Houston real estate legend Welcome Wilson, Sr. has served as Chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of Houston System, he is the current chairman of the GSL Welcome Group and he served in the executive offices of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Laura Max interviews a real Renaissance Man.
Laura: Hi, everyone. I'm Laura Max, your host of The Light Files on the Businessmakers.com, brought to you by Audi Central Houston. I'm here today with Welcome Wilson. Welcome is the former chairman of the Board of Regents for University of Houston and the current chairman of the GSL Welcome Group. Welcome, welcome to the show.
Welcome: Thank you, Laura. Thank you.
Laura: That's the first time I've ever gotten to say that. So for those Houstonians who don't know you, which I know at this point are probably few and far between, tell us about what you do for the GSL Welcome Group in your current position as chairman.
Welcome: Laura, I've been a real estate developer in Texas for 57 years. My first project was Jamaica Beach in Galveston, which is now a separate city in Galveston County.
Laura: It is.
Welcome: In 57 years, I have done every kind of real estate known to man. Sixteen years ago, kind of by mistake, we got into the single tenant industrial building business, and now that's all we do.
Laura: Well, it really makes sense to me that you've cultivated Houston through real estate because it's clear that you love this city. You came here to go to the University of Houston. You being a student there is such an interesting story. Can you tell us how you became a student at University of Houston?
Welcome: My father felt like Houston would become the business capital of the world, so in 1946, right after World War II, he insisted that my brother, Jack, and I come to the University of Houston, which no one had ever heard of, so that we could be in the city of Houston and make connections and so forth. So he drove us to Houston and dropped us off.
Laura: Just dropped you off, just like that, said, "You're on your own."
Welcome: Well, here's what he said. He said, "Boys, I paid your first semester's tuition. I paid the first rent on this house trailer," and he said, "I've got $50.00 each for you." He gave it to us, and he said, "Whenever you need anything, boys, whatever you need, call me up on the telephone and I'll explain how you can get by without it."
Laura: So incredible. Your father really taught you self-reliance by leaving you on your own essentially after paying your first semester's tuition. And they used to say that the Wilson boys would do anything for 10.00 bucks.
Welcome: That's right.
Laura: And what kinds of things did you end up doing?
Welcome: Well, we did singing commercials on TV back when there was no network and no tape. By that, I mean everything was live on TV.
Laura: Okay, these singing commercials, Welcome. I have to ask can you sing us one of your old tunes?
Welcome: So one commercial that I remember was when we were advertising wash and wear shirts. Nylon had just been invented and they had wash and wear shirts and the commercial went like this. [Singing] You wash so easily. You dry in just like one, two, three. It's magic.
Laura: I think your voice must sound the same today as it did back then. That was incredible.
Welcome: That bad.
Laura: No wonder you were known as a man of many traits, Welcome. That makes sense. So clearly your set up for being a self-reliant individual served you very well. You've gone on to pursue more trades and more adventures than probably anyone else I've ever interviewed on this show, and your daughter put together a list of 100 things you may not know about Welcome Wilson, Sr. So I'm just gonna go down the list here of things that I want to know more about. The first one is that you served in the Executive Office of the President under JFK in 1961.
Welcome: Okay, I was appointed by Dwight Eisenhower to the Executive Office of the President, and then when JFK became president, I served under him, as well. My job was I was the five-state director of civil and defense mobilization.
Laura: And you said that you spent the day with JFK the day before he was assassinated.
Welcome: Yes, he came to Houston. My close friend and partner, Jack Valente, was chairman of the Albert Thomas Dinner to which JFK was invited to make the principal speech, so JFK flew to Houston with the vice president was also here, Lyndon Johnson. I was in charge of the arrival at the airport. My job was to go get people off of Air Force One and Air Force Two, the vice president's plane, and get them into the right vehicle for the motorcade downtown. So I met Jackie for the first time. I had met JFK before. As a matter of fact, during the campaign he came to my hotel room.
Laura: These are stories really people only dream of getting to tell and you get to tell them as your own.
Welcome: Well, see when I say JFK came to my hotel room, that's very impressive, isn't it?
Laura: Oh, absolutely.
Welcome: Well, okay. Let me tell you the real story. I was in Washington, D.C. with a friend of mine from New Mexico and he was the one who invited JFK to come over to our suite where we were holding a small reception for the New Mexico delegation of senators and congressmen, and so JFK showed up and stayed about 40 minutes.
Laura: No way.
Welcome: And Laura, he was the most charismatic man I think I've ever met. It was his smile. It was so warm. He was so engaging and so forth.
Laura: That's so incredible. So I'm going down the list here. We have another story that I just can't wait to hear more about, that you married your college sweetheart Joanne on college graduation day in 1949. How did you pull off two major ceremonies in one day?
Welcome: Well, I skipped the graduation ceremony and went to the wedding.
Laura: Clearly the more important of the two ceremonies.
Welcome: No question about it. I'd met her at a Sadie Hawkins Day dance. Do you know what a Sadie Hawkins Day dance is?
Laura: Where the girl asks the boy to the dance. So she asked you?
Welcome: No, she did not. Some other girl asked me, a beautiful brunette, but I met her at the dance. She never said a word but we sat across this card table in the gymnasium and she was dressed like Daisy Mae, if you know what I mean.
Laura: I know what you mean.
Welcome: And she was the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life.
Laura: I think a lot of people are awing on the other side right now.
Welcome: She never opened her mouth. She just smiled and one thing and another. So then she left and I lost track of her and I couldn't find her anywhere for six months. I kept searching for her 'cause I didn't know her name or anything like that, and then one day I bumped into her in the hallway and I never let her go again.
Laura: It was fate, it sounds like. Fantastic. Well, I have to ask you one more. I mean there are just so many incredible facts about you on this list. One of them that I find incredible which I'll just skim over is that you have worked out every day at the health club for is it the last 50 years?
Welcome: Fifty-one now.
Laura: Fifty-one now. I mean that's a feat that I have to say serving in JFK's executive office is fantastic but I'm pretty impressed by the fact that you've been working out every day for 51 years.
Welcome: Well, 50 years ago, my best friend was 65 years old when I was 25 years old. Artie Bob Smith, who was a millionaire oil man, was my best friend. I worked for him and they opened the President's Health Club in downtown Houston on Main at West Gray. He would call me up at 1:00 every day and say, "All right, Mr. Welcome. Time to go." And I'd meet him at the President's Health Club beginning in 1963.
Laura: So we've talked a lot about your past accomplishments and adventures but it's clear that you are still doing a lot in your life today. What are some of your current endeavors that you're most excited about or most proud of?
Welcome: We own about three and a half million square feet of industrial buildings, manufacturing plants, and things like that. We're the landlord and then we lease it to people in 80 locations in Texas. Ninety percent of them are in metropolitan Houston, such as National Oilwell Varco in Rosenberg or ReedHycalog in Conroe or Goya Foods in Katy. We hope to buy $80 million worth of buildings this year, additional buildings, but it's very difficult because prices are so high and the economy in Houston is booming so much.
Laura: Yeah. It's definitely a sellers' market they say right now.
Welcome: You should be selling, not buying.
Laura: Well, it's been fantastic having you on the show. I guess the last question I want to ask you is that as a graduate of U of H and the former chairman of the Board of Regents for U of H, you're still very involved with the university. How are you still participating in what's now I think they were just voted the most beautiful campus in America.
Welcome: Isn't that great?
Laura: So things have changed for U of H since you went.
Welcome: When I was chairman, we spent $1 billion on new buildings.
Laura: It certainly paid off
Welcome: A billion dollars on new buildings, but one of the things that caused us to get that award was the outdoor art, because when we build a building, let's say it cost $100 million, we will spend $1 million on outdoor art somewhere on the campus, so we have about 200 fantastic pieces of outdoor art on the campus of the University of Houston and I'm sure that's one of the reasons. Also, I'm chairman of the political action committee of the University of Houston. I'm the founding chairman of the Graduate Real Estate Program. I'm chairman of the Sugarland Task Force. And any time anything controversial comes along, the chancellor appoints me to something.
Laura: So speaking of the chancellor, I understand you had a large role in bringing Renu Khator here to the University of Houston.
Welcome: I did. I had been chairman for a week when the search committee brought forth three candidates to be interviewed by the Board of Regents to be chancellor of the university system and president of the University of Houston. All of the three candidates, any one of them would have made fine presidents for the University of Houston, no question about it. Everyone seemed to favor - when I say everyone, I mean members of the Board of Regents - favored Candidate No. 2 because he had already been president of two universities and we felt like he could hit the ground running and so forth. So she was the third one we interviewed and she came across very appropriately and impressive and so forth, but when she got to the end of the interview, she turned to me and said, "And Mr. Chairman, I've got fire in the belly." And that did it for me, and she has fire in the belly to this day. She is the hardest working, most competent person I have ever run across in my life.
Laura: Unbelievable. Well, you've just had so many accomplishments in your life and they only are continuing. It has been such an honor to have you on this show, Welcome. Thank you for joining us today and thank you for sharing your stories with us.
Welcome: Thank you, Laura.
Laura: And I'm your host, Laura Max, of The Light Files, brought to you by Audi Central Houston. You can find us each week on the Businesmakers.com or at noon Central Time on Sunday on News 92 FM. We'll see you all again next week. Bye, everyone.