying kids who did things by the book?

Bill: Yes, we definitely did and it was me and a guy you know Jerry Agema. You two went to Jr. High together.

Old Bellevue House Stairway
Old Bellevue House Stairway

His parents owned a condo in New Buffalo Michigan. We saw all of these boats coming in and decided to work for ourselves and started a boat washing business. We did it for 2 or 3 summers and it was there that we both met super successful business owners and it changed our perspective, they worked hard but they weren’t magical by any means. I took the “Why not me?” approach. BTW I don’t remember if we incorporated or not it was 25 years ago. Wink

Sean: Did washing all of those boats turn you off to actually owning one? I don’t remember you having one.

Bill: Actually my dad did have a boat and I owned it for a few years but sold it because I didn’t and still don’t have time to use the darned things. I’d love to have one again. I’d love for the Duke to be able to enjoy the water.

Outdated? I think not
Outdated? I think not

Sean: So take me through your college years, you graduated from Loyola correct? When did you start “Cigar of the Month”? What prompted you to get into the cigar business and why did you get out? The boutique cigar business is booming right now. Do you still enjoy a cigar from time to time?

Bill: Believe it or not I graduated from Loyola with a Criminology, so it wasn’t a degree I could do much with if I didn’t get a post graduate degree. So I took a job with a company and while I was there I got a sense of the culture and lack thereof. There was no loyalty at all and I realized I wanted no part of it.

I got together with a buddy of mine and we sat in together in his apartment and started looking at businesses we could start. We did something a little different in deciding what business to go into. We reverse engineered businesses that looked promising to us. Instead of talking ourselves into business, which is what most people do, we talked ourselves out of business. Cigar of the Month club was born in 1994. We sold the company in 2001, yes I still enjoy a cigar from time to time


Sean: I know you’ve been into real estate even before winning the Apprentice, Who inspired you to get into the real estate business. What was it about it that made your wheels spin?

Bill: My friend Stewart sort of took me under his wing and taught me what he knew about loans, banks and real estate. He convinced me to buy a 4 flat, rehab it and sell it. The hobby grew from there. Notice I said hobby. I feel like I’ve been successful at it because it’s been a hobby. I never had to do it so I’ve been able to be very patient with the properties to find the right ones.

Sean: When did you know you wanted to parley your personality and business savvy into TV? Take me down memory lane.

Bill: Never really, a friend I went to college with had a mom who was a talent agent for kids. She called me up one day and said “my mom told me there is a reality show looking for young entrepreneurs filming in New York. I already made the appointment for you, you have a call with the producers tomorrow”.

Before I knew it I was filming “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump in NYC

Sean: I remember vividly the show segment where you planned the golf outing (In fact it’s where I thought you won the show) and you were overcoming obstacles left and right and I almost noticed a bit of south side tenacity or street smarts that the other contestants just didn’t have. Do you credit where you were brought up and obviously your parents with those problem-solving skills? Again you were up against some really smart people but there was just something missing from their education and it seemed like life to me.

Bill: You’re right it was a smart group, Ivy League educated, quite a few blue bloods in there.

You know I believe we’re all shaped by how we grow up. You and I grew up in an area that had work ethic. Sure the houses were a bit bigger than the ones our parents left in the city (Chicago) but they sacrificed everything to move there to give us good schools. I had a lot of material to pull from.

I feel like I was willing to do things the others weren’t, heck I was diving in the dumpsters to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

I had to bring back people that were fired from the show to help me manage. I realized that I had to manage differently because some of these people may not have had my best interests at heart so I micromanaged the hell out of them.

Sean: You won the Apprentice contest and you worked with Donald Trump. How long did you end up working with Trump?

Bill: Several years. It was supposed to be a year but it was 2 ½ or 3 years but I got to remain on the show as a judge for 5 or 6 seasons. I give him all the credit in the world for really launching my career.

Sean: How was the experience?

Bill: It was an amazing experience. I got to work with one of the greatest American entrepreneurs of our time.

Sean: Is he as tough as people portrait him to be?

Bill: I found him to be very fair but he understands the arts negation, hell he’s written dozens of books on the subject.

Sean: Did you learn a lot from him personally?

Bill: Work ethic, passion. I have work ethic but I got to see it in action from one of the best.

Sean: I know you’ve rehabbed many homes but you’ve also done some buildings as well correct?

Bill: Yes


Sean: The pictures and homes I’ve been in that you’ve done are timeless, they balance traditional with transitional design cues all wrapped up in a contemporary package. Who do you credit with giving you your sense of style? Again I dare anyone to look as some of these pictures some of which are over ten years old and tell me they look dated.

Bill: I’ve never done things according to what is popular or trendy I’ve done things the way I wanted them to be and what I wanted to live in.

Sean: Tell us a bit about the Hinsdale house. Some of our readers will remember it from your show. In the height of the residential collapse you manage to pluck a gem out of the market. It’s a great story.

Bill Rancic | Hinsdale House
This is a beauty!

Bill: A builder began building this house right before the market crashed and he ran out of money. We took over and finished the house. I mean it was a monster, 11,500 square feet, too big really. We finished it and lived in it less than a few months and a real estate agent knocked on the door and said that she may have a client very interested in it. Bert my builder showed the house and he called me shortly thereafter and told me you guys better start packing.

Sean: As most of my readers know I am a huge fan of Hansgrohe and their ultra premium Axor line. Other than you and I talking for a long time about what products we liked and why, what drew you to using Hansgrohe and Axor on several projects?

Bill: I’ve used them on several projects and the first things that popped for me is the

Hansgrohe | Axor
Ultra Premium Plumbing Products

aesthetics. They have products that just fit with my tastes. But then you see how well the products are built and you know you have the right stuff.

Sean: For most of the house you picked the Axor Montreux for your trim. It is a very traditional trim set. I would say more traditional than you normally choose. Was it because the house had such a beautiful traditional feel before the remodeling? I mean you could have done the house in whatever design style you wanted. Just to let everyone know the casement and trim work was all completely removed and replicated.

Axor MontreuxMontreux Tub Filler

Bill: We aren’t 100% positive but we think the house was built between 1860- 1870 we wanted something that was representative of the time to at least get a taste of what was there at the beginning. Montreux did that for us but did it in a way that is current.

Sean: We’ve had a few meetings with your better half Giulianna and she certainly had a hand in the design. I’m not sure how heavy it was but what did she absolutely insist on having in the house?

Bill: She gives me creative license on the buildout of the house. Obviously she’ll say something if she hates it. She did have a few requests one was having a great closet. She wanted it to be family friendly; she’s said it should feel like it gives you a big hug. I think we’ve done that for sure.

Sean: How freaking sweet is Hansgrohe’s Rain Brain?

Hansgrohe | Rain Brain
The Hansgrohe Rain Brain!

Bill: OMG it’s the craziest thing ever. Everyone that comes over loves it. I figured out how to warm the water up to a certain temperature before I jump in. I haven’t set the shower up for me yet. That’s Giulianna’s gig, she’s way more tech savvy than I am. Heck I just got Netflix and I’m thrilled.

Sean: You always say this is the house your son will grow up in but……….is this your dream house?

All of that wood work came down!
All of that wood work came down!

Bill: Every one I do is a dream house; it’s because I rehab them to live in them so I am always thinking about what I would want.

Sean: What is your overall concept when designing a home for yourself or for resale? Are you always looking at resale or it’s future value? We talked about several really high end products that were relatively new to market and you always steered clear of them.

Bill: You always have to have an exit plan in mind. You want to have products that people have heard of. People usually have a checklist whether it’s written down or not that they go through when choosing a house. And that checklist is at every price point. I try to hit as many checks as I can. I never want a house to be so eclectic that it will turn off a buyer.

Sean: As most of our Chicago readership will know, you and G are restaurateurs, just a recap Bill and Giulianna opened opened up RPM Italian and just recently RPM Steak with long time restaurant mogul Rich Melman and family both of which are excellent. What do love most about the restaurant business? I’ve seen you work the floor several times live and in person and you seem to love it.

Bill: Its fun to meet the people genuinely having a great time. I am so appreciative that its worked out. The fans have been great and it’s cool to mingle. I will say it’s more extensive than I thought by that I mean bigger in scope. I thought it would be a mom and pop Italian restaurant and they are both big places.

Sean: Can you give us any insight as to what is next? The show? Is it coming back? Can I take another stab and plumbing stardom?

Bill: Yes of course and Yes we just aren’t’ sure when. Something should be announced very soon.

Sean: Any other restaurants? Give me the scoop.

Bill: RPM Italian Washington DC is opening this summer

Thanks so much Bill. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. I will see you soon pal.

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