Meet Jon Fredricks, President & CEO of Welk Resorts
In a top-floor corner office in San Marcos, overlooking the hustle and bustle on Highway 78, I sit down with Welk Resorts’ President & CEO Jon Fredricks. Grandson to Lawrence Welk himself, Jon has been at the helm of his grandfather’s company as President since 1999, and CEO since 2014, having taken over for his uncle, Larry Welk, Sr.
A handshake, a smile, and off we go.
Interviewer: Welk Resorts is all about vacations. What do you like to do when you’re on vacation?
Jon Fredricks: I love paddle boarding, so being able to paddle surf in Cabo San Lucas has been fun. We’ve taken some surfers and paddle surfers down to Cabo and gone out to the East Cape, Cerritos Beach.
I also love snowboarding! Being able to go to Northstar in Lake Tahoe and snowboard with family and friends has been a tremendous amount of fun. We’ve had a number of days where we’ve had powder up to our thighs and felt like we were coasting on air.
I: Given your grandfather’s expansive legacy, I’m sure our readers would like to know about some of your fondest memories ‘growing up Welk’?
JF: Traveling always comes to mind. I have many fond memories of family vacations and those with my grandfather too. He would come down to the Escondido resort and we’d spend time there together. He loved to be out entertaining people with his accordion at the restaurant, hanging out at family dinners and playing golf. I always had a great time with him.
Speaking of golf, I do have one memory. My grandfather had met President Ford for a round of golf one day and asked me to join them as their caddie. I was seventeen or so, and I was invited to his home in the desert and hung out with the two of them, then caddied eighteen holes of golf for him and the President of the United States. There were golf carts full of Secret Service agents following us around.
I: How have these experiences influenced your vision for the company?
JF: Growing up, our family spent a lot of time vacationing at our Escondido Resort. At that time, it was a combination of mobile homes, motel rooms, and there was golf and the theatre. I’d stay in the mobile home and take in the delicious barbecues they had, the stream of decorated golf carts at the July 4th parade. It was very family-oriented and always felt like vacation. Going toad and frog hunting at night and learning how to swing a golf club taught me the importance of being able to connect with family; something at the core of how we do business today.
I grew up with my parents, two brothers and two sisters. So just being able to connect as a family was important. We would play board games, go to movies, hang out by the pool and sometimes we would have cannonball contests. It was a realization of how important vacationing is for families to connect on a deeper level, spend a bunch of time and interact in ways they typically wouldn’t during a typical whirlwind week where you’ve got kids going to school, parents going to work, and you just don’t get that time.
We’re in a great industry, and the better job we do to allow our Owners to hang loose, spend quiet time together, or get involved in a variety of amenities and activities, the more they can build those family bonds.
I: And the values you’ve instilled in your employees?
JF: In terms of our Welk team members, we definitely focus to make sure they are taking time away from work and that we respect that time away. We have discounted rates for our team members to enjoy time at our resorts and different opportunities to utilize those benefits. Last year, we had some extra Interval International Gift Week Exchange Certificates that were going to expire, so we provided those to our team, so they could experience what our Owners experience.
Then there’s our Employee Stock Ownership Plan. About 12% of our company’s stock is held by our ESOP, and additional shares of stock are credited to the employee accounts every year. So, as the ESOP value grows and employees get more shares, they move closer to a more secure retirement. It’s a benefit that our employees haven’t had to pay anything for, but it allows us to create a more employee-owned culture where employees know that their work and behavior can lead to increased value in our ESOP.
I: Speaking of future growth, where do you see Welk Resorts headed as we move toward 2020?
JF: We’re really in a great, great spot! Welk Resorts has grown over the years. We’re very focused on our company culture, making sure that we’re training our team, instilling values in our team that are consistent with our company values, personal responsibility and leadership development. Because, in many ways, leadership development is about personal development—making sure you are showing up the way you should, and that your team can rely on you for support. We have an impressive team that knows the outcome, commits to it, and supports each other to get there.
From a resort perspective, we have Breckenridge that will be coming online, and we have every intention of expanding to Hawaii soon. We also have our Experiences Collection of resorts, a list that has grown by seven over a fairly short period of time. By 2020, my expectation is that our offerings will continue to expand and grow, increasing our ability to give our guests more opportunities to explore the world.
This will include, I hope, more urban resort experiences too. We’ve all seen or heard about beautiful cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. So giving our Owners the option to travel to these cities is a priority for us.
I: Name one place you’d like to travel.
JF: I haven’t done a lot of international travel, so I’d love to go to Brazil, Russia, China and check out other parts of Asia. I’ve never been to Japan either, so I’ve got a lotta travel in front of me!
I: Hopefully we all do. Okay, so you’ve been dropped in the heart of New York, blindfolded. Blindfold is removed. Where do you go first?
JF: Good question. Okay, when I remove my blindfold what part of New York would I be in?
I: Let’s say you are on the Upper West Side.
JF: I love Central Park, so I’d love to spend more time checking out the park. I’ve never actually been inside Trump Tower, which is an area of curiosity for me. I haven’t been to the World Trade Center since they reopened it, nor have I been to the World Trade Center Museum. Also, I haven’t actually done the trip to Ellis Island.
I: Would you have any relatives, potentially, ‘in the books’ on Ellis Island?
JF: Possibly, yeah. I don’t know if my relatives that ultimately ended up in North Dakota came through New York. I’d have to check. But New York is one of the greatest cities in the world; so much to see there. I’d love to spend a few weeks there.
I: So how does Welk Resorts give back? Any charities you’re proud of?
JF: We give back in a number of ways. Of course, we give directly to various non-profit organizations like the YMCA here in Escondido, and Brother Benno’s in Oceanside, which provides food and hygienic services to the homeless. Our team regularly volunteers there.
We have a number of charities that The Lawrence Welk Family Foundation gives to on an annual basis. The Lawrence Welk Family Foundation is an endowed foundation, which means that earnings on the vested assets my family and my grandfather have given to the foundation over the years can be used for charitable purposes. Between these earnings and donations from our corporate office and hospitality group, we’re able to give to a number of non-profit charitable organizations around the country and in Mexico, which support efforts to improve the lives of children and other groups in need.
I’m definitely proud of our company and individuals within our company. When hurricane Odile hit Cabo San Lucas in 2014, we had a number of team members who were displaced, had damage to their homes and lost personal items. So we did a fundraising campaign within our company, as well as through our vendors and partners, and were able to provide funds to our team members who were severely impacted by hurricane Odile.
I: Alright, the book on your nightstand and the CD in your car stereo.
JF: I’ve got a number of leadership books that I read, reread, and enjoy. I like all different kinds of music. I like classical music, some reggae, rock and roll—so I’m all over the map. That’s why I swapped my CD player out for satellite radio—I think I’m on about twenty different stations at any given time.
I: Sounds familiar.
JF: I even like some folk music.
I: Kingston trio?
JF: Oh yeah!
I: Great stuff. So when going on vacation, what can you not leave your house without?
JF: Probably my toothbrush and floss. My dentist told me that floss is more important than the toothbrush. It’s interesting, because I’ve gone on vacations where I’ve taken a whole bunch of stuff, and I’ve gone on vacations where I’ve packed pretty lightly. I tend to enjoy the vacations where I don’t have to pack too much, or do my laundry while I’m there. I like to go light and just enjoy the ride.
I: We’ll end on this one: If you could go to dinner with anyone, who would it be?
JF: Just one?
I: Make it three.
JF: One is certainly Abraham Lincoln. He was such a good president, who united our country at a time of true fracture—a time when our values as a society were really in question. He helped a nation determine what set of values it was going to hold most dear. With everything he went through, I think he’d be a fascinating person to talk to about his path and what he saw during those times.
Another person is my grandfather. He ended up with some memory issues late in life, so I didn’t have a lot of time where I was an adult and knew him well. I knew him well as a child, but your perspective is so different in those moments. That would be fascinating to get to know him as an adult, one-on-one.
A bunch of other people come to mind. John McCain is an interesting leader in our country. To suffer so much as a prisoner of war, then become a statesman, a questioning figure in our society, and a strong leader—it’s remarkable. Between those three people, I think it would make for quite the dinner conversation!
To learn more about Welk Resorts and its founder, check out our About Us page.