Interview Max Gelwix


It is my pleasure to introduce ’68 GHS Classmate, Max Gelwix, who graciously volunteered to be interviewed. He has quite an interesting career flying as a pilot in various regions. He has also been a serial entrepreneur of various business entities. As you can see in his photographs below, he has an amazing family.  And now he’s retreated to a simpler life of operating Pacific Drive-ins.

What an incredible life journey!

Interview Max Gelwix

After graduating in June 1968, I attended Colorado State University beginning in the fall of the same year. I roomed in Corbett Hall with two of my buddies from high school, Mike Pinkney and Jim Goad. Jim Goad is important to my life story because he introduced me to flying with a $5.00 coupon for an introductory flight at the local airport.

I graduated in the summer of 1972 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a major in information systems and accounting. However, a lot happened along with studying during those four years. Early in 1970, I married Sherrie Wright, who was also a CSU student, and we had a beautiful baby girl named Carrie later in that year.

Daughter Carrie’s Wedding Picture

Unfortunately, after having a beautiful son, our marriage ended in the late 1970’s. I also, during those college years, earned my Airline Transport Pilot’s License and all of my flight instructor ratings. So, when I wasn’t in class, I was giving flight lessons at the certified Part 141 flight school. We were running the Army and Air Force ROTC students through their primary flight training; so that they could continue to advanced flight training for an assignment for duty in Vietnam.

After graduating from CSU, I chose to continue my flying career. I became the Chief Pilot of the Fort Collins Loveland Airport. I continued giving flying lessons, but really enjoyed our charter/air taxi business. I flew to so many interesting places and flew so many interesting assignments such as flying federal prisoners from Denver to the Federal Mental Institution in Springfield Missouri (too many interesting and frightening stories to tell here); flying Schlumberger Oil night time trips in snowstorms and 25 degrees below zero temperatures to deliver parts to their oil fields in Wyoming; flying air ambulance trips to take injured individuals from mountain locations and small airports to hospitals in Denver. I could probably think of a hundred more different, interesting assignments.

In 1974, I joined a captive contractor of McDonalds Corp as their corporate pilot. In 1976 because Ray Kroc moved to San Diego, our operation moved to San Diego as well. I have been in America’s Finest City ever since that move. We built McDonald Restaurants all over the United States. I transported personnel and material to virtually every city in which we had a job site, I flew to Mexico, Canada, the Yukon Territory many times. However, after a while, I began to feel like a sophisticated taxi cab driver. I wanted to be one of those executives that I was transporting. So, I transitioned out of flying into the company’s finance department and ultimately became their chief operating officer. I made it to the back of the airplane!

Air West Helicopters lured me away from the McDonald’s captive contractor to become their chief financial officer in 1977. However, at that point in my life I was beginning to feel that I needed to create opportunities in which I could be an owner or a partner; so, in 1979, I partnered with a friend of mine to build a commercial insurance company specializing in providing insurance and surety to construction companies. In 1991 we sold that business to a New York Stock Exchange Company.

While building that business, in1984 I married my current wife, Ellen Bauer Gelwix with whom I have been married for almost 36 years. When we met, she was living in Boston and I was living in San Diego. So, she was a tough and expensive date! After about nine months of dating by meeting somewhere in the United States, I told her I thought it would be cheaper to marry her. I proposed and she accepted.

Max and Ellen at a Black Tie Event

After almost 36 years, I can state that it was not cheaper for marrying her! However, it was the best decision of my life! Our marriage has produced two wonderful boys of whom we could not be prouder (see featured photo at top). Ellen and I have made a great life together. We have traveled to so many places together around this beautiful world.

Max and his wife, Ellen, in St. Tropez France


We both love going to Padres games, San Diego State football, and basketball games and walking and hiking together. We are very fortunate to share a great life. She is also a woman of which I am very proud; as she is an amazing mother a spectacular partner and has built an impressive event planning business.

Max and Ellen in the Country Outside of Amsterdam

After we sold our insurance business, I guess that it is fair to say that I became a serial entrepreneur. I bought gas stations with convenience stores, I invested in a startup publicly traded, an agricultural biotech company of which I ultimately became the chief operating partner. After I sold most of that operation to JR Simplot (McDonalds’ French Fries!) and the balance of the company to other agricultural distributors. I then formed Perfectwave Technologies with some friends. We entered into a technology transfer agreement with Salk Institute for Biological Studies for a signal processing technology that was developed by a very smart group of Computational Neurobiologists. We commercialized the technology for the US military, who purchased the technology rights by way of our development contracts.

Max on the field at Ohio State

After my foray into the biotech and high-tech industries, I was ready to retreat back to a simpler professional life; so, I started what would become Pacific Drive-Ins. I secured the exclusive development rights from Sonic Drive-Ins, the franchisor for a large portion of Southern California and for the Sacramento California DMA (designated Market Area). So, since 2007 we have been developing, building, and operating Sonic Drive-Ins. I could not be more pleased that I lured my son Jeffrey from the Deloitte accounting firm where he was a manager on the Caesars Entertainment account to come work with us. He is now the president of our enterprise and a full partner; so, I have the good fortune of being semi-retired.

Published by Linnea Tanner

Linnea Tanner is a native of Colorado where she attended Golden High School and the University of Colorado, earning her BA and MS in chemistry.

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