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Meet Welcome Wilson Sr., A Man Who Got 'In On The Ground Floor' Of Houston In 1946

Welcome Wilson Jr. and Sr. at Bisnow's Houston State of the Market 2018

Welcome Group Chairman Welcome Wilson Sr.'s career in local real estate began in the 1950s and he is active to this day. When asked about turning 90, Wilson joked that it "isn't all bad — everything I buy comes with a lifetime guarantee."

Wilson keynoted Bisnow's Houston State of the Market event, in the form of an interview conducted by his son, Welcome Group President and CEO Welcome Wilson Jr. 

Wilson recalled first coming to Houston in 1946 when he attended the University of Houston.

"My father believed Houston was going to be business capital of the country someday, and he wanted my brother Jack and I to get in on the ground floor," Wilson said. "Houston had 600,000 people then. Now there are more than 6 million. My father was right."

Wilson originally aspired to be an oilman, but was inspired by Bob Smith, an oilman who owned 20,000 acres in 30 locations in the Houston area, to begin a career in real estate, besides serving stints in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, overseeing civil defense for a large part of the country.

"My first project was Jamaica Beach in Galveston in 1956," Wilson said. "Bob Smith sold the land to me, and co-signed my loan to put in streets and utilities. Of course, I made all the mistakes first-time developers make."

Wilson went on to be the developer of Tiki Island in Galveston County, and eventually developed 8,000 home sites in four counties in Texas. 

But he said he knew he wanted to expand into other kinds of real estate, and over the decades has been a developer of apartments ("when I stared, we never heard the term multifamily," he said), retail centers, office buildings and a hotel, the fifth Marriott Hotel ever built, in 1965.

More recently, he has been the developer of a significant amount of industrial property. The Welcome Group owns 80 manufacturing and other industrial facilities in Texas comprising about 3.5M SF. 

Wilson serves on the board of directors of the Greater Houston Partnership, which he lauded as an organization that "deals with problems head on," and was on on the board of regents, and then chairman of the board, at the University of Houston, which has progressed to be a Carnegie Foundation Tier One school under the leadership of Renu Khator. Only 115 universities of the country's 4,700 institutions qualified for that designation.