The Man Who Builds Airports

Ron Henriksen wanted to leave his mark; now he’s branching out, Houston to Austin

HOUSTON — At college at Sam Houston State in Huntsville north of the nation’s fourth largest city, Ron Henriksen decided he wanted to be a pilot — corporate or airline. He wound up making a fortune in the telecom business, but never lost his roots in aviation. He’s decided to invest in the industry he loves, without a defined return on investment. To leave his mark, or in his words make his contribution, he built the Houston Executive Airport some 35 miles west of downtown. His success there led general aviation interests in the state capital, Austin, to seek him out for relief to their plight — a lack of adequate facilities since the opening of Austin-Bergstrom International, which led to displacement of hundreds of GA aircraft with the closure of the previous commercial airport, Mueller. He’s now on airport number two — a different airport, a different challenge.

Henriksen comes across as a very unassuming man. He also comes across as quite methodical, which is perhaps an attribute necessary to build an airport from scratch in modern America. What is not readily evident is that this is a self-made millionaire looking for someplace worthwhile to make a contribution. For Henriksen, a lifelong pilot, building an airport seemed the right thing to do.

When asked if he’d like to get back the $30 million or so he has invested at Houston Executive in Brookshire, he answers, “I’d like to get it back but it’s not necessary to get it back. I know that’s an odd way to answer the question.

“I was very successful in the phone business, which was probably good because it allowed me to recycle it into the economy by getting into the airport business.

“Let’s say I’ve got $50 million. What am I going to do with it? One is you can spend it before you die; the other answer is you can spend some of it and pass a lot of it onto your kids, your wife, or whatever. Well, from everything I’ve read, future generations don’t particularly appreciate the hard work and effort it took to get the money. I guess their job is to spend it.

“If I leave my kids $5 million and they can’t figure out what they want to do, the $5 million isn’t going to make them happy. So I’m on the other plan — spend it like I think it ought to be spent. So if I get paid back, great. But then, if I get my $30 million back, what do I do with it?

“Airports are much more likely to go away than be built. As a pilot, I’d like to see more airports, not less. So, by building an airport, I sort of accomplished two things. One is, I got a chance to turn the trend around; and I also got a chance to get back into the FBO business, which is a leftover missing void in my life. That’s the reason this airport got built.”

Henriksen, 61, got into flying while a student in college, and contracted with a friend to manage FBO services at the Huntsville airport while also working his first stint as a corporate pilot. He got out of the FBO business to finish school.

“In a way, I’m trying to get back to my aviation roots. I was successful on the pilot side of things, having flown for different corporations. But I missed the FBO part of it.

“As I flew airplanes through the years, I always thought how neat it would be to own an airport someday and, as they say, do it right — or, do it the way you think is right. Providing the services that pilots want and would like to get; and have the airport meet certain expectations.”

Ironically, it was his free time as a corporate pilot that led him to find something else to do. A friend told him about the telecom business, which in the 1980s was just beginning to blossom following the deregulation of the industry.

He formed a company, American Telco, and set up shop in an apartment in Houston. Some 14 years later, with 300 employees and offices across Texas, he sold out — for 26 times earnings. The new owners in turn took the firm to bankruptcy. Recalls Henriksen, “I bid on it in bankruptcy court and bought it back for maybe 20 cents on the dollar. I spent the next year and a half getting it profitable again. I still own it.” He remains chair of LOGIX Communications, but focuses today almost exclusively on airports, he says.

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