Heinecke is a master of the unexpected. The son of American parents in the foreign service, Heinecke grew up in Asia, spending his childhood in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and his teenage years in Bangkok. In 1967, he finished high school in Bangkok at 17 years old and as far as everyone was concerned was headed to a university campus back in the US—everyone but young Bill, that is. That life didn’t interest him much, with all its tiresome predictability and cumbersome rules. He had other ideas.
He wanted the kinds of things typical teenagers want, a place of his own, a car and independence. Also, like many a teenager, Heinecke was motivated by love. In his case, it was a love for Thailand, having lived there since he was 13. Unlike a typical teenager perhaps, Heinecke had another razor-sharp focus: business.
So instead of shipping off to university, he stayed in Bangkok and opened a pair of businesses, one an office cleaning company and another in radio advertising. He got his own apartment and a car. He now had the freedom he had craved, but it came at a price—responsibility and hard work.
“When you start a business at that age,” says Heinecke, “it’s really a question of survival. All you really want to do is make it through, pay all the bills at the end of the month and have a little money left over.”
Enough money was left over month after month, year after year, until just a few years after launching the ventures, Heinecke was now able to think well beyond the monthly bills and about how to expand his enterprise, now named Minor Holdings (after his legal status when he launched it).
His radio advertising company, Inter-Asian Publicity, was bought by Ogilvy and Mather in 1974. Heinecke, now all of 25, was already thinking about what his next act would be.
With the wisdom of experience, Heinecke says if he could go back, he would advise his younger self to keep up the hard work but also to take his time; there was no need to rush from one venture to the next.
“I would tell myself to be very patient because things don’t happen as quickly as you want them to,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve had the chance to see a lot of people fail and a lot of people succeed and generally the ones who succeeded realize everything doesn’t go according to plan. They were patient and kept working hard.”
He might not have had a great deal of patience at the time, but as the younger Heinecke moved into this new phase in his business journey, it was marked by some themes that have continued to resonate throughout his life as an entrepreneur—the necessity of learning and an ability to adapt quickly.