Tyra Banks' new book isn't your typical memoir—and it isn't your typical "how to be better in business" book either. It's a running conversation between her and her mother Carolyn London, who was instrumental in spearheading Banks' modeling career from the time she was a teenager, and has been helping her run different facets of her businesses ever since.
These days, Banks is an extreme multitasker — she still hosts her flagship reality show America's Next Top Model, is the CEO of her own makeup line Tyra Beauty, and teaches classes on personal branding at Stanford. Here, she tells Money about her lifelong frugal habits, the surprising reason she needed a management coach, and why she aspires to be "the dumbest person in the room."
Your new book Perfect is Boring is all about lessons you’ve learned from your mom. What did she teach you about money?
Even before my career, I was a saver. My brother was a spender, I was a saver. I would hold onto it forever and dole it out slowly. My mom explained to me the importance of real estate and that typically in Los Angeles it’s going to appreciate. While a lot of models were partying it up and going shopping and buying a closet of designer clothes or staying at the top hotels during fashion week, I was at the Doubletree or Embassy Suites, saving my money, and bought a house at 20 years old. She explained to me investing is super important.
Also, when I was 19 years old, I was a new star on the rise. My mom said “You’re starting to make some money. It’s not a lot, but I’ve read about this investment banker and I want to meet with him and tell him that he should start managing your portfolio. So she went to meet with him and he was like, “Look, I don’t take anything below a million dollars to start.” And my mom’s like, “Look, here’s $10,000. They say my daughter is going to be a star and that she’s going to make a LOT of money. And you will not regret this.” And he said yes. And to this day, he’s still my money manager.
Did money feel tight growing up?
My mom involved my brother and I in her struggle and her plans to move forward. When my parents divorced, we moved into a one-bedroom apartment. My mother gave my brother and I the bedroom and she slept in the living room, on the floor. She said “We’re going to live here for one year. And we’re going to make this the most beautiful place in the world. But in one year, we’re going to be move to a two-bedroom.” So then we moved and we got that two-bedroom in a year. The day we moved in, my mom was like “This is our oasis, this is our paradise. But in one year, we’re moving to a three-bedroom.” And lo and behold, in one year, we did that. I lived in that place until I was 20 years old, in that three-bedroom apartment. And that’s where she groomed me to become a real estate owner.
But from around age 16 to 20, I gave my mom a portion of the rent. I started to model and went to her and said “Ma, I’m making good money as a model and I want to contribute to the rent."
Saying things out loud can certainly help.
My mom and I talk about this as “Kanye West.” A lot of people are like “Kanye is so self-centered, he says all this crazy stuff!” But I look at him as what a lot of people need more of. Kanye never dulls his shine to make anyone feel comfortable. I take some things from him and tell people that everybody needs to feel like they have someone in their life that they can “be Kanye.” I was Kanye with my mama. I was able to come to my mama and say “Look, I’m on the cover of this! I’m all that! We’re doing this thing! I made $5,000 on this job. We’re going to make $10,000 on the next job! Bam bam bam!” To say it, to dream it, so it can be true — you can’t do that with everybody, because they will think you’re totally narcissistic and insane. But you need those people in your life that you can be unfiltered and dream big with.
Speaking of your early days, I watched one of your first on-screen performances: the Michael Jackson “Black or White” video. Was that a good-paying gig?
I don’t think that was a big money gig. I would have done it for free. It was Michael Jackson and I was in high school. That was a crazy day. I went back to school and lied to all my friends and said Michael Jackson was there and thought I was amazing. He was not there that day [Laughs.]
When did you start becoming really diligent about saving and investing?
I was always conservative. I was always more interested in experiences over things. Things didn’t make me happy. I saved saved saved. But I saved to a fault. About 15 years ago, my accountants pulled me aside, and they were like "Tyra. You're not spending money. Nothing. You're just giving it away to the government. You need to spend some damn money!" So we created something called the "F Account." Which was the "frivolous account." And I had a budget to spend frivolously for the year, every year. I needed that to feel safe.
So what did you do?
Stupid stuff. In hindsight, I should have bought art and things that appreciated. I was getting private planes, nothing to show for it. It was a private-plane kinda moment for me.
What makes a good leader, a good boss, in 2018?
A good leader is being the dumbest in the room.
Knowing a little bit about what everyone is doing but making sure you give them the permission to do what they have to do. Hiring people that are super capable of doing their jobs. You can still lead them, but having the expert that can execute for you. I’ve made the mistake in the past of micromanaging people who knew more than I did. Now I realize that I’m the visionary, the dreamer, the creator. So I have to give them room to execute on things.
You’ve been running businesses and companies for years. Has your style changed?
Everything was so micro. In the future businesses that I am starting, I realize that I have to hire strong and get out of their way.
Do people respond to bluntness?
I have my TV self which is very blunt. But that’s not who I am in real life. I wish I was a little bit more like that. I’m the opposite. I’m conflict averse. Many years ago, I hired an executive coach that helped me with confrontation with team members. She taught me to count to 10 and blurt it out. I was doing so well when I was coaching with her, and then I stopped, because I thought I had arrived. And I went back to those same old habits.
You’re teaching personal branding again at Stanford University this spring. Will that become a dated concept?
I think it’s going to be here forever.
Do you think it’s innate or can be learned even for the most introverted person?
You don’t have to have an extroverted personality to be a personal brand. Mark Zuckerberg is not tearing it up and doing splits in the club, you know what I mean? He has a more introverted personality, but he has a very strong personal brand.
Do you ever see yourself retiring?
I look forward to retiring one day. What I’m trying to do now is the portfolio. Businesses, the television shows. Things that are in the moment, capturing pop culture. [But] it’s not a sustainable business. There are more legacy businesses that I’m creating that will sustain past me being on this earth. That’s very important to me: Creating things that live beyond me.
Perfect Is Boring is out now.