It might seem like everything Red McCombs touches turns to gold, but the Texas businessman said he has made mistakes.
“My first car dealership was for the Edsel,” he said as some of the crowd at the Texas Rose Festival Men’s Luncheon laughed. “When I said that to a group of business students, they didn’t know what I was talking about. Nobody in America liked the car.”
But that did not stop him from being one of the best Edsel salesmen in the nation.
The humble and down-to-earth billionaire entertained the sold-out audience at the stately Villa di Felicita northwest of Tyler.
According to Forbes magazine, he is one of the richest men in the world.
McCombs is the ultimate businessman, dabbling in automobiles, communications and sports franchises. He and his wife, Charline, are known for their philanthropy.
One of the many areas dear to their heart is University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, for which McCombs served as chairman.
McCombs, who still puts in 60-hour work weeks, is the founder of Automotive Group, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings, and the namesake of the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife donated $50 million to the business school. Also, the softball stadium at UT is named the Red & Charline McCombs Field.
McCombs, who attended Southwestern University and UT Austin, is a huge Longhorn booster. He thinks Texas football coach Mack Brown will get things turned around.
“Obviously, the football program is in the ditch,” McCombs said. “Coach Brown knows it better than any of us fans. But I have full confidence he will get it out.”
He did add he enjoyed last Saturday’s game in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas — Texas defeated rival Oklahoma, 36-20.
“That was Longhorn football as I see it,” McCombs said.
McCombs is all about winning, and his philosophy is “expect to win. No. 1, prepare to win, and No. 2, execute.”
He had a number of stories during the luncheon. McCombs added he and his wife are huge sports fans.
When he owned the San Antonio Spurs he hired noted college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who excelled at UNLV. However, Tarkanian’s attitude was not the best in the pros, and McCombs fired him 20 games into the season and hired John Lucas, who guided the Spurs to 24 victories in their next 27 games.
He said Lucas had the right attitude. Tarkanian had told McCombs the team couldn’t be .500, while Lucas had a different view. That 24 victories in 27 games stretch remains a record for a new coach.
His first sports team was the Corpus Christi Texas Clippers, members of the Big State League.
McCombs is heavily involved in Formula One in Austin — Circuit of the Americas track.
“Formula One is the No. 1 sport in the world, but it is not very popular in America,” he said. “I thought we could find a market in U.S.”
The race in November attracted 276,000 fans throughout three days. He said 22 percent of the fans were from the United States, and only 4 percent from Texas. The rest were “high-dollar” fans from around the world.
McCombs said many corporations from around the world rent the track in southeastern Travis County for testing and other reasons.
The second race weekend is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 14.
He poked fun at one of his associates — Curtis Mewbourne of Mewbourne Oil, an Oklahoma alumnus. He is heavily involved in the energy business as well.
McCombs said he liked to have all-stars either in business or sports, and they will lead the others, because “all-stars work the hardest.”
As far as other topics, he said Texas and the nation has to do something about “kindergarten through 12.”
“It is a problem. We are not being fair to our kids. We have to do a better job and quickly,” he said.
Also, he said the prisons are “too full.”
“About a fourth are there for nonviolent crimes. We should parole them because the only thing they learn in prison is to be a bad guy.”
This is not the first time he has been to the Texas Rose Festival. Back “in either 1949 or 1950 one of the sorority girls I was dating some asked if I would be her escort. I said as long as you have gasoline money.”
He said he enjoyed the three days of festivities in Tyler and complimented the people who put on the event because “it is great for the community and region.”
McCombs also said that after the war he tried to play football at Baylor, but the coach said, “You can’t help me.” He said he remembers those words today. But the coach did give him options — either come play for Floyd Wagstaff at Tyler Junior College or go to Southwestern University. Southwestern was four-year college, so he went to Georgetown.
LUNCHEON NOTES: Ken Waits, vice president of the luncheon, served as master of ceremonies. … Mario Zandstra of Pine Cove Christian Camp gave the prayer. … Former San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Chaparrals announcer Terry Stembridge and Minnesota Vikings announcer Terry Stembridge Jr., of Kilgore, were guests of McCombs. … The UT Tyler dance and cheer team presented a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to McCombs, whose birthday is Oct. 19. … The Rose sponsors of the luncheon were Herd Producing Co. – Bob L. Herd and Marisa and John Martin. … Waits said four future presidents have been speakers at the luncheon: Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson, George Bush and George W. Bush.