Erik Weir

Q&A: Businessman Erik Weir

He turned a disability into an opportunity and became an entrepreneur, a pilot, and a multiple airplane owner.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s exactly what Erik Weir did when he opened a lemonade stand at age five. He had a stuttering disability and figured he could confront and start to remedy it by interacting with customers. The gambit worked and helped set the now 56-year-old entrepreneur, marketing and promotion expert, film producer, and author on the road to success. 

Today, he is also the principal of WCM Global Wealth in Greenville, South Carolina, a financial services firm that caters to high-net-worth individuals and businesses. Its clients include multi-platinum recording artists, pop culture celebs, sports icons, and billionaires. Weir has also partnered on real estate projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars and has helped develop five U.S. Topgolf locations with 20 more coming in Europe. 

Weir—who majored in real estate and financial planning at Georgia State University and Harvard Extension School—was previously a partner at WTA Media, where he executive-produced many popular films including Unbroken: Path to RedemptionRun the Race, and Surprised by Oxford. He also marketed many notable movies, including War Room, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Soul Surfer, and Heaven Is for Real. He is the author of Who’s Eating Your Pie? Essential Financial Advice That Will Transform Your Life

A pilot for 25 years, Weir has clocked over 3,000 hours in everything from a Fuji blimp and bush airplanes to a Beechcraft King Air 90. He has also owned several airplanes, including two Cessnas, a 182 and a T206. 

A martial artist and avid outdoorsman and the father of five sons by a previous wife, Weir lives with his current spouse, Stacey, in Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina.

I understand you overcame a severe childhood stutter.

Due to a car wreck at the age of five, I had a traumatic brain injury and a severe stutter for many years. I was tortured at school daily. I stuffed down emotion and was really frustrated, but my parents encouraged me to keep pushing through. A speech therapist said that if I’d view every day as a challenge and do things that would encourage me to communicate, normal challenges would seem like stepping stones, and I’d be able to climb to great heights. 

To my parents’ credit, they made me start immediately; I set up a lemonade stand. When you stutter, words are hard. When you're Erik Weir with 50-cent lemonade, it’s a disaster. I made a sign saying, “Lemonade for sale, 50 cents” and when people asked how much, I pointed to the sign. They would always ask the price in spite of the sign and I’d answer “f-f-f-f-fifty c-c-c-cents.” They would give a dollar or five dollars and tell me to keep the change. Stuttering was terrible for being picked on, but it was fantastic for tips. I made $82 in 1972, which would be $600 today. It launched me into entrepreneurism. 

How else did you address this disability?

I was told to join Toastmasters and volunteer at church as a greeter. That was a nightmare; people walk into church and they're so uncomfortable trying to talk to you. I did that for years and ultimately, got a little better at it. It's probably just the last 16 to 18 years where I’ve had relatively more freedom with my speech.

What did your father want you to do career-wise?

To be in the real estate business that my mom owned. I started selling residential real estate in high school and really enjoyed it. I’d flip properties and get a commission, and that’s how I got through college. Merrill Lynch hired me to sell, but I stuttered terribly, so I went selling door to door in Atlanta. When you’re a struggling stutterer, people are reluctant to slam the door on you; they’ll offer you a glass of water and say, “It's OK, don't be nervous.” I became a top account opener just by people pulling for me. But it was never easy. 

You don't stutter at all now.

Eventually, the stutter substantially went away. It was a mindset change for me because it went from being something that embarrassed me to something that made me stronger and more approachable. 

Why did you get into the business of film and representing authors?

To have a positive impact on culture. I can’t think of any medium where I can have someone’s undivided attention for two hours other than film. During those two hours, I can tell stories that [show] how people stand strong, create hope, and challenge our current viewpoints. I’m still involved in film and have participated in several since selling WTA in 2018.

What did you learn in that business?

That filmmaking is a powerful art and can be done on a budget. On a low-budget film, particularly with [today’s] technology, you can become competitive to a large-budget film. I've always liked the underdog story, the overcoming of odds, so being able to tell some of those stories was quite fulfilling.

And what are you focusing on now?

I am focusing on alternative investments like real estate and operating businesses while I continue to write and speak to groups to encourage others to think bigger and make positive changes in their lives and the lives of those they touch.  

To what do you attribute your success at WCM Global Wealth?

I attribute it to listening and seeking to solve bigger problems than [clients’ previous] advisers did. Ultimately, money needs to be weighed against a bigger backdrop of mission, vision, legacy, and impact. We like to help people get more than just investment advice. 

What's the most important advice you give in your book?

First, give yourself permission to dream as if you knew you couldn't fail. When you have a clear focus on where you want to go, that focus will attract people with capital and the know-how to get you there. Next, goal setting: work your way backward and put legs on your dreams. 

Give yourself permission to change, to fail, and to start over and adjust. Most people beat themselves up over failure. But in the book, I mention Michael Jordan—no one's ever missed more three-pointers, missed more games, missed from the free-throw line. But he’s one of the top basketball players in history because he kept going and said, “I fail more than others. Thus, I succeed more than others.” There is no success without setbacks. 

Do you remember the first time you flew privately?

I went to meet a friend, an airline pilot, because I wanted to do a financial plan for him, and he goes, “I've got an airplane. I'll give you a flight.” I was terrified, but I was trying to grow my business, so I said, “Great.” He said, “This is a Piper Cub hybrid.” It looked like you could fling it with your two arms. It was like a big paper airplane. I asked how old it was and he said it was from the 1940s. We got in and, all of a sudden, the tail picked up. We got up to 500 feet and circled [Georgia’s] Stone Mountain and there was turbulence. It was horrifying. I took flying lessons after that, probably out of terror.

I was [already] sort of scared of flying because as a kid I had a scary flight experience coming into Atlanta. The landing gear wouldn’t go down. I didn't like flying after that, but I wanted to face my fear. That was one of the reasons [I got a pilot’s license], but my primary reason was I really hate traffic. 

How has having an airplane helped your business?

It became a way to open doors that I may not have been able to walk through otherwise. I would fly into private airports that had restaurants accessible to people without having to go through security. Often I would park in front of the restaurant and then almost always my lunch guest wanted to look at my plane and watch me take off. This helped accelerate a friendly relationship and was a differentiator between me and other potential advisers. 

Now the fear of flying is gone?

I love to fly. I'm part of a group that has a Citation II 550, but I ride in the back of that one. I fly other planes as frequently as possible, but on shorter legs. So, I fly to Florida, Charleston, or Nashville in a King Air to keep myself current. I'm looking in the next six to 12 months to acquire another airplane by myself.

What will that be?

I am looking at a PC-12 and Cirrus Vision Jet. Most of my missions are within 500 miles and my usual load of people traveling with me is only two or three with the occasional larger group of six to eight. I like the technology in the PC-12 and Vision Jet and the unique flight characteristics. They have massively different capabilities so I am most focused on what would fit the majority of my flight missions in the next few years. 

What it is about being a pilot that appeals to you? 

It's fun and relaxing because you don't think about anything except flying the airplane, communicating with air traffic control, navigating, always looking forward for weather and fuel prices or fuel stops. I like technology. 

I also love the convenience of travel, seeing places, taking my kids. It's been a great tool. I really enjoy the sound of the engines, taking off, planning flights. And people who like aviation typically like other exciting things that I like such as golf and scuba diving or hiking, racing cars, downhill skiing, ice climbing, deep-sea, and onshore fishing. It’s a great way to meet people.

How many hours do you fly privately per year?

Probably over 100. One year it was up to maybe 400 hours. Mostly business but family trips as well. 

You're now in partnership with two friends on a Citation 550Why did you choose that airplane?

Because I began doing business in Florida and the islands and going to New York more frequently. My mission changed to longer flights, and I was flying with more people, sometimes five or six people on a longer flight, so I needed a faster, more capable airplane. Now, I'm at the point where some of those things that were taking me to those places are winding down, so I might be better off with a 250- to 500-mile-range airplane. 

I understand you have a plan to open luxury hangars in airports.

I’ve been leasing hangars for 23 years and there's always a waitlist. The growth in the Southeast has created a big need for hangars that don't exist. Hangars are pretty basic—just a roll-up door, metal wall, nothing special. But if I could have a hangar myself with a place to wash a car, park a car, maybe a small office, a pool table, a place to hang taxidermy or motorcycles or hobbies, that would have value to me. So, the desire is to create luxury hangars in my market and then to either lease or sell them. 

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want people to say, “That's a person who cared for other people, encouraged people to dream and to think and not die.” Most people die in their 20s. They died not living up to their dreams. They're just not buried until they're 76 or 78 or 80. I want to encourage people to not die. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.