Welcome Wilson Sr., Business Legend, speaking on Business Maker in 2014
Interviewer: This is the Business Maker Show, heard here and seen online at the businessmakers.com. I am very pleased to be in the offices of Mr. Welcome Wilson, serial entrepreneur, community leader, academic leader and founder and chairman of GSL Welcome Group, Welcome Wilson. Welcome, welcome to the Business Maker Show.
Mr. Wilson: Thank you, I’m glad to be here Russ.
Interviewer: Well let’s just start with that given name, how many times in your life do you think you have explained why your name is Welcome?
Mr. Wilson: Well a lot.
Interviewer: Alright, well how in the world did it happen.
Mr. Wilson: I was born in 1928 and in those days babies were born in the home, you did not go to a hospital, waste of money and time etc. so the Doctor came to my parents’ home, now the problem was the Doctor had told my parents that I was going to be a girl, you can imagine 83 1/2 years ago, how much the Doctor knew about it, practically nothing but it turned they frequently said that, so they had a girl’s name picked out, lost in memory now and I surprised them by being a 12lb boy.
Interviewer: 12 lbs.
Mr. Wilson: So, the Doctor said good luck and closed his bag and left and there was no hospital to make you name the baby, so 2 or 3 days later my parents were still discussing what to name the boy and then 5 days goes by, a week goes by I still have not name, no name Wilson. Two weeks goes by, 3 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 is not a girl, and that’s what they did.
Interviewer: Laughs, and I think you have probably always felt very pretty welcome.
Mr. Wilson: I have no complaints about the name.
Interviewer: Then my goodness you go quite a few decades later and suddenly you have perhaps the most popular initials in the planet, WWW wow.
Mr. Wilson: By the way the name of our ranch is triple double ranch because of that, but when the internet first got going about 25 years ago Welcome Jnr. tried to patent or whatever you call it the WWW signal, he was unsuccessful.
Interviewer: Unsuccessful, alright well real interesting. Now I know for a fact that sort that the entrepreneurial spirit came alive in you at a fairly early stage. Share the first time that that sort of happened to you.
Mr. Wilson: Well my first entrepreneurial effort, I was in the 2nd grade and I guess I was about 6 years old, maybe 5 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. Everybody just got their food on a plate and sat down and ate it and then came back and put in this 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 plate and so forth. So, every day at noon I started doing that, well after about 4 or 5 days the lady who ran the cafeteria came over and said, Welcome, it is so great that you are doing this, but we feel like we should give you a free lunch.
Mr. Wilson: Well lunch in the depression cost 15c including drink and all the rest that went with it, so it was a big deal and I was so proud at age 5 or 6 that every morning when I left for school they would give my brother 15c because he didn’t have a job, they didn’t give me 15c.
Interviewer: Your parents?
Mr. Wilson: And so, that was my 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 my life.
Interviewer: That is a great story, now this was taking place way down in South Texas, right?
Mr. Wilson: Brownsville, Texas yes.
Interviewer: Brownsville Texas, real interesting, sorry.
Mr. Wilson: It was Corpus Christi Texas where I lived until I was 12 then I moved to Brownville.
Interviewer: Okay but I stand corrected then, for sure. So, that spirit realized that wow if you see something that nobody wants to do, and you do it you can sort of benefitted, did that show up anymore in your youth in high school or anything.
Mr. Wilson: 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, I forget the name of the play but I remember my part was Mr. Twiller and in the play like all senior plays I’m sure, there were 1000 details that had to be handled, props had to be found, we had to find somebody to do this or that and so forth, 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 gather to myself a lot more authority and importance. So, again you see a need, you fill that need and you are rewarded. I ended up being the most influential person in that entire enterprise although I had a very minor part in the play.
Interviewer: Wow so you gravitate towards those things that nobody else wants to do.
Mr. Wilson: Exactly, and you are rewarded.
Interviewer: Real interesting, and I think you also had some broadcasting experience back in that period, correct?
Mr. Wilson: Well in World War II beginning at about 1942, I was 14 years old and all of the qualified radio announcers and broadcasters were in the service, as you would expect in World War II, 10 million men in the service so the jobs went to teenagers, literally. Now let me also say that my father owned the radio station, so he was probably prejudice in my regard, but in any of that 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 on June 6, 1944. By that time, I was 16 and when I was getting my information and going on the air and giving it, of course I wasn’t in Normandy or even close to it, but it was a big thrill because we had waited so long in World War II to finally take the offensive and do something.
Interviewer: I’m talking with Welcome Wilson and we are going to be back with more from him after this but first right now from Brand Extract our newest domain expert presentation called brand new money, totally focussed on market, product and organization. You are listening and watching the Business Maker Show heard here and seen online at the businessmaker.com.
Being a thought leader isn’t something that happens overnight but reaching that position lets you charge more for your service or product, hi I’m Johnathan Fisher and this is brand new money, a 90 seconds business maker segment helping executives leverage their brand and grow their business, brought to you by Brand Extract. Everyone has an opinion but thought leaders never keep it to themselves, most write blogs and speak at industry events, but have you thought about publishing a trend report. Consumers can download your report on a regular basis, whether it’s annually or quarterly which has the added benefit of allowing you to collect and qualify leads, even the smallest company can own a leadership position when they focus on the industry’s hottest topics. It could be the impact of changes in regulation, compliance or service trends and if surveying your customers isn’t for you look at the aggregated data you already collect, like pricing reports or product velocity. You may be sitting on a industry report and not even know it anything that helps your prospects and customers make decisions can be turned into a valuable lead generation tool. Over time you investment in this effort will grow, we’ve seen average requests for reports nearly double in their second year and soon you will be a primary information source and thought leader for your customers and prospects, that will raise your value in the industry allowing you to charge more, this has been Brand New Money brought to you every week by Brand Extract, I’m Johnathan Fisher.
Interviewer: This is the Business Maker Show heard here and seen online at the businesmakers.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 the Brownsville finally it was time, you went to I believe Junior college for a couple of years down there right.
Mr. Wilson: It’s now University of Texas, Brownsville.
Interviewer: 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 service men the war was over and they were coming back home and many were going to college.
Mr. Wilson: Russ in the spring semester at the University of Houston there were 3500 students, in the fall semester when I entered with my brother 10,500 students, tripled in 3 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 centre of the earth one day. And the city had about 1/2 a million 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 had grown up in the radio business as I had mentioned earlier and so he felt like Houston would be a great advantage to us, so he had heard about the University of Houston and he wanted us to go there.
Interviewer: And I understand that it was kind of a unique process of checking in and getting rooms in that area when all the service people were coming back.
Mr. Wilson: Well the University had purchased 200 army surplus house trailers. Now these were not the house trailers that you know today with all of the appliances and big beds whatever, these were very small they were about 24ft long which we have automobiles now that long, 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 a block and a half away.
Interviewer: My goodness.
Mr. Wilson: So, but it was great we enjoyed it, the rent was $10 a month each.
Interviewer: 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.
Mr. Wilson: Well my father believed that once a man was 14 years old that he ought to support himself. And so that’s why when I became 14 I went to work as a radio announcer and disc jockey and such and 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 paid your first month’s tuition which was $130.00 each, I still got the receipt. And he said I have paid the first month’s rent on this house trailer, $10.00 for each of you and I’m giving you $50.00 and he said boys whatever you need going forward, whatever it is that you need I want you to call me up on the telephone, that’s the way we talked in those days. 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 the rest of our lives, we were in constant touch but there was no thought that he would be paying for anything and he didn’t.
Interviewer: For those of our listeners and watchers who don’t know this that Welcome eventually became the Chairman of the Board or Regents at the University of Houston and even today is championing the cause to move the University to tier 1 status, in fact the University of Houston meant a lot to you then and means a lot to you now right?
Mr. Wilson: Yeah it does.
Interviewer: And you did lots of job while you were there in school as well, you sort of were related to the school.
Mr. Wilson: Well I entered the University of Houston 65 years ago and it’s been a big part of my life for the last 65 years and the way Jack and I, my brother got along was I began selling advertising for the newspaper and the University of Houston, why nobody wanted to sell advertising.
Interviewer: There it goes again, that thing.
Mr. Wilson: You see a need, you fill it and you are rewarded, well I got and it wasn’t that easy but the point is that I realized if I were doing something that other people didn’t want to do, I would get a lot of credit for it and so forth, but then I learnt to my surprise you got paid, I couldn’t believe it so in no time, I was the Manager at the newspaper, Business Manager and Jack and I were managers of the year book and we were manager of a little newspaper called the village news and the money was rolling in.
Interviewer: All while you were going to school.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah and we also sold polio insurance on the side, we did singing commercials on the early days of television.
Interviewer: When I heard about that too, that had to be filmed and then played on television.
Mr. Wilson: It was before they had video tape, so everything had to be live plus there was no Network. 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. So, there was no NBC or CBS, all programs were local and there was one TV station Channel 2, it was owned by an oil man named Lee. And the station’s initials were KLEE for Mr. Lee and they had the studio and office was in the quanson hut off post oak road which was a black top road west of town back in the woods, very close to where pin oaks stables was later.
Interviewer: Okay, and you did sing live commercials with your brother.
Mr. Wilson: Yes, we did commercials for Mosks Store for men, remember all the advertising were local. We had very few big powerful companies around or supermarkets or anything like that. So Mosks store for men Jack and I did singing commercial live on television.
Interviewer: Do you remember any of them?
Mr. Wilson: Well there was one Russ that was for a wash and wear shirt, nylon had been invented and during World War II nylon was available for any merchandise, nylon hose for example, 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 “you wash so easily, you dry in just like 1, 2, 3, it’s magic”
Interviewer: And you and your brother sang that acapella right there?
Mr. Wilson: No Jack had a ukulele.
Mr. Wilson: So, we would be standing, and Jack would be strumming, and I would be standing next to him singing.
Interviewer: Do you remember how much you got paid for that?
Mr. Wilson: Absolutely, $10.00 for both of us per commercial, sometimes we had to take it out in merchandise by the way.
Interviewer: Wow, alright now you mentioned Jack your brother and I understand you had like he and 3 other guys were real good friends the 4 of you I guess there were actually 5 of you, was everybody at the University of Houston?
Mr. Wilson: Yes.
Interviewer: And who were those guys?
Mr. Wilson: Well Johnny Gowen was my best friend, Johnny was the President of the student body in 1956 and 57, Jack Valenti had been President of the student body iin 45 and 46 and another one was Bill Sherrill who was President of the Freshman Class in 1946 and then my brother Jack.
Interviewer: Quite a group.
Mr. Wilson: And the 5 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, we never got around to doing that.
Interviewer: Okay, now Jack Valenti is the guy that went on to Hollywood and got pretty big out there right?
Mr. Wilson: Yes, Valenti was in the advertising business, he worked for Humble Oil Company no Exxon Mobil and Valenti left Humble and started his own advertising agency called Weekly and Valenti and they got the contract with Conoco for sales promotion. So, we were all very close friends, did everything together, Valenti was a bachelor and finally in the early 60’s Valenti married Lyndon Johnson’s Assistant, Mary Margaret Wiley.
Mr. Wilson: And Valenti was with the Vice President when Kennedy was assassinated and the Vice President, then President took Valenti to Washington he was there for 6 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.
Interviewer: Wow impressive, and then Bill Sherill, Bill Sherrill has been on the Business Maker Show a couple of times, he’s the founding person behind the Wolff Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, now ranked number 1 in the nation, right?
Mr. Wilson: Absolutely, Sherill who was an able, able guy at the University of Houston, it was apparent to all of us so he was in our group and in addition to be real estate developers together, we owned a Bank and Savings Loan Association that we acquired along the way and in 19, I forget the year 64 or something like that 65 he was appointed a member of the Federal Reserve Board, which is a high honour needless to say, 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.
Interviewer: Well and of the 5 Bill and you are the only 2 that are still here charging forward?
Mr. Wilson: Yeah, the others are dead, unfortunately me and my brother Jack and I were together almost every day for 75 years and he died about 5 or 6,7 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 life. In fact, his office was right through that door. I do miss him.
Interviewer: Wow you probably miss him, wow right there. Now Welcome I have heard you a couple of times before mention the importance of being a sales person, of sales skills of actually being a pitch man, 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 in 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.
Mr. Wilson: 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 have seen it happen dozen times, so I tell my people don’t ever hand out anything until you are ready to stop talking.
Interviewer: Okay, good advice.
Mr. Wilson: Now 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 salesman carry out a very important role because, whether it’s Ronald Reagan or the shoes salesman it is getting control over other people’s actions, the ability to control what other people do is a very, very important thing. So, I consider being able to make a pitch successfully very important.
Interviewer: I think that’s great advice particularly in this area with the internet, so many people think marketing is all that’s important, but you are kinda underscoring the basics which were 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 seems to have something to do with sales as well.
Mr. Wilson: Well my father taught me, and by the way my father was a huge influence in my life, tremendous influence there is 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 firm hand shake and all that kind of thing.
Mr. Wilson: But being able to look somebody in the eye and keep looking them in the eye regardless of what else is going on is something that is uncommon. Russ in my entire life there is only 3 times that I looked at somebody and I looked away before they did. You may think that’s a crazy thing to keep track of, but the point is I’m so used to staring people down if that’s the right way to put it, that when it doesn’t happen I remember it and I see stare is a very powerful tool in human relations, particularly when you are in a Supervisory position because an employee will come in with his major complaint, if you sit there nodding your head then he will go on and on and get more passionate than ever. If on the other hand you stare him in the eye and don’t give any indication of what is on your mind, half way through they will be apologizing for over reacting.
Interviewer: Great advice, great advice, okay I have already heard you mentioned working for Eisenhower, you knew LBJ, you were with John Kennedy the night before he was assassinated my goodness having touched so many lives that were Presidents, the most powerful man in the United States what kind of memories do you have that are most significant in your recollection of meeting leaders of the United States.
Mr. Wilson: 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 I remembered 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 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. But the first time I met Eisenhower was in the Fish room at the White House, now called the 3D room. They called it the Fish room because it had a stuffed fish over the fireplace. But anyway, so I walked into the room and met Eisenhower and I was stunned to see that he was pink in complexion.
Mr. Wilson: Pink, I don’t mean tan, I mean pink and he had the kind of skin that would not tan and he would play golf all the time, so he was constantly, it looked like he had just come from the beach or something and was pink.
Interviewer: Okay interesting.
Mr. Wilson: I got used to it finally after 3 or 4 times. Lyndon Johnson was the most impassioned person that I knew, when he was sad 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, he 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 room mate 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 to talk about the campaign and one thing or another. I had supported LBJ in the primary against JFK, so it was the first time that I had met Kennedy and I found him so charming, he just lit up the room when he came in and so forth and he was 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 America than a lot of people think today.
Interviewer: Very interesting, very interesting. You must feel good about your life having been around all these neat people and being friends with them?
Mr. Wilson: I have always been satisfied with my life but I’m an Optimist.
Interviewer: That certainly helps doesn’t it, well alright tell us about this then, being an optimist, you are still very active in your company today, and we are talking about the GSL Welcome Group, talk about that.
Mr. Wilson: I became a developer 55 years ago when R.E. Bob Smith told me I should not be in the oil business; he said the oil business was over for the independent. 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, but he said that I should become a real estate operator instead. He owned more real estate in Harris County than any other man, he owned 10,000 acres in Harris County, most of it belonged to what is now the south loop and west loop and places like that. So, we became a real estate developer 55 years ago when we developed Jamaica Beach in Galveston and it was Johnny Gowen, my best friend, the godfather to Welcome Jnr Jack Valenti, later the President of the Motion Picture Association of America, Bill Sherrill later a member of the Federal Reserve Board, my brother Jack with whom I spent every day for 75 years except the time we were in the service.
Mr. Wilson: He was in the Air Force, I was in the Navy and myself, so the 5 of us started developing Jamaica Beach, we went on and developed apartments, we developed Tiki Island which is also a separate city in Galveston. County, we developed 8000 home sites, we developed shopping centres, we developed office buildings including 3 office buildings downtown, hotels everything you could imagine and then 13 years ago kinda 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 a 4 million sq. ft. all of it in Texas, 90% of it is in Metropolitan Houston from Rosenberg to Conrow and we add about another 5 or 6 properties every year.
Interviewer: Okay and that’s GSL Welcome Group. 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?
Mr. Wilson: Russ I would repeat what I talked about earlier in that see things that other people and unwilling to do and do it and you will be rewarded. So, whether it is that 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 will be rewarded. That’s very, very important whether you are an employee or entrepreneur or what. The other thing is about 4, 5 years ago when I first became Chairman of the Board of Regents at 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 and someone asked him during a press conference what advice he gave to young aspiring students and business people, 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.
Interviewer: I agree, and Welcome thank you so much for spending some time with us and telling your story.
Mr. Wilson: Thank you for being here Russ.
Interviewer: You bet, and that’s Welcome Wilson and you have been watching and listening to the Business Maker Shower and seen online at the businessmakers.com