June 2011, as published in InBusiness.
A folk guitar hangs on the wall above Kurt Welton’s desk, begging to be strummed. “I’d like to think I’m a guitar player,” he half-jokes. “Artistically, I write songs and I sing.”
Welton, president and treasurer of Welton Enterprises, is a graduate of West High School and has a B.B.A. from UW-Madison in real estate and urban land economics (the Graaskamp Program). His first job out of college was working at Executive Management, which his father partially owned at the time. In 1987, the senior Welton and his son decided to open their own business. “I brokered as many deals as I could to get money in,” Kurt Welton recalled, and over the years, the company flourished.
Kurt Welton has a love of life and sense and wonder and adventure, which, he said, began early in his life. He wanted to be an astronaut, “but my eyes were just horrible,” he admitted. He started a rocketry program at the Dane County Fair, and still owns about 80 model rockets. After high school, he joined the Army and was eventually stationed on a mountaintop in Korea, fixing strategic microwave (communications) systems. There, he had what was surely his most profound experience.
“One night, God spoke to me,” he said, obviously still influenced by the experience. “I’ve had visions ever since, and ever since, I’ve been trying to figure that out. It’s given me a better life.” Better, he insists, because he has learned to appreciate and believe in “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” At the center of his pursuits of happiness are his wife, Maria, and their five children.
Perhaps his divine encounter gave him the jolt needed to conquer another mountain in 2006, from an idea spurned at a Dale Carnegie seminar. “I went home and just asked the family, ‘Who’s going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with me?’ and my 17-year-old son volunteered. They opted for the slower, safer route which took nine days up and a day and a half down. “It was a blast,” Welton recalled, saying he lit up a big cigar to celebrate. Two years later, he returned to the summit with his 21-year-old daughter.
Experiences like those helped Welton temper the stark reality of the economic climate at home. “2009 was our worst year,” he admitted. “The financing industry changed. In previous downturns, interest rates got really low. This time, so many other parameters changed, too.” Some of Welton’s clients went belly-up. Three in particular amounted to well over a million dollars of Welton’s business. Despite that, he said the bulk of the company’s business is stable. “Our bread and butter is managing the properties we own. The deals were always the gravy.”
A more optimistic Welton now sees rents and building prices rising. His company’s attention to the 80/20 rule has allowed for better service to the clients it has maintained, and in the next six months, Welton expects company revenues and investments to increase. “But,” he paused, “I think everyone is much more cautious. Things might look, smell, and taste good, but everyone’s moving slowly.”
Still, he is grateful for every day. “We’re running lean and mean, and humming along better than we’ve ever hummed.”
With that, he lowers the guitar from the wall and sings a stirring and heartfelt rendition of “Irish Blessing.”