Past Recipients of the Trailblazer Award


Houston Trailblazer Award Industry Giants and Legends

The AAF-Houston Trailblazer Award was established in 1997 by the American Advertising Federation-Houston to recognize business leaders who have built Houston companies through effective advertising, sound marketing and corporate citizenship. Through their marketing, the Trailblazers have enhanced their companies’ images and the City of Houston’s reputation.

Celebrating an honoree who underscores the strong partnership between the advertising and business communities, the Trailblazer Gala brings together an audience of influential business, media and advertising professionals to honor a remarkable individual who personifies the spirit of the Trailblazer and celebrates that person’s energy, ingenuity, imagination and vision.

Proceeds from the annual gala support the work of the AAF-Houston and help fund scholarships, internships and educational activities for aspiring young advertising and marketing professionals in Houston. Annual scholarships are awarded to college students within the AAF’s Tenth District – Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The AAF-Houston is the city’s preeminent advertising and marketing communication organization. Founded in 1911, it is one of the oldest professional service clubs in Houston. The promotion of education and excellence in our industry is at the core of the AAF-Houston’s mission.

Stacey Gillman Wimbish, Gillman Automotive Group, 2015

Dan Wolterman, Memorial Hermann Health System, 2014

Welcome W. Wilson, Sr., Chairman of Welcome Group, LLC, 2013

Martha F. Turner, CEO and President, Martha Turner Properties, 2012

Leroy Shafer, COO, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, 2010-2011

Leslie L. Alexander, Owner, Houston Rockets, 2009

Walter E. Johnson, Chairman, Amegy Bank of Texas, 2008

George A. DeMontrond, III, President, DeMontrond Automotive Group, Inc., 2007

H-E-B, represented by Scott McClelland, President, Houston Division, 2006

Tilman J. Fertitta, Chair, President and CEO, Landry’s Inc., 2005

John L. Nau, III, President and CEO, Silver Eagle Distributors , LP, 2004

Jim “Mack” McIngvale, Founder and President, Gallery Furniture, 2003

Robert C. “Bob” McNair, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Houston Texans, 2002

Richard J.V. “Dick” Johnson, Publisher, Houston Chronicle (d. 2006), 2001

Don D. Jordan, Chairman and CEO, Reliant Energy, Inc. (former), 2000

Drayton McLane, Jr., Owner, Chairman and CEO, Houston Astros (former), 1999

R. Randall Onstead, Jr., President and CEO, Randall’s Food Markets (former), 1998

Gordon M. Bethune, Chairman and CEO, Continental Airlines (former), 1997



2013: The American Advertising Federation – Houston honored Welcome W. Wilson, Sr. at the Sixteenth Annual Trailblazer Awards Gala in September. The program copy reads: 

Welcome! The word itself conjures up a pleasant greeting. Welcome, the man behind that moniker, is the epitome of that gentlemanly greeting – Houston style.

Though unassuming and respectful, one senses Welcome is somebody significant when he arrives and walks into a room. In fact, he even arrived before his name did! Born at home in 1928, he remained nameless for 22 days, as his folks, E.E. “Jack” and Dora Wilson, argued over an appropriate moniker. Finally, his father said, “Let’s make him feel ‘welcome,’” and he was christened Welcome Wade Wilson. Neither he nor the city he came to love and embrace would ever be the same.

“My father thought Houston was going to be the center of the universe,” commented Wilson. “There were half a million people, it was the largest city in Texas, but his vision was that it – Houston – would become one of the greatest cities of the world... I have no complaints about his judgment.”

Today, Welcome Wilson Sr. is chairman of Welcome Group, LLC, a family business, which owns over 75 facilities totaling more than 3.5 million square feet of single-tenant industrial and office facilities. Welcome Sr. has also been the Chief Executive Officer of real estate firms, having developed more than 1,000 apartment units, multiple shopping centers, downtown office buildings, several hotels and more than 8,000 subdivision lots.

However, long before he arrived in Houston, Welcome set the tone for his trailblazing approach to life, and the world of an entrepreneur. As a second-grader in Corpus Christi, his first job was scraping and stacking plates in the school cafeteria. The experience became a simple life lesson: “When people are willing to do something others are not willing to do, they prosper,” Welcome recalls learning.

He attended Texas Southmost College, and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 1946. Later that year, he enrolled at the University of Houston. In 1949, he would graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. Regarding his time in school, he likes to quip, “I was in school so long ago that {at the time} the Dead Sea was only sick.”

Another life lesson was learned when Welcome and his brother Jack first arrived at the University of Houston in 1946. Their father told them to “telephone” him about whatever they needed – he’d then explain how they could do without it! “He felt like self-reliance was the most important thing he could teach us,” relates Welcome.

While attending UH, one of his three full-time jobs was as business manager for the student newspaper. He got the position because he went out and sold advertising; in fact, he sold the very first ad for The Daily Cougar. Where most students would avoid this like the plague, Welcome was happy to do it. “I was always anxious to do something that other people were not willing to do,” he reflects.

Welcome’s belief in advertising would remain with him to present day. His father owned a radio station. “I’ve believed in advertising since the earliest of times. My father’s career choice for me was to be in the advertising agency business. In my view, advertising set America ahead of the rest of the world by 25–30 years because people can reach out and bring in business,” he says.

For more than 65 years, Welcome has enjoyed a career that has been all about making friends. And, brother, has he made a lot of friends! They’re as influential as they come.

“He’s a lot like Forrest Gump,” recounts one of his mentees. “Every point in his life has something different and it’s all amazing.”

Welcome has always tried to take advantage of opportunities presented to him. A case in point was when he was in charge of the platform seating arrangements during President Kennedy’s visit to Houston at Rice Stadium. Welcome assigned himself a seat right behind the podium, so whenever the cameras would see JFK, they’d also see Welcome.

“Shameless self-aggrandizement has always been my policy. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been willing to admit that,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

One of his friends who had a strong influence on Welcome was also his business partner, Jack Valenti. Valenti was an alumnus of UH and, in those early years, a partner in the Houston ad agency of Weekley & Valenti. In time, Welcome would spearhead the naming of the communication school at UH to be the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication.

Through those six decades of building friendships, Welcome has experienced some rather unique and amazing opportunities. Highlights include: He served in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations as a five-state Director of Civil and Defense Mobilization, a division of the Executive Office of the President.

He also had responsibility for what is now known as FEMA. Welcome was a witness to the atom bomb tests in Nevada in 1954 and the hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1956.

Welcome received the Arthur S. Flemming Award (established in 1948 to honor outstanding federal employees and recognized by the U.S. President) as one of Ten Outstanding Young Men in Federal Service in 1958.

In 1975 Welcome, with his brother Jack, Jack Valenti, and others, developed Jamaica Beach and Tiki Island in Galveston. “The idea was to create a second home market for Galveston vacationers. It was a learning experience and could not have been possible anywhere else in the country,” says Wilson.

He received the University of Houston’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1970, as well as the University of Houston’s C. T. Bauer College of Business Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1996. He received an honorary doctorate degree in May 2013.

The Texas Business Hall of Fame named Welcome as a Legend and Honoree in 2011, and in May of that year, he was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Houston Technology Center. Other honors received include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Houston Business Journal and the Crusader Award from Neighborhood Centers Inc.

How would one describe Welcome? Try family man, patriot, inquisitive, interesting, quick with a quip, willing to help – take a breath – personable, friendly, humble, smart, storyteller, singer, seller, WHEW – that’s a start, but that’s Welcome.

Welcome has always engaged in numerous civic, professional and philanthropic endeavors throughout his lifetime. He and wife Joanne, college sweethearts, have been married 64 years and raised five children. Their great-grandkids are seventh generation Houstonians. So it was no surprise, when asked about his meaning of life, that Welcome responded:

“To have children and leave their world a better place.”

Inspired by this need to make people’s lives better, and determined to enhance the educational value of UH, Welcome would accomplish his top priority as Chairman of the University of Houston System Board of Regents: attaining Tier One status for the university.

Welcome, who has to have Cougar red coursing through his veins, loves the University of Houston.

“I spend at least 50 percent of my time working for UH,” he says. “Our Chancellor and President,

Renu Khator, is originally from India and was the last to be interviewed by the Board of Regents.

When she looked over and said, ‘Mr. Chairman, I have fire in the belly,’ that did it! I hired her,” says Welcome.

“Only Columbia, Yale, Princeton and Harvard have graduated more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The CEOs of Neiman Marcus, Shell Oil, Cameron and CenterPoint are all UH grads,” he says proudly.

Welcome has no plans to retire. “At this age, it is not a burden, but a joy to have this life and do what I love,” he says. Always quick with a quip, Welcome says of his outlook now: “Being 85 is not all bad. Everything I buy comes with a lifetime guarantee.”

Welcome Wilson Sr., a Houston trailblazer. He makes everyone feel, well, welcome. 




2012: AAF-Houston shined the spotlight on Martha Fuller Turner, CEO and President of Martha Turner Properties, founded in 1981. Martha Turner Properties is regarded as one of the finest independent residential real estate companies in the nation, with closed sales transactions exceeding $1.6 billion in 2012. Martha is a recognized industry leader locally and throughout the nation.

Martha is a dynamic businesswoman, creative entrepreneur, life-long educator, and family woman with a unique blend of energy, optimism and humor. Martha adopted “excellence” as her watchword and made it central in the company’s mission statement. She adheres passionately to her principle of investing in people. Her personal commitment to agent development, client service, innovative business practices and service to the real estate community has earned her professional recognition and respect. She was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in recognition of her contributions to keep Texas at the forefront of the nation's economy.

Martha Turner Properties conducts local, state, national and international advertising campaigns, mailing out over 4.9 million e-flyers and more than one million in direct mail post cards to advertise its listings. The quarterly magazine, PROPERTIES, is produced in house and mailed to more than 60,000 addresses. They also produce ePROPERTIES, an internet magazine. In television campaigns, Martha's signature slogan, "We list and sell in all price ranges from $20 thousand to $20 million. We want to be your Realtor," is familiar to millions of Houstonians.

Philanthropy and service to the community are second nature to Martha and are as deeply ingrained in her work ethic as her drive to achieve. She believes in the essential value of service and has assumed numerous civic, philanthropic, and professional leadership roles throughout the world. Martha’s belief that no problem is without a solution has initiated her involvement in a large and diverse group of charitable organizations in support of healthcare, women’s organizations, the arts, and education have been widely recognized and have earned her a reputation for generosity and commitment to service.

She quietly supports many charitable and educational causes, including Legacy Community Health Services and Mission of Yahweh. She has served the United Way, Houston Hospice, and Alex Tocqueville Society Women’s Initiative. She has supported Houston’s Yellowstone Academy, the Aldine Youth Afterschool Program, Darla’s School for Retarded Adults, and the Women’s Home. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Houston Baptist University and Board of Regents for her alma mater, North Texas State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education.




2010-2011: The recipient for 2010-2011 was Leroy Shafer, vice president and COO of the Houston Livestock Show and RodeoTM. For over forty years, the “Man behind the Brand” has remained a real champion of the wider Houston community. He has helped lead the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to records exceeding 2.26 million visitors and providing millions annually in scholarships.

Thanks in large part to Leroy Shafer’s efforts, the HLSR shines as a successful blend of philanthropy, entertainment, and inclusion. Shafer has been instrumental in developing the annual Show into an internationally known entertainment and sports extravaganza by crossing all musical genres and pioneering the use of lights, sound and video projection and attracting some of the world’s biggest music performing stars.

"I continue to be excited and humbled to work with this great organization that supports youth, education and the agricultural community while providing affordable family entertainment to the general public," is the closing quote of his biography.

He was actively involved in the design of the new Reliant Stadium and Reliant Center and has represented the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in negotiations with the NFL and Harris County. Under his direction, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has developed a complete in-house advertising and marketing agency, a radio and television production facility, and a sponsorship program considered among the best in the sports and entertainment industry.

Shafer earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural journalism from Texas A&M University and a master's degree in technical journalism from Iowa State University. He received the Texas A&M University Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications Alumni Excellence Award in 2006. He is a member of the 12th Man Foundation and the Former Journalism Student Association Hall of Fame.

Shafer served in the U.S. Army (active and reserve) from 1969 to 1989. He completed one tour of duty as a helicopter pilot with the 12th Combat Aviation Group, Republic of Vietnam (1970-71) and he commanded the 75th Maneuver Area Command Aviation Detachment in Houston (1981-1986).



2009: The AAF-Houston presented the 2009 Trailblazer Award to businessman Leslie L. “Les” Alexander. Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets since 1993, has devoted his efforts to making the Rockets champions on the basketball court and in the community. His dedication to winning gave Houston its first back-to-back professional sports championships. In 2008, Forbes named him the NBA’s best owner. Sports Illustrated also named Alexander as one of the five best league owners in 2008-09.

His vision to construct a downtown arena took shape in November 2000, as Harris County voters approved a referendum to build a new home for the Rockets. Toyota Center, Houston’s state-of-the-art, multi-purpose facility, opened in 2003.

Alexander and the Rockets organization have received numerous community service awards, including the Pro Team Community Award, given by the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. The award exemplifies community service and acts as a catalyst for community pride and spirit. His organization was awarded the Leadership Houston “Leadership in Action” Award for outstanding community service to education and for outstanding community service to youth.

Alexander and the Rockets were also honored with the 2005 Texas Association of Partners in Education “Outstanding Business Partnership” award in the Houston ISD. The Clutch City Foundation was also inducted into the Houston ISD Partners Hall of Fame for understanding the value of education, as well as an active commitment to enhancing the educational experiences of HISD students.

A vegetarian and staunch animal-rights advocate, he founded the Evelyn Alexander Home for Animals Foundation to help provide a permanent home to abandoned and abused animals. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Humane Society of the United States, the Children's Assessment Foundation, Clutch City Foundation, and Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital.

Alexander owned the WNBA Houston Comets from 1997-2007. The Comets won the league's first 4 WNBA championships from 1997 to 2000 before he sold the team. He is a former stock trader from New Jersey, who started trading options and bonds for a Wall Street firm before he left to form his investment company, The Alexander Group, in 1980.

Alexander graduated from New York University with a B.S degree in economics in 1965 and later earned his law degree from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. He was a member of the California State Bar from 1978-2009. He developed and owns a vineyard on Long Island and launched Leslie Wine in 2008.



2008: The 2008 recipient was Walter E. Johnson, Chairman of Amegy Bank of Texas (formerly the Southwest Bank of Texas), which he founded in the early 1990s. “Built by Texans for Texans,” Amegy is Houston’s largest independent bank and continues to expand locations and receive national recognition for its high performance and Excellence in Business Banking.   

With assets of more than $12 billion, 2,000 employees, local decision making and a history of relationship banking, Amegy has the resources to serve leading Texas companies as a source of capital as well as provide efficient and effective treasury management, international and investment services. Amegy specializes in small business banking, private financial management and trust services for families and individuals, and retail and mortgage banking services.

Johnson has served as president of the World Presidents’ Organization, director of the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and , and Kirby Corporation. He was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2005. Johnson began his banking career after graduating with a business degree from Texas Christian University in 1958.

Deeply committed to community service, he spends much of his time giving back to the Houston community and chairing fundraising campaigns for area organizations. Johnson has received both a Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Fundraising Leadership and a Distinguished Citizen’s Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

Johnson has served on the boards of the American Free Enterprise Education Center and Foundation for Financial Literacy. He has headed capital campaigns for the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA), and Star of Hope Family Shelter.He was presented with the City of Peace Award by the State of Israel.




2007: In 2007 AAF-Houston recognized George A. DeMontrond, III, president of DeMontrond Automotive Group, which includes several auto and motor home dealerships in the greater Houston area. DeMontrond has served as chairman of the Houston 2012 Foundation since 1998 and led Houston’s attempt to host the 2012 Summer Olympics and also served on the Super Bowl XXXVIII Host Committee Board.

Mr. DeMontrond has been active on the boards of many civic and charitable organizations, including the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), Greater Houston Partnership Board and its Business Issues Advisory Committee, World Affairs Council and the Houston International Festival.

He also served as a board member for the 100 Club, Houston Grand Opera, Salvation Army, Sam Houston Area Council-Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Country, and Mental Health Association of Houston. Mr. DeMontrond is a lifetime vice president and director of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

DeMontrond is Board vice chair of the University of St. Thomas-Houston and served on its successful capital campaign team. He co-chaired the 2006 UST Athletics Advisory Council, providing leadership to initiate intercollegiate athletics for UST, and 2004 Ethical Leadership in Action award luncheon program.

Mr. DeMontrond has been a member of numerous professional associations, including the Oldsmobile Board of Governance Sales Development Committee, Houston Automobile Dealers Association, and Buick National Dealer Marketing Advisory Board. He is active on many automobile trade boards and committees. DeMontrond received his law degree from The University of Texas School of Law and a B.S. degree in engineering from Princeton University.




2006: In the history of the Houston Trailblazer Award in 1997, only one winner has been an entire business entity. Under Chairman and CEO Charles Butt and Houston Division President Scott McClelland, H-E-B was recognized in 2006 for its collective efforts in improving Houston and its continuous faith in the city. The regional grocery chain remains one of the largest independent retailers in the nation.  The privately held company operates more than 300 stores in 150 communities across Texas that incorporate different formats, including H-E-B, Mi Tienda in South Houston, and Central Market.

The company was founded in 1905 by matriarch Florence Butt, who operated the grocery store on the ground floor of her family home in Kerrville, Texas. Youngest son, Howard Edward Butt, took over the family store after returning from World War I and began expanding operations. 

Historically, H-E-B is known for its charitable donations, with five percent of its annual pretax earnings given to causes in the communities where it operates, including education and food banks. Since 2000, H-E-B’s “Excellence in Education Awards” program has recognized teachers, administrators and schools in Texas with more than $500,000 in annual cash awards.




2005: Galveston native Tilman Fertitta is founder, chairman of the board, president, CEO and primary shareholder of Landry's Restaurants, one of the largest dining and entertainment companies in the nation. Projects in downtown Houston, Kemah and Galveston have spurred revitalization of those urban areas.

He has received many awards, including the Residential Builders Model Award from the American Institute of Builders Design and induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame.  The Houston Jaycees named him one of "12 outstanding young Houstonians" in 1986 and Ernst & Young honored him with the Houston Entrepreneur of the Year Award.  In 1998 he received the Legacy Award for his creativity and design of the Kemah Boardwalk.

He has served on the boards of the Texas Heart Institute, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Sam Houston Area Council-Boy Scouts of America, Central Houston, Inc., and the Greater Houston Partnership. He has served as Chairman of the Houston Children's Charity, the Houston Police Foundation and Executive Committee of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Fertitta was a commencement speaker for 1998 and 2004 graduating classes of the University of Houston.

Fertitta attended Texas Tech University and the University of Houston, where he studied business administration and hospitality management. He showed an entrepreneurial streak even in college when he started his own firm focused on marketing and sales.




2004: John L. Nau, III, has served as president and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors, L.P., the nation’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, since 1990. With more than 700 employees and offices in the greater Houston area, Silver Eagle Distributors is the number one beer distributor in the region.    

Nau is a self-made American success story. He got his start in the beverage industry in the 1970s after being discharged from the U.S. Marines. He got a job with Coca-Cola in Atlanta as a marketing trainee, moving around the country. Working for independent bottlers, he developed an instinct for turning sales around.

While running the Coke bottler in St. Louis, he got his break in beer. Nau considers that he’s built a career out of being lucky. Anheuser-Busch was breaking up National Brands, and the distributorship in Homestead, Florida became available. With sweat equity, he and three partners acquired the company. “I remember the first month there, we sold 88,000 cases.” Today, Silver Eagle sells about 250,000 cases ... a day. In 1987, Nau and his partners sold their Florida distributorship and purchased 49% of Southwest Distribution in Houston. Two years later, they purchased the rest of the company, renaming it Silver Eagle Distributors. When they purchased the company, it had a 24% market share. Today, Silver Eagle enjoys over 65% share.

Nau has a long history of philanthropic, community, and civic involvement in Houston and the nation. He has been recognized for his leadership and advocacy of historic preservation and land conservation. Nau has served on the boards of the Greater Houston Partnership, Good Samaritan Foundation, The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, and the National Park Foundation. He has served as chairman of the Texas Historical Commission since 1995, appointed by the Governor of Texas. He is founder and President of The Nau Foundation.

He earned a B.A. degree in history from the University of Virginia, where he serves on the Board of Visitors, a position appointed by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Nau’s lifelong interest and study of American history provided him with the knowledge and background to serve as chairman of the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation since 2001, appointed to that position by President George W. Bush. As chairman of this sector of the U.S. Department of Interior, Nau headed efforts to create a White House initiative, Preserve America, which included various components such as Community Designations, Presidential Awards and Grant programs.




2003: The AAF-H was pleased to honor businessman and philanthropist Jim “Mack” McIngvale with the Trailblazer Award in recognition for everything that he has done for Houston and surrounding communities. Almost everyone knows that “Mattress Mack.” Jim McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture, is a local icon and hero. 

The newly married McIngvales moved to Houston in 1981 with $5,000 and a dream. By promising same-day delivery, delighting customers, and "thinking big" Mack turned an ordinary business into an all-American success story. Gallery Furniture is one of the most successful businesses in Houston and one of the biggest and most successful furniture stores in the nation. McIngvale’s co-authored book, “Always Think Big,” outlines tips and principles that anyone can use to improve their approach to customer service, and out-of-the box marketing.  

“Customers are the business — the business is the customer,” McIngvale stressed. “Customers may at times seem like an inconvenience or an interruption of your workday, but they are the reason you get to be here and they should be the reason you get out of bed every day.”

McIngvale is best known for his energetic, fast-paced sales pitches, typically ending with some variant of his catchphrase "saves you money!" His distinctive sales style originated from an incident that occurred early on in Gallery Furniture's history.

Faced with financial difficulties, McIngvale invested all his remaining money, approximately $10,000, in a television commercial to be aired on two stations. While watching the commercial being produced, he became dissatisfied and ad-libbed a sales pitch, speaking rapidly because of the limited amount of time available. The ad-hoc commercial proved very effective, and his sales increased dramatically afterward.

McIngvale has given much back to the community where he realized his dream. He frequently furnishes homes of those in need. He also speaks to the youth in area schools and helps to furnish teachers’ lounges as well. He has given generously to the scholarship program held by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

His daughter started the nonprofit Peace of Mind for fellow sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She was diagnosed as a teenager. In 2007, the McIngvale family helped to bring the OCD Foundation’s National Conference to Houston and also provided financial assistance for over 500 attendees, including mental health professionals, educators, and OCD sufferers.

He has also owned Westside Tennis & Fitness since 1995, creating competitions and events to draw top name tennis players from across the globe to the tennis club. A native of Starkville, Mississippi, he was raised in Dallas and played football for both the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas.



2002: Robert C. “Bob” McNair, a leading businessman, sportsman and philanthropist in the city of Houston for more than 50 years, is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of the Houston Texans. Committed to bringing a National Football League team to Houston, McNair formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998. The NFL announced that the 32nd NFL franchise had been awarded to McNair in October 1999, returning football to Houston in 2002. McNair is working to bring Super Bowl XXXVIII to Reliant Stadium in 2004 and is actively involved in NFL affairs, chairing various committees.

McNair made his fortune through energy company Cogen Technologies, which he founded and eventually sold in 1999. It was the largest privately-owned cogeneration company in the world. He owns interests in other cogeneration power plants. McNair is chairman and CEO of The McNair Group, which is dedicated to real estate and financial sector ventures. He also owns private investment entities that manage his private and public equity investments. 

He is a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and is a current or past member of the Boards of Trustees of a number of institutions including Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, the Texas Heart Institute, Houston Grand Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Free Enterprise Institute, Sigma Chi Foundation, Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Houston, and the World Presidents’ Organization.

McNair is chairman of The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, which has made grants to a wide range of charitable organizations and programs. It also funds research to find cures to breast and pancreatic cancer, diabetes and neurological problems. The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation funds scholarships in his home state of North Carolina.

McNair graduated from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, in 1958 with a B.S. degree. In 1999, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of South Carolina. The Houston Texans Foundation supports local charity and community events.




2001: AAF-Houston made headlines when it named Trailblazer Richard J.V. “Dick” Johnson, Chairman and Publisher of the Houston Chronicle. Johnson is regarded as a visionary, who understands economic trends, and is recognized for his leadership in helping to shape Houston in the last half of the 20th century.

Johnson began his career at the Chronicle in 1956 as a copy editor in the promotion department after serving two years in the U.S. Army and a third year at the Texas Daily Newspaper Association. He worked up to executive vice president in 1972 and became the youngest president of a major daily newspaper in the United States in 1973. After the Hearst Corporation bought the Chronicle in 1987, Johnson was named chairman and publisher. In 1994, he orchestrated the Chronicle's transformation from an afternoon to a morning paper.

The Houston Chronicle is the premier local news provider for the country's 4th largest city. As the nation's sixth-largest newspaper, the Houston Chronicle is a multimedia company publishing print and online products in English and Spanish that reach millions of people each month. The Houston Chronicle is published by a unit of The Hearst Corporation.

Johnson, a fierce competitor, loves the news business and has been active in a wide variety of newspaper and communication related organizations. Johnson served on the board of the Houston Advertising Club and chaired the Annual Ad Forum in 1964. The AAF-Houston honored him with the American Advertising Federation's Silver Medal Award and an Honorary Life Membership.

He served as president and chairman of the executive committee of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association. He received the Pat Taggart Newspaper Leader of the Year Award. He also served as chairman and president of what is now the Newspaper Association of America. 

He was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and lived in New York, Chicago, Denver and El Paso before moving to Houston, where Johnson and his sister managed a Chronicle newspaper route as kids. Years later, Johnson helped start the Houston READ Commission, dedicated to erasing illiteracy, and introduced newspapers as a classroom tool.

Johnson entered Texas A&M University on a partial basketball scholarship in 1948 and he transferred to the University of Texas at Austin in 1949, graduating with a degree in business.  He loved to joke that "he attended A&M, but received his education from the University of Texas."

Johnson has focused on public service throughout his career. He held leadership positions in many local civic and service organizations throughout Houston. Johnson served as director of the State Fair of Texas and chairman, chief executive officer and director of the Robert A. Welch Foundation. He was a trustee and board member of the Texas Medical Center and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The TMC’s Richard J.V. Johnson Avenue is dedicated in appreciation for all of his contributions to Texas Medical Center, including service as Chairman of the Board.




2000: The millennium Trailblazer is Don D. Jordan, who has served as Chairman and CEO of Reliant Energy, Inc. based in Houston for 23 years. Reliant Energy, formerly Houston Industries Inc., is a diversified international energy service company with operations in all segments of the energy chain that brings electricity and natural gas to customers, except for natural gas production. Jordan joined the company in 1956 and has served in several management positions at Houston Lighting & Power Company (HL&P), Houston Industries, and Reliant Energy.

Under Don Jordan's leadership Reliant Energy has nearly four million electric and natural gas customers in the U.S. Reliant Energy also has built an international presence, acquiring ownership interests in electric utilities that serve more than nine million customers in Central and South America.  

Jordan’s distinguished career includes being president of the World Energy Council and chair of the Organizing Committee of the 17th Congress of the World Energy Council held in Houston in 1998. He holds the title of Honorary Lifetime President of the World Energy Council.

Among his many industry, civic and community activities, Jordan served as president, director and chairman of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, board chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership, Edison Electric Institute, and South Texas College of Law, and Advisory Council member of the UT Red McCombs School of Business. He is a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame. Jordan has also served on the Board of Trustees of the Texas Medical Center and Texas Heart Institute.

Having grown up in a rural area of Texas, Mr. Jordan has maintained his interest in agriculture, youth and education. He is managing partner and operator of a cattle ranch in south Texas. A Corpus Christi native, Jordan received a bachelor degree in industrial management from The University of Texas and a law degree from the South Texas College of Law.

The Don D. Jordan Scholarship was established in 1991 for children of company employees and is awarded from the proceeds of the company’s annual CenterPoint Energy Barbecue Cook-off. It is awarded to students who have shown a consistent dedication to community involvement, reinforcing the corporate philosophy of community support.




1999: Entrepreneur and philanthropist Drayton McLane, Jr., is Chairman and CEO of the Houston Astros Baseball Club. McLane purchased the team in 1993 and enthusiastically remind his staff that, "We have two missions: to be a champion, and to make a positive difference in the community!" He has made a strong commitment to putting a solid, competitive team on the field. The Astros reached the postseason National League Central Division titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

His passion for baseball and the Houston Astros franchise is shared by the citizens of Houston. McLane and the Astros are visible civic and community partners. He was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. He is leaving an indelible mark on the city of Houston with the construction of Minute Maid Park, which will welcome its first fans in 2000 and is expected to energize downtown Houston.   

Born and raised in Cameron, Texas, McLane earned an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in 1958 and his MBA from Michigan State in 1959 and planned to take a job in the food industry in San Francisco. During one last visit home, he changed his mind and decided to stay and work for his father at McLane Company.

Drayton Jr. expected that with two college degrees, his first job would be in management. His father believed differently though. He believed that despite Drayton Jr.’s education, he would never become an effective leader without earning the respect of all employees. So in 1959, Drayton Jr.’s first job was an entry level job loading trucks on the night shift. Over the next three years, he advanced, holding a variety of warehouse jobs until moving into management as vice president of purchasing.

He advanced to GM of operations, a post that he held for the next 14 years. In 1978, Drayton Jr. was named President and CEO of McLane Company, Inc., a grocery and food service warehouse, supply, and logistics firm, which he grew into an international holding company with 18 divisions before merging the business with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. in 1991. 

He has served as a director of the Greater Houston Partnership and South Texas College of Law trustee. For his service, he has received several of the Boy Scouts of America’s highest honors. McLane has been a trustee and regent of Baylor University and trustee for the Baylor College of Medicine.





1998: Houston native and grocer R. Randall Onstead, Jr. is Chairman and CEO of Randalls Food Markets, Inc. He has over twenty years’ experience in the retail food industry, a second generation grocer who continues the family philosophy, "Treat your customers the way you treat your family."

The first Randalls store opened in 1966 in Pasadena, TX. By the end of the decade the company owned 15 stores and had established itself in the market. Onstead began his career with Randalls in 1978 and held various management positions. In 1980 Randalls had eight percent the Houston area grocery market, making it the fourth largest grocer there. Onstead became President and Chief Operating Officer in 1986. In 1991 Randalls earned over a billion dollars in revenue with 42 stores, making it the fastest growing company in Houston. In 1998 Onstead was named Chairman and CEO.  

Over the years Randalls has donated to a range of local causes, donating millions of dollars to thousands of local non-profit organizations. To help area communities, Randalls kept its doors open despite serious flooding during 1983’s Hurricane Alicia.

The Junior Chamber of Commerce named Onstead one of five Outstanding Young Houstonians. He has served as a director of the Food Marketing Institute, the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Onstead Foundation.

A graduate of Texas Tech University, Onstead earned his Bachelor degree in marketing and completed Harvard University’s Program for Management Development. He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from York Christian College in 1994.




1997: AAF-Houston’s inaugural Trailblazer Gordon M. Bethune has brought worldwide acclaim to Houston as Chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines for leading one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in U.S. history. Bethune rescued the financially troubled carrier, saving the company and thousands of Houston jobs. He has become a legend in commercial aviation.

Since Bethune’s arrival in 1994, Continental has thrived, winning more awards for customer satisfaction from J.D. Power and Associates than any other airline. Fortune magazine named Continental among the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. BusinessWeek named Bethune one of the top 25 global managers. Aviation Week and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum honored him with the Laureate in Aviation trophy.

Bethune keeps the focus on Continental’s employees and credits them for the airline's progress. His magic reaches across all levels of the organization. Continental's stock price has risen from $2 to over $50 per share. Relocating Continental’s headquarters to downtown Houston is adding to the City’s revitalization efforts.

As Houston’s Hometown Airline, Continental has become a giant in community sponsorships with Houston area arts, sports, civic, and community organizations. A native Texan, Bethune serves on the boards of directors of Honeywell International Corporation, Sprint Nextel Corporation, Prudential Financial, and the New York Academy of Art.

Bethune has held a number of senior management positions in commercial airlines, including vice president of engineering and maintenance for Braniff International Airways and Western Airlines, and senior vice president operations for Piedmont Airlines. He is a licensed commercial pilot, type rated on Boeing 757 and 767 and DC-3. He is also licensed as an airframe and power plant mechanic.

Bethune joined the U.S. Navy in 1958 as an aircraft maintenance officer, achieving the rank of full Lieutenant when he retired 20 years later. A native of San Antonio and Austin, he holds a B.S. degree in general studies from Abilene Christian University at Dallas and is a graduate of Harvard Business School's advanced management program. He also holds honorary doctorate degrees from the College of Aeronautics, Farleigh Dickinson University and Montclair State University.