As the primary host of “Access Hollywood,” Billy Bush is known for getting celebrities to give a more candid interview due to his affable personality. His congenial nature makes for great TV, but his persona extends beyond the screen. Bush believes that life is best lived when serving others, whether it be personal or for business.These traits can be attributed to his values which are deeply rooted in his childhood. Growing up, Bush’s parents helped him see that life was bigger than himself. His father, Jonathan, served as chairman of the United Negro College Fund while his mother, Josephine, worked regularly on the board of the Inwood House, helping pregnant teens achieve healthy adulthood and self-reliance.
Bush himself, who is the first cousin of former President George W. Bush, has since taken the uplifting wisdom of his parents and carved his own path. Amidst starting a family of his own, he has worked his way up in show biz, beginning as a radio host in New Hampshire before eventually joining Access Hollywood in 2001. While Bush continues to perfect his craft and pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, including pioneering a new brand of whiskey, he still maintains the importance of investing in people and relationships. We caught up with Bush before he headed back west aboard one of Wheel’s Up’s new jets.
Growing up in the Bush family, did you consider a career in politics? What made you gravitate towards entertainment?
Growing up the son of John and Jody Bush instilled in me a broader sense of life beyond oneself. Public service or service to others is what life is about. The only way to fill up your own cup is to fill up someone else’s. Growing up, my father taught tennis at the Boys Club of Harlem and the kids there would come stay with us on the weekends. Kids only learn differences, they don’t begin seeing anything different. I never did. He was adamant that life not be insular or focused on oneself.
As for politics, as people have often inquired, I would never get involved for my own purposes. It would have to be because I believed I could effect change for others in a clear way. As for entertainment, dad was a song and dance man before jumping ship to enter finance. He lost his desire to weather the ups and downs of “the biz” and wanted something more steady. I love ups and downs and my recent good run is attributed to learning my craft from the grassroots. From WLKZ-FM in Gilford, NH (a 3,000 watt station in an unrated market) to Access Hollywood in L.A. has been a 22 year run. I started at the bottom and worked every job to get here.
With “The Billy Bush Show” and “Access Hollywood,” you’ve got a pretty full schedule. What is your way of taking time for yourself?
“Access Hollywood” and “AH Live” means an early start every day. 5:30 a.m. wake up call but free by 2 p.m. I work out every afternoon (or most) to settle my brain. No professional endeavor comes close to the challenges and commitment of raising three daughters, however. Now 17, 15 and 11, my girls are going strong, mostly thanks to their awesome mother, my wife of 18 years Sydney but also me. I’m around a lot. I don’t live the Hollywood after hours life, I choose the family—always have. That said, all along I have taken the necessary boy’s’ trip skiing or golfing and couple’s getaway to fill the selfish and relationship needs. My mom always said, “Make sure the kids have others (grandparents especially) upon whom they can be dependent. It will help them feel confident and secure and it will allow you a life.” Great counsel.
Which celebrity has been the most influential to you?
Matt Lauer gave me great advice when I was just starting out at Access in New York. He said, “everyone is replaceable.” That singular advice ensured I have never coasted, never stopped thinking of good ideas, helping producers plan their segments, bookers land great guests. Never rest on your laurels. To be sure Matt keeps getting better; I try to always be better.
Also, Scott Wolf of Party of Five fame taught me that celebs can be normal people too. [Laughs] He is one of my best friends; he is a superb father and a wise and loyal friend. He understands that career absorption is an empty pursuit. When it comes to legacy, I will never be known as the greatest broadcaster or best host, nor do I waste time thinking about it. I want to be a good friend and dad and guy. “Have others benefited personally from their relationship with you?” A good question to ask.
What have you learned from your career in entertainment that has helped you accomplish your goals on an entrepreneurial level?
Once I achieved a certain degree of success, I began to think about ways I could plant other seeds and exercise my skills in other ways. Entrepreneurship embodies the creative mind, the courage to take calculated risk, the ability to bring people together and persuade them to trust and follow you in a pursuit that will benefit them as well as you. My personality I have surmised includes an ability to mobilize people in a winning way. And it’s best to get involved in things you understand.
What inspired the inception of Beach Whiskey? What separates it from other whiskies currently on the market?
I began Beach Whiskey with my close friend, Andrew McGinnis. Excited and inspired by the success of Casamigos Tequila, Tito’s and Deep Eddy vodka, we thought about a fun brand of booze that would fill a void in the market. Known to enjoy a cocktail and gifted in the area of party planning and throwing, we saw whiskey gaining popularity but only in the traditional aged, brown form. Millennials wanted to consume it but were struggling. We concluded also that whiskey was a sundown drink. We agreed that making whiskey day drinkable was the next thing. I am more sure than ever that we are correct. Beach Whiskey is clear, flavored, day drinkable and packaged in sea glass bottles. Our competition isn’t really other whiskies, it’s beer and tequila and anything that can be served in the sunshine. We have built the strongest team behind a new alcohol brand ever assembled since Clooney, Gerber and Mike Meldman began Casamigos a few years ago. In fact, one of those guys invested with us too.
How did you and the organization obtain the capital/funding for Beach Whiskey? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
We began with a founders’ seed investment that allowed us to take this concept to a tangible product. Led by our deeply knowledgeable CEO, Smoke Wallin, and our CMO, Bill Henderson (Grey Goose, Jaegermeister) we developed the liquid: expertly distilled from the highest quality bourbon mash (99 percent corn based), then carbon filtered to remove all remaining impurities. Our Island Coconut and Bonfire Cinnamon Whiskies are flavored by the best boutique in Louisville, KY.
Then we built our founders’ team, which includes the guys behind Tequila Avion, Ken Austin and Kenny Dichter. I flew to Nashville with my partner McG and we paid a visit to country music stud Jake Owen, whom we knew tangentially but whose life embodies the beach. On a celebrity front, we only wanted him. He’s a Vero Beach, FLA kid who wake boards and waterskis and he has a hit called “Beachin’” for crying out loud. And women think he’s handsome— which he is. He listened to us, tasted the liquid with his most trusted advisors, his dad Steve and manager Brandon Gill, and he loved it. He sank in his money and has been our most enthusiastic brand ambassador. His financial investment was crucial because it meant he believed as we did. Same goes for Gavin DeGraw who is a personal friend. I went out to dinner with him and after one sip and hearing the spiel, he sank his money in too. Our remaining partners and investors are all deeply connected in fields that will help service and market the brand perfectly.
What’s uniquely challenging about the alcohol and beverage market as opposed to others?
The booze biz has operated the same way since prohibition. It’s a three tier system: producers/suppliers, wholesalers/distributors and retailers. We’ve had great success on all levels. There are no obstacles that can blindside us, for that we are blessed, but launching anything new is hard. We minimize risk with our deep field of knowledgeable players and connections.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur today as opposed to 20 years ago?
Entrepreneurship today requires more creativity and a broader approach. Marketing is cheaper with the advent and proliferation of the web. There are more products so your branding strategy needs to be fresh and original. Technology is a big component. We have digital content we are developing that will help millennials gravitate towards Beach Whiskey and feel connected with it. It’s a lifestyle brand as well as a liquor brand. We are operating with a crucial, multi-pronged approach in and out of the bottle. Find your place in the sun this summer.
*Beach Whiskey Drink Recipe for Spring:
2 oz. Island Coconut Beach Whiskey
1.5 oz. Orange juice
½ oz. Agave Nectar
½ oz. Lime juice
2 dashes Orange Bitters (any brand will suffice)
-Directions: Add all ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass.
-Garnish: Orange peel (the bitter oils of the orange peel complement the cocktail)