Business

A champagne career for Welk Resort Group's president

Jon Fredricks is president of Welk Resort Group, part of his grandfather Lawrence Welk's business empire
Jon Fredrick's business career took some twists and turns

The gig: Jon Fredricks, 51, is president of the Welk Resort Group, part of the business empire built by his grandfather, bandleader Lawrence Welk, a North Dakota farmer's son with a fourth-grade education. Welk, who died in 1992, is best known for what he called "champagne music," popularized on his long-running television program "The Lawrence Welk Show." The success of that variety show and associated ventures gave Welk the money to expand into music publishing (now called Welk Music Group) and real estate, including the hotel and time-share resort business.

Lawrence's lessons: Welk, born in 1903, didn't speak much English when he left the family farm at age 21, armed with his accordion. "He really never had much business success until he was in his 50s," Fredricks said. "The Lawrence Welk Show" ran in Los Angeles on KTLA-TV from 1951 to 1955 before the variety show went national and stayed on the air for almost 28 years. The band leader was "never complaining about what was or wasn't happening in his life. He was always focused on what was possible," Fredricks said. "He just had a very strong belief that he would be successful in music, and ultimately he was."

Local roots: Fredricks grew up in Brentwood and attended Palisades High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in urban planning from UC San Diego in 1985. Fredricks declined to join the family business after college. Instead, he thought he would try a medical field, like his doctor father, and became a paramedic. "I had an interest in business and potentially medicine," Fredricks said. "I enjoyed being a medic, but medicine was not something I wanted to choose as a long-term career."

Coming home: Fredricks' career path kept bringing him back to the Welk businesses. From 1988 to 1990, he worked on a project renting episodes of the Welk show to retirement and nursing homes. He also helped manage the family's San Diego-area resort. "We were really a fairly small business at that point," Fredricks said, "and I wasn't necessarily getting the kind of business background I wanted." Next came a stint as a commercial loan officer with Union Bank. In 1993, Fredricks got an offer he couldn't pass up, managing the family's new resort in Branson, Mo. "I learned I loved the resort business," he said. "When I was general manager in Branson, I personally responded to all of the guests' and owners' compliments and complaints. I really enjoyed that, knowing we could learn from our guests and get better."

Moving up: Fredricks was named president of Welk Resort Group in 1999. The 1,500-employee company owns properties in or near San Diego, Palm Springs, Lake Tahoe, Branson and Cabo San Lucas, with developments planned in Colorado and Hawaii. The resorts operate as hotels and time-shares, with amenities including golf courses, live theater, shopping and recreation centers. "We're really creating environments for families to have great vacations. To be able to do that, I thought, was very cool," he said.

Growth path: "We had one flat year from 2008 to 2009, but we never declined in terms of sales volume," Fredricks said. "We had people who were defaulting on their mortgages, but kept paying on their time-share" because "they could still look forward to a vacation." Welk Resorts has made 16,000 loans, usually with 10- to 15-year terms, to people wanting to buy time-shares. The company is on pace to hit a record $150 million in revenue this year, Fredricks said.

Family affair: Fredricks' 74-year-old uncle, Lawrence Welk Jr., chairs the board of Welk Resort Group. Fredricks' sister, Lisa Parker, is executive director of the Welk Family Foundation charity. His cousin Kevin Welk is president of Santa Monica-based Welk Music Group, which owns the Vanguard, Sugar Hill and Ranwood labels. Other family members, including one member of the fourth generation, also work in the various operations.

Role models: Fredricks' mother, Shirley, raised him and four siblings before becoming a leader in the philanthropic world with the Council on Foundations. His father, Robert, was a medical director of St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. "They taught me the need to be passionate and fully committed about your family and your career," Fredricks said.

Figuring it out: "Wake up in the morning to something you really enjoy and get a lot of juice out of," he said. "I know a lot of highly paid executives who aren't particularly happy with the role they are in, and that can be a miserable kind of life."

Personal: Fredricks lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with his wife, Tracy, and their four children. In his off time, Fredricks plays soccer and enjoys paddle boarding, wake boarding and scuba diving. Golf, oddly enough for a guy in the resort business, is not a big activity. "I do play it," Fredricks said. "I'm just not very good at it."

ron.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonWLATimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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