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Owings Patterns: Award-Winning “Owings Patterns” Thriving with Third Generations of Core Values

By Russ Brown Photos By Matt Johnson 

Robert Owings’ path to becoming an award-winning small business owner started at a young age, although it was quite a few years down the road before he came to the realization that he was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, the late Robert Owings Sr. -- or “Big Bob,” as he was called to distinguish himself from his only son. 

The younger Owings, 55, is president and CEO of family-owned Owings Patterns, a manufacturing business based in the Sellersburg (IN) industrial park that recently won two prestigious awards. Nearing its 50th anniversary, Owings Patterns was named Family-Owned Business of the Year by the Indiana Small Business Development Center and received the Family Business Award, Small Company, from Louisville Business First. 

Owings Patterns, which has 32 employees, designs and manufactures custom thermoform tooling, plastic thermoformed parts and packaging solutions for automotive, appliance, food and beverage and recreational industries. Among its major clients are Link Belt Cranes, GE, Whirlpool and Samtec, a global leader in the electronic interconnect industry whose headquarters are in New Albany, IN. 

Big Bob was a pattern-maker for International Harvester when he started a business in his garage and basement in 1975 to supplement his income, and when IH closed its Louisville plant in 1981, it became a full-time endeavor. 

Following his death in 2006, the younger Owings took over after receiving his degree in Business Management from IU Southeast, and using state-of-the art technology, has taken the business to new heights. With the addition of his own son, 25-year old Sam, it is now a third-generation company. Sam holds the dual titles of quality manager and Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) manager for the company, in addition to being in charge of other projects. Bob’s wife and Sam’s mother, Michelle, is administrative assistant with duties that include customer service and culture development. The Owings are hopeful that their younger son, Seth, who is majoring in finance at Butler University, might eventually join the company. 

Bob says Owings Patterns is on track for 50% growth over the next five years. He describes his leadership style as collaborative. “’That’s the way we have always done it,’” can be an expensive statement. Get the input of others and let them see their contribution to the big plan.” 

Signs throughout the building emphasize Owings Patterns’ core values of integrity, quality, safety and respectfulness, along with urging stewardship of company, clients and each other; production dependability and satisfaction in work and life. 

Like his father, Bob has earned the reputation as a benevolent, generous and thoughtful employer. 

“A family business has unique characteristics that, if maintained with love, respect and compassion, offer an environment that only a few are fortunate enough to enjoy,” he says. 

Bob recalled the early days when his dad was just launching the business at home and sometimes called on him and his four sisters to help with piecework. 

“When I was about seven, I remember late afternoons and early evenings, he would give us little jobs to do,” Bob said. “Then when Harvester closed it forced his hand and caused him to accelerate the process, and he ended up supporting us through his business full-time.” 

Bob worked for his father while at IUS, but wasn’t sure he wanted to continue after graduating in 1991. 

“At that time the business was really just my dad and me,” Bob said. “I was thinking about taking a career path that was something different. But as time went on, I circled back around to what I had kind of been programmed to do.” 

Among the many lessons he learned from his dad was the importance of maintaining a work-family balance, something he himself has successfully managed. He says his favorite “unwind time” is entertaining family and friends aboard his two-bedroom yacht that is moored at Captain’s Quarters. They took numerous family trips when the boys and their sister, Jacqueline, 23, were young and they have continued to travel extensively, both domestically and abroad. Several summers ago, Bob, Sam and Seth walked an 80-mile section of the Camino Trail in Spain. 

“While my dad worked hard, often alone at nights, he always made time for family,” Bob said. “There is a delicate balance to family businesses and stress is omnipresent, so that balance can easily tip to ‘workaholic.’ It’s important to segregate your work and family life and remain committed to a healthy work life and home life balance.”

As the prospective successor to his father, Sam is learning the business, which he joined several years ago upon leaving Colorado State in Fort Collins, Col., where he was majoring in watershed management. Why such an abrupt U-turn?

“I wanted to move home and be closer to family,” he says. “Plus, lucrative positions in watershed management are few and far between.”

“I believe those three years away from home gave him a perspective and an appreciation for a family business and how rewarding it can be in a number of ways,” his dad observed.

Sam’s duties at Owings Patterns cover a wide range, all boiling down to one major goal: delivering a quality product on time.

As for any differences in his and his father’s approach, Sam says:

“He’s the visionary who looks at the big picture and sets goals. We are alike in that we get charged up about setting things in motion and building things. We like to brainstorm about where we want the business to go. I’m in charge of setting a road map to achieve those goals. He operates more by feeling, while I am more data-driven. I like to grab the data and see where it can take us.”

Outside of business, the Owings are active in church and civic affairs in the Louisville area. They serve in various capacities at the Cathedral of the Assumption downtown and support many charitable events, including Let’s Dance Louisville. Bob is currently president of the Prosser Career Education Center in New Albany, which assists students in the transition from graduation into meaningful employment in his or her field of study. He is also a former board member of One Southern Indiana and a supporter of the Family Business Center at the University of Louisville.


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