Michael Welly, managing director of the Longboat Key Club and Resort from 2004 to 2012, died Jan. 14 in a California hospital after complications from pneumonia.
Welly, 75, had been living with his wife of 10 years, Lynn Weddington Welly, in Idyllwild, Calif., a small mountain resort town west of Palm Springs, and serving as president and consultant of Cairn Consulting, a hotel and resort consulting firm.
Recruited in 2004 by the new owners of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, New York-based Loeb Realty Partners, Welly raised the quality, standards and stature and transformed much of the resort and 2,000-member club during his tenure.
Welly renovated and redesigned the club’s golf courses; developed the award-winning Tennis Gardens and hosted the Sarasota Open pro tennis tournament; purchased the 292-slip marina; established a beach club; developed the resort’s spa; and helped the resort’s property owner association remodel its 221 rooms and suites.
“He brought the club to another level,” said Tom Cinquegrano, who was president of the resort’s property owners association during Welly’s tenure.
While overseeing the resort and club’s transformation, Welly also became known in the community for his and the resort and club’s local involvement and philanthropy. Welly served as chair of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce; on the board of the Tiger Bay Club of Sarasota; a founding member of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum; and was involved in the YMCA Foundation, Argus Foundation, All-Star Children’s Foundation and Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
Rare was the occasion Welly would turn down requests to help local not-for-profit organizations. And never would Welly seek the limelight or accolades. He made a positive difference on Longboat Key and in Greater Sarasota as a likable, humble, effective leader.
“Michael was a private person,” said Sarasota attorney John Patterson, who worked side by side with Welly in 2010 during the Key Club’s attempts to expand and redevelop. “A real person of integrity.”
“Always cordial,” said Cinquegrano. “Very professional, approachable, compassionate and concerning. Very low key.”
Welly came by his low-key, introverted trait honestly. His younger sister, Pam Masitto, remembers Welly being much like his father: “Real quiet.”
But while Welly avoided the spotlight, he found himself in the center of the light during a three-year period starting in 2008. That’s when Welly unveiled plans to undertake a $400 million renovation and expansion of the resort.
The plans drew intense opposition mostly from residents of the L’Ambiance condominium next to the resort and condos along Longboat Club Road. Longboat Key residents for and against the project filled more than 20 public hearings at Town Hall and Temple Beth Israel.
Welly and his team eventually garnered a 6-1 vote in favor of the project in 2010. But subsequent court rulings blocked it. In October 2012, Loeb sold the resort and club to Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties.
Welly left the resort in late 2012.
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Welly was the oldest of three children. He grew up in Willowick, Ohio, and after high school, Welly enlisted in the Army. He served served three years, stationed in Texas, Alaska and Germany.
Out of the Army, Welly did not go to college. Instead he went to work as a bellboy at an airport Sheraton Hotel in Cleveland. That began a 40-year career in the resort and hotel industry, where Welly went on to distinguish himself as a leader and general manager of premier resorts and top executive overseeing dozens of hotel properties (see box).
In the process, Welly developed a reputation for being a quiet leader who always strived for excellence.
“He expected excellence from those who worked with him,” Patterson said. “And he expected excellence of himself.”
“He wanted things to be five-star wherever he went,” said Cindy Cockburn, who served as Welly’s public relations director for more than two decades. “He was a perfectionist. Sophisticated. Passionate about striving for excellence. And passionate about letting people do their thing.”
Welly’s management style was to recruit the best staff he could, not micro-manage them and encourage them to reach higher.
Cockburn said when one of the chefs at one of the resorts Welly managed wanted to open a small pizza shop, “Michael told him to go to Chicago and learn how to make the best pizzas.”
Welly’s style, in turn, won him great respect from his staffs.
Patterson recalled when he, Patterson’s wife, Nora, and Welly traveled to a Duke University basketball game. They stayed at the famed Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club in Durham, N.C., a hotel Welly previously oversaw.
“It was really interesting to see the respect the staff had for him,” Patterson said.
Welly is survived by his wife, Lynn Weddington Welly; two sons, Michael and Matt Welly, of Tampa Bay; sister Pam Masitto (Marty), of Greenville, S.C.; brother, Mark Welly, of Miami; and stepchildren, Blake Livergood (Michelle), of Longbeach, Calif.; Evan Ann Arai (Ed), of Denver.
No services are planned. Contributions may be made to Tunnel to Towers and Wounded Warriors.
Welly's 40-Year Hotel Career
Cairn Consulting, Cambria, California — president, consultant, 2012-present
Longboat Key Club & Resort — managing director, 2004-2012
Cairn Consulting, Galena, Illinois — president, consultant, 2002-2004; hired to manage the takeover of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa from Troon Golf Accomplishments. Also consulted on Washington Duke Inn, the Charles Hotel, the Waterford Marriott in Oklahoma City and the Marriott West Loop in Houston.
Westin Innisbrook Resort / Tamarron Resort; Walt Disney World Swan / Starwood Hotels, Stamford, Connecticut — area director of operations and general manager, 1997-2000
The Continental Companies, Miami — executive vice president, director of operations, 1993-1997; led 40+ properties operating under 13 different flags throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and South America. Managed four regional directors of operations.
Walt Disney World Dolphin, Lake Buena Vista, Florida — vice president, area director of operations, general manager, 1988–1993
Seattle Sheraton, Seattle — vice president, area director of operations, general manager, 1983–1988
Sheraton Plaza Hotel, Chicago — general manager, 1980-1983
Sheraton at Steamboat Springs, Colorado — general manager, 1979–1980
Sheraton Boston, Boston — manager, 1977–1979
Sheraton Inn, Memphis Airport — general manager, 1975–1976