Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show heard here and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. I'm very pleased to be in the offices of Mr. Welcome Wilson, cereal entrepreneur, community leader, academic leader, and founder and chairman of GSL Welcome Group, Welcome Wilson. Welcome, welcome to the Business Makers Show.
Welcome: Thank you, I'm glad to be here, Russ.
Russ: You bet. Well, let's start with that given name. How many times in your life do you think you've explained why your name is " Welcome?"
Welcome: Well, a lot.
Russ: All right. Well, how in the world did it happen?
Welcome: I was born in 1928, and in those days babies were born in the home. You did not go to the hospital.
Welcome: It'd be a waste of money and time, et cetera. So the doctor came to my parents' home. Now, the problem was the doctor had told my parents that I was gonna be a girl.
Welcome: You can imagine, 83 and a half years ago, how much the doctor knew about it: practically nothing.
Russ: Well, I was wondering, yeah; nothing.
Welcome: But it turned out that they frequently said that. So they had a girl's name picked out.
Welcome: And I surprised them by being a 12-pound boy.
Russ: Twelve pounds, too?
Welcome: So the doctor said, "Good luck," and closed his bag, and left. And there was no hospital to make you name the baby.
Welcome: So two or three days later, my parents were still discussing what to name the boy. And then, five days goes by, a week goes by, I still have no name; no-name Wilson. Two weeks goes by, three weeks, and finally, on the 22nd day after my birth, my father arrived home from work and he said, "Why don't we name him Welcome, so he'll know he's welcome, though he's not a girl?" And that's what they did.
Russ: [Laughs] And I think you've probably always felt pretty welcome.
Welcome: I have no complaints about the name.
Russ: All right. Well, then, my goodness, you go quite a few decades later and suddenly you have perhaps the most popular initials on the planet: W. W. W. Wow.
Welcome: By the way, the name of our ranch is the Triple W Ranch.
Russ: Okay, that makes sense.
Welcome: Because of that, but when the internet first got going about 25 years ago, Welcome Jr. tried to patent, or whatever you call it, the WWW signal. He was unsuccessful.
Russ: Unsuccessful. All right, well, real interesting. Now, I know for a fact that sort of the entrepreneurial spirit came alive in you at a fairly early stage. Share the first time that that sort of happened to you.
Welcome: My first entrepreneurial effort, I was in the second grade, and I guess I was about six years old. And I noticed in the cafeteria that there was a big mess where everyone brought their plates back. We didn't have trays in those days, by the way.
Welcome: Everybody just got their food on a plate, and sat down and ate it, and then came back and put it in this big stack, and the stack was always falling over and so forth. So one day I said, "Well, somebody ought to step in here and try to keep this mess from happening." So I stood there by the pile, and I would scrape food off and stack up the plates, and people would hand me their plates, and so forth. So every day, at noon, I started doing that. Well, after about four or five days, the lady who ran the cafeteria came over and said, "Welcome, it is so great that you're doing this, but we feel like we should give you a free lunch."
Welcome: Well, lunch in the depression cost $0.15.
Welcome: Including drink and all the rest that went with it. So it was a big deal, and I was so proud, at age five or six, that every morning when I left for school they would give my brother $0.15, because he didn't have a job, and they didn't give me $0.15.
Russ: Your parents?
Welcome: Right. And that was my first experience in entrepreneurship, which is if you see a need, and you fill that need, you will be rewarded. And that has stuck with me all of my life.
Russ: That is a great story. Now, this was taking place way down in south Texas, right?
Welcome: Corpus Christie, Texas.
Welcome: Where I lived until I was 12, and then I moved to Brownsville.
Russ: Okay. Did that spirit, realizing that, wow, if you see something that nobody wants to do, and you do it, you can sort of benefit, did that show up any more in your youth, in high school, or anything?
Welcome: Well, it did in high school. When I was 15, I was a senior in high school, and I got a part in the senior play.
Welcome: I forget the name of the play, but I remember my part was Mr. Twiller.
Russ: All right.
Welcome: In the play, like all senior plays I'm sure, there a thousand details that had to be handled. Props had to be found. People had to be - you had to find somebody to do this or that, and so forth.
Welcome: You needed a sponsor, and whatever. So I found that many of the tasks others didn't want to do, and so by simply agreeing to do those unpopular tasks, I suddenly gathered to myself a lot more authority and importance. So again, you see a need, you fill that need, and you're rewarded. I ended up being the most influential person in that entire enterprise, although I had a very minor part in the play.
Russ: Wow. So you gravitate towards those things that nobody else wants to do.
Welcome: Exactly, and you're rewarded.
Russ: Interesting, real interesting. Now, I think you also had some broadcasting experience back in that period, correct?
Welcome: Well, in World War II, beginning in about 1942, I was 14 years old, and all of the qualified radio announcers and broadcasters were in the service.
Russ: Okay, right.
Welcome: As you would expect in World War II, ten million men in the service. So the jobs went to teenagers, literally.
Welcome: Now, let me also say that my father owned the radio station.
Russ: That probably helped.
Welcome: So he was probably prejudiced in my regard, but in any event, I became a newscaster, a disc jockey, a station announcer, and so forth. And I remember the biggest thrill of all that time was announcing and covering the invasion of Normandy.
Welcome: On June the sixth, 1944. By that time, I was 16, and I was getting my information and then going on the air and giving it. Of course, I wasn't in Normandy, or anywhere close to it.
Russ: Right, right.
Welcome: But it was a big thrill, because we had waited so long, in World War II, to finally take the offensive and do something.
Russ: Really cool. I'm talking with Welcome Wilson, and we're gonna be back with more with him after this. But first, right now, from Brand Extract, our newest domain expert presentation called, "Brand New Money," totally focused on market product and organization. You're listening and watching the Business Maker show, heard here and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.
Russ: This is the Business Maker Show, heard here and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com, and continuing on with Welcome Wilson, telling us his story of his life, that includes these real cool entrepreneurship experiences. I know along the way, from being down in Brownsville, finally it was time - you went to, I believe, a junior college for a couple of years down there, right?
Welcome: Right. It's now University of Texas, Brownsville.
Russ: Okay. But then I think your dad thought you should get to a city, and brought you right here to our home base, Houston, Texas, to the University of Houston. And I understand that was a unique time at the University of Houston, as well, because all of the servicemen, the war was over, and they were coming back home, and may were going to college.
Welcome: Russ, in the spring semester at the University of Houston, there were 3,500 students. In the fall semester, when I entered with my brother, 10,500 students, triple in three months. So it was an exciting time, and the reason we came to Houston was my father felt like that Houston would be the economic center of the earth one day. The city had about 500,000 people at the time, but he felt it had all of the ingredients. He liked Mr. Jesse Jones, who he knew. He knew the publishers of both newspapers, and things like that. And he'd grown up in the radio business, as I'd mentioned earlier.
Welcome: So he felt like that being in Houston would be a great advantage to us. So he had heard about the University of Houston, and he wanted us to go there.
Russ: Okay, and I understand it was kind of a unique process of checking in and getting rooms, in that era, when all of the service people were coming back.
Welcome: Well, the university had purchased 200 army surplus house trailers.
Russ: House trailers?
Welcome: Now, these were not the house trailers that you know today, with all of the appliances and big beds, and whatever.
Welcome: Very small. They were about 24 feet long.
Welcome: We have automobiles, now, that long.
Russ: Right, right.
Welcome: It had a bunk at each end, and a little kitchenette in the middle, and no air conditioning, of course. And the biggest problem was that the bathroom was blocking halfway.
Russ: My goodness.
Welcome: But it was great. We enjoyed it. Rent was $10.00 a month each.
Russ: Okay, well, from what I understand, your dad dropped you and your brother off, and paid your rent, and your tuition, and gave you some good going away advice, too, right?
Welcome: My father believed that once a man was 14 years old, that he ought to support himself.
Welcome: And so that's why, when I became 14, I went to work as a radio announcer and disc jockey, and such.
Welcome: Although I lived at home, from that point forward, I always bought my own clothes and paid my tuition, and things like that. So he believed in self reliance. And so when he dropped us off at the house trailer, he said, "Okay, boys. I've paid your first month's tuition," which was $130.00 each.
Welcome: I've still got the receipt. And he said, "I've paid the first month's rent on this house trailer."
Welcome: "$10.00 for each of you. I'm giving you $50.00." And he said, "Boys, whatever you need going forward, whatever it is you need, I want you to call me up on the telephone and tell me what you need, and I'll explain to you how to get by without it." And Russ, we never heard from him, financially, again -
Welcome: The rest of our lives.
Welcome: You know, we were in constant touch, but there was no thought that he would be paying for anything.
Welcome: And he didn't.
Russ: For those of our listeners and watchers who don't know this, that Welcome eventually became the chairman of the board of regents at the University of Houston, and even today is championing the cause to move the university to tier-one status. In fact, the University of Houston meant a lot to you then, and means a lot to you now, right?
Welcome: Yeah, it does, it does.
Russ: And you've done - you did lots of jobs while you were there in school, as well, right? That sort of were related to the school?
Welcome: Well, I entered the University of Houston 65 years ago.
Welcome: It's been a big part of my life the last 65 years. The way Jack and I, my brother, got along was I began selling advertising for the newspaper at the University of Houston.
Welcome: Why? Nobody wanted to sell advertising.
Russ: There it goes again, that thinking.
Welcome: You see a need, you fill it, and you're rewarded. And it wasn't that it was that easy, but the point is I realized that if I was doing something that other people didn't wanna do, I'd get a lot of credit for it, and so forth. But then I learned, to my surprise, you got paid.
Welcome: I couldn't believe it. So in no time, I was the manager of the newspaper.
Russ: Wow, okay.
Welcome: The business manager, and Jack and I were managers of the year book, and we were managers of a little newspaper called The Village News, and the money was rolling in.
Russ: All while you were going to school?
Welcome: Yeah. We also sold polio insurance on the side.
Russ: Insurance? Yeah.
Welcome: We did singing commercials on the early days of television.
Russ: Well, now, I heard about that, too, and that had to be - it was filmed and then played on television?
Welcome: It was before they had video tape.
Welcome: So everything had to be live, and plus there was no network.
Welcome: There was the beginning of a network on the east coast, but they had what they called a coaxial cable - I always liked that name, coaxial cable - that had not reached Houston yet.
Russ: Oh, okay.
Welcome: So there was no NBC, or CBS. All programs were local, and there was one TV station, channel two.
Welcome: It was owned by an oil man named Lee.
Welcome: And then station's initials were KLEE.
Russ: For Mr. Lee?
Welcome: For Mr. Lee. They had a - the studio, and office, was in a Quonset hut off of Post Oak Road, which was a blacktop road west of town.
Russ: Wow, right.
Welcome: Back in the woods, very close to where Penn Oak Stables was later.
Russ: Okay, and you sang live commercials with your brother?
Welcome: Yes, we did commercials for Moss Store for Men. Remember, all of the advertising was local.
Welcome: We had - there were very few big, powerful companies around, or supermarkets, or anything like that.
Welcome: So for Moss Store for Men, Jack and I did singing commercials live on television.
Russ: Do you remember any of them?
Welcome: Well, there was one, Russ, that was for a wash-and-wear shirt.
Welcome: Nylon had been invented -
Welcome: And during World War II, no nylon was available for any merchandise. Nylon hose, for example, were sold only on the black market. And so, after the war was over, people began to make things with nylon, including wash-and-wear shirts, and they were revolutionary. So one of the commercials was for a wash-and-wear shirt, and the singing commercial went something like this: [Singing] You wash so easily, you dry and just like one, two, three, it's magic."
Russ: And you and your brother sang that acapella, right there, right?
Welcome: No, Jack had a ukulele.
Russ: Oh, okay.
Welcome: So we would be standing, and Jack would be strumming, and I would be standing next to him singing.
Russ: Do you remember how much you got paid for that?
Welcome: Absolutely: $10.00 for both of us, for a commercial.
Russ: All right.
Welcome: Sometimes, we had to take it out in merchandise, by the way.
Russ: All right, great. Now you mentioned Jack, your brother, and I understand you had, like, he and three other guys were real good friends, the five of you. Was everybody at the University of Houston?
Russ: Okay, and who were those guys?
Welcome: Well, Jonny Goin was my best friend. Jonny was the president of the student body in 1956 and '57.
Welcome: Jack Volenti had been president of the student body in '45 and '46. Another was Bill Cheryl, who was president of the freshman class in 1946, and then my brother, Jack.
Russ: Right, quite a group.
Welcome: And the five of us were great friends. We always planned to do something together, and we kind of thought we would go into the advertising business together.
Welcome: We never got around to doing that.
Russ: Okay, now Jack Volenti is the guy who went on out to Hollywood and got pretty big out there, right?
Welcome: Volenti was in the advertising business. He worked for Humble Oil Company, now Exxon Mobile. Volenti left Humble and started his own advertising agency called "Weekly and Volenti." They got the contract with Conoco for sales promotion.
Russ: Wow, okay.
Welcome: So we were all very close friends, did everything together. Volenti was a bachelor. And then finally, in the early '60s, Volenti married Lyndon Johnson's assistant, Mary Margaret Wiley.
Welcome: Volenti was with the vice president when Kennedy was assassinated.
Welcome: And the vice president, or then president, took Volenti to Washington. He was there for six weeks without a change of clothes, even, and he became Johnson's top assistant; and then a few years later became president of the Motion Picture Association of America, where he stayed 40 years.
Russ: Wow, impressive. And then Bill Cheryl, Bill Cheryl's been on the Business Maker Show a couple of times. He's the founding person behind the Wolf Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, now ranked number one in the nation. Right?
Welcome: Absolutely. Cheryl, who was an able, able guy at the University of Houston, it was apparent to all of us, so he was in our group. In addition to being real estate developers together, we owned a bank and a savings and loan association.
Welcome: That we acquired along the way. In 19 - I forget the year, but '64 or something like that, '65, he was appointed a member of the federal reserve board, which is a high honor, needless to say.
Welcome: But the president thought that his small bank background and entrepreneurship, and so forth, would be important. So he was a very successful member of the federal reserve board.
Russ: Well, and of the five, Bill and you are the only two that are still here charging forward, right?
Welcome: Yeah, the others are dead, unfortunately. You know, my brother Jack and I were together almost every day for 75 years.
Welcome: And he died about five or six, seven years ago, and except for the time that he was in the air force, and I was in the navy, we literally were together working in jobs next to each other our entire lives.
Russ: Wow, you probably really miss him.
Welcome: In fact, his office was right through that door.
Russ: Right there? Wow. ___ _____.
Welcome: And I do miss him.
Russ: All right. Talking with Welcome Wilson, and we'll be back with more with him after this. You're listening and watching The Business Maker Show, heard here and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.
Russ: This is The Business Makers Show, heard and seen here, and online, at TheBusinessMakers.com, and continuing on with Welcome Wilson. Now Welcome, I've heard you a couple of times before mention the importance of being a sales person, of sales skills, of actually being a pitch man. And in fact, specifically, I saw an instance one time with your assistant, when your assistant had produced some documents, and you were getting ready to tell us what was on the documents, and she handed them out to us while you were talking. And you promptly took them back, and said, "No, no, no." Talk to us about sales skills and being a sales person.
Welcome: Well, just to refer to that particular thing is the most common mistake a pitch man makes is to hand something in writing to somebody, and then talk at the same time; so neither the written word, or the verbal word, gets the attention it deserves from the recipient. But it's common. I've seen it happen a dozen times. So I tell my people, "Don't ever hand out anything until you're ready to stop talking."
Russ: Good advice, I think.
Welcome: But back to being a pitch man, there was an article about me in the Houston Business Journal a few years back, and the publisher told me later, he says, "Welcome, I couldn't get over how candid you were in your interview." And what he was talking about was the fact that I thought that making a pitch was a high calling, and that salesmen are sometimes denigrated, but I think salesmanship and salesmen carry out a very important role. Because whether it's Ronald Reagan, or the shoe salesman, it is getting control over other people's actions, the ability to control what other people do is a very, very important thing. I consider making - being able to make a pitch successfully very important.
Russ: Okay. You know, I think that's great advice, particularly in this era. With the internet, so many people think marketing is all that's important, but you're kind of underscoring the basics, which are my roots, sales, as well. I also experienced something in here one day, when you were talking about your ability to really zero in on eye contact, and that seemed to have something to do with sales as well.
Welcome: Well, my father taught me. And by the way, my father was a huge influence in my life.
Welcome: Tremendous influence, there's no doubt about it. But anyway, he always said you needed to look a man in the eye, and he also had a dozen other things, like a firm handshake, and all that kind of thing.
Welcome: But being able to look somebody in the eye, and keep looking them in the eye, regardless of what's going on, is something that is uncommon. Russ, in my entire life, there's only three times that I looked at somebody and I looked away before they did.
Welcome: Now you may think that's a crazy thing to keep track of -
Welcome: But the point is, I'm so used to staring people down, if that's the right way to put it -
Welcome: That when it doesn't happen I remember it.
Russ: Right, right.
Welcome: But another - an icy stare is a very powerful tool in human relations, particularly when you're in a supervisory position, because some - an employee will come in with this major complaint, and if you sit there nodding your head, then he'll go on and on and get more passionate than ever.
Welcome: If, on the other hand, you stare him in the eye and don't give any indication of what's on your mind, halfway through, they'll be apologizing for overacting.
Russ: Great. Great advice. Great advice. Okay, I've already heard you mention working for Eisenhower. You knew LBJ. You were with John Kennedy the night before he was assassinated. My goodness, having touched this many lives that were presidents, the most powerful men in the United States, what kind of memories do you have that are most significant, in your recollection, in meeting leaders of the United States?
Welcome: Well, the president I was closest to was LBJ, because we were together on many occasions, when he was senate majority leader, when he was vice president, and when he was - I remember one time, when he was vice president, he reached over and grabbed me on the knee, in that famous Lyndon Johnson style of trying to convince somebody of something, and I was convinced, I'll tell you that. But my first president was Dwight Eisenhower, who had appointed me to a high federal position when I was too young to be qualified for it, but I accepted it anyway.
Welcome: But the first time I met Eisenhower was in the fish room at the White house.
Welcome: Now called the treaty room. They called it the fish room, because it had a stuffed fish over the fireplace.
Welcome: But anyway, so I walked in the room and met Eisenhower, and I was stunned to see that he was pink in complexion.
Welcome: Pink. I don't mean a tan, I mean pink! And he had the kind of skin that would not tan.
Welcome: And he'd play golf all the time. So he was constantly - it looked like he had just come from the beach, or something.
Welcome: And was pink.
Welcome: I got used to it, finally, after three or four times. Lyndon Johnson was the most impassioned person that I knew. When he was set, and it looked like he was brooding, when he talked, he became so animated and so forth. John F. Kennedy was absolutely the most charismatic president I ever met. It seemed like he went around in a bubble of charisma that would just touch people. And he came to my hotel room in 1960, my hotel roommate was from New Mexico, and we had a suite at the Congressional Hotel. So after the convention was over, JFK came over to meet some friends of ours that - to talk about the campaign, or one thing or another. I had supported LBJ in the primary against JFK.
Russ: They were running against each other for the democratic nomination.
Welcome: So it was the first time that I had met Kennedy, and I found him so charming, so - he just lit up the room when he came in, and so forth; very, very fascinating. Then George Herbert Walker Bush is my good friend today, and his wife, Barbara. And George is so friendly, so personable, and so considerate. George W. Bush I know, but not nearly as well as I do George Herbert Walker Bush, but I like him and admire his presidency a great deal, George W. Bush. And history will show that he was a much, much more important president for American than a lot of people think today.
Russ: Very interesting. Very interesting. You must feel good about your life, I mean, having been around all of these neat people, and been friends with them?
Welcome: I've always been satisfied with my life, but I'm an optimist.
Russ: Tell us about this, then: Being an optimist, you're still very active in your company today, and we're talking about the GSL Welcome Group. Talk about that.
Welcome: I became a developer 55 years ago, when R.E. Bob Smith told me that I should not be in the oil business.
Welcome: He said the oil business was over for the independent.
Welcome: He said, "These oil wells cost $25,000.00 to drill." And he said, "An independent won't be able to raise that kind of money." He was wrong.
Welcome: But he said that I should become a real estate operator instead. He was - he owned more real estate in Harris County than any other man. He owned 10,000 acres in Harris County, most of it along what is now the south loop, and west loop, and places like that. We became a real estate developer 55 years ago, when we developed Jamaica Beach, in Galveston. And it was Jonny Goin, my best friend, the godfather to Welcome Jr., Jack Volenti, later the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Bill Cheryl, later the - a member of the federal reserve board, my brother Jack, and myself. So the five of us started developing Jamaica Beach.
We went on an developed apartments. We developed Tiki Island, which is also a separate city in Galveston county. We developed 8,000 home sites. We developed shopping centers. We developed office buildings, including three office buildings downtown, hotels, everything you could imagine. And then, 13 years ago, kind of by accident, we got into the single tenant industrial building business, and that's all we do now. We love it. It's exactly what we like doing, and the company now has four million square feet, all if it in Texas.
Welcome: Ninety percent of it is in metropolitan Houston, from Rosenberg to Conrow, and we add about another five or six properties every year.
Russ: Okay, and that's GSL Welcome Group?
Welcome: That's right.
Russ: Okay. Well, look, before I let you go, let's imagine that we have a young, aspiring business person that's been tuned in, hearing your story, a young aspiring entrepreneur. What kind of general advice would you give him or her?'
Welcome: Russ, I would repeat what I talked about earlier, in that - see things that other people are unwilling to do, and do it, and you'll be rewarded. So whether it's you see a new product that is needed, or more commonly you simply see tasks that need to be done, that other people are unwilling to do it. If you are willing to do it, you'll be rewarded. That's very, very important, whether you're an employee, or an entrepreneur, or what. The other thing is, about four or five years ago when I first became chairman of the board of regents to the University of Houston, I met a graduate of the Bauer College of Business, who was the chief executive officer of Sears, the department store.
Welcome: And someone asked him during a press conference what advice he gave to young aspiring students and business people. And he said something that I subscribe to. He said, "My motto is: be prepared, and show up." And Russ, I think that's what it's all about. Be prepared, and show up.
Russ: I agree. And Welcome, thank you so much for spending some time with us, and telling your story.
Welcome: Thank you for being here, Russ.
Russ: You bet. That's Welcome Wilson. And you've been watching and listening to The Business Makers Show, heard here and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.