President of Brown Harris Stevens, a high-end residential real estate brokerage with more than 300 real estate agents in seven New York City offices. The company has 10 other residential offices in the Hamptons and Palm Beach, Fla., plus three commercial offices in New York State.
What is your full name?
Hall Francis Willkie.
What’s the origin of your first name?
My mother gave me her maiden name as my first name.
Do people tell you that it’s an unusual name?
They do. Usually when people hear it, they call me Paul, and if they read it, they call me Hal. But once they get it, they tend to remember it.
Have you ever met anyone with the same name?
I’m very proud to say I have a goddaughter whose first name is Hall. Other than that, I haven’t met anybody.
What’s your birth date?
April 7, 1949.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Kentucky. Then, between the ages of 11 and 17, I lived in Madrid. I went to a boarding school for one year in Scotland and graduated from high school in Bermuda.
What was family life like for you?
I’m one of four children, and my mother moved to Madrid when I was 10 or 11. [My father] passed away when I was 10. He died of heart trouble, but he had been hospitalized for eight and a half years before he died, so I never really knew him. I’m the last child of the last wife.
How many wives were there?
How has the absence of your father affected you?
I think it’s more of a challenge. Certainly I wish I had known him.
Where do you live?
On East 72nd Street in a four-unit co-op. I also have a farm in upstate New York in Delaware County, in Bovina. I love it up there.
How do you get to work?
I walk. It’s about 17 or 18 blocks.
How many miles is your country house from the city?
How do you get up there?
What kind car do you own?
I have an Infinity M35, which is an all-wheel drive car … the farm is up in the mountains, and we get a lot of snow. My other car is a pickup truck, which is also all-wheel drive.
Do you have a life partner?
Yes. He is an architect and works for himself.
Do you have any children?
What was the first job you ever had?
On a thoroughbred horse-breeding and training farm. I did whatever job there was. I actually delayed going to college for two years in order to continue to work there. I’ve always been a horse person. I’ve always been a rider. I have four horses, and I’m a chicken farmer.
Are people stunned that you’re a farmer?
I don’t know. I think they see the hayseed in me [chuckles].
How does someone get into your inner circle?
I’m very much a people person. I work with a lot of people. I’m involved in our local community in the country. I’m involved in our little co-op. I have a few very close friends. I’d be happy to have that group be larger, but there’s not enough time in my life.
What one word would people use to describe you?
I’m a problem solver. That’s not one word, I know.
What is your greatest strength?
What is your greatest weakness?
I have many. I think my greatest weakness is that I tend to be impulsive. When something angers me, I let people know I’m mad. I don’t wait.
What kind of character do you have?
Honor’s an important thing to me – to be truthful, to be honest. My mother always told me my father was an honorable man, and I think I am that.
Do you cook?
On the weekends in the country.
What’s your specialty dish?
A few things. I make a mean paella, and I am famous for my short ribs of beef amongst my friends. And I make the best mashed potatoes on earth. They’re mashed and then baked with cream cheese and sour cream and garlic.
What publications do you read regularly?
My favorite magazine is the Week. I read that without fail. It is so smart, especially for busy people that don’t have a lot of time to read. I also read Time magazine. I look at Architectural Digest, and I read Vanity Fair.
What about newspapers?
At work, the New York Times sits on my desk. Usually I’m able to scan the headlines, and then if there’s an article that really interests me, I read it.
If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
I would buy a co-op sooner. For many years in New York, I lived in a rent-stabilized apartment at 85th Street and West End Avenue. It seemed like I had this very great apartment for very little money, and to buy something would have been half as nice and cost me four times as much.
How many brokers have your cell phone number?
All of the brokers that work with me, but I don’t have voicemail on my cell. I won’t have it. If you call me on my cell and I can answer it, great.
Interview by Lauren Elkies