Franklyn D. Owen, Jr. | Legacy of Leadership Profile

Franklyn D. Owen, Jr.

(1930 – 1982)

In April 1994, Owen Steel Company, Inc., of Columbia sold the largest contract in the company's history — 23,500 tons of structural steel for the Atlantic City Convention Center project in New Jersey.

The equivalent would be a building containing 15 times as much steel as the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia.    

Company founder Franklyn Deming Owen, who died in 1974, would probably have been speechless. He believed the company's limit should be two stories, nothing higher or more complicated.

His successor, Franklyn D. Owen, Jr., would have been elated. To him, where Owen Steel's growth and potential were concerned, there was no limit.    

While the father built the company's foundation, the son built the company's future. Today, throughout Columbia and South Carolina, throughout the United States, and throughout the world, towering buildings, bridges, and other structures stand as monuments to the vision of Frank Owen, Jr.

Franklyn Deming Owen, Jr., was born July 10, 1930, in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Franklyn and Elizabeth Glascock Owen.    

The elder Owen earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of North Carolina, went to work for Southern General Fireproofing Company of Atlanta, Georgia, distributing hardware items, such as metal decking, window and door frame casings, reinforcement, and fabricated reinforcing steel.

In 1936, with his personal savings, a $3,000 loan, and considerable faith, he established Columbia Steel. The name was changed to Owen Steel Company in 1939. There were five employees, including Frank, Sr.    

Frank Owen, Jr., attended grade school in Columbia and graduated from Dreher High School in 1947. He received a degree in civil engineering from the University of South Carolina in 1951 and did graduate studies in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although diagnosed as being diabetic at age 14, he did not slow down at work or play. He was an exceptional swimmer and water-skier, as well as an avid basketball, baseball, and football fan. He was also a workaholic, doing his own job and pitching in wherever help was needed.    

He began learning the family business while working summers and after school, beginning when he was 14. One of his first jobs consisted of cleaning up and pulling nails from used lumber. The following year, that lumber was used on the roof of the present office on Blossom Street.

By 1952, when he first began working full time at Owen Steel, he had become familiar with every phase of operations. Two years later, he was elected treasurer and a member of the board of directors.

As time passed, he assumed more responsibility and was elected president on August 14, 1964.    

On June 22, 1963, he married Dorothy Anne Greene of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, after a courtship that lasted two and a half years. She had received a degree in business from Furman University and was working for United States Steel in Charlotte when she first heard about Frank Owen, a customer.

Meanwhile, she was chosen to open a regional office in Atlanta for U.S. Steel. Frank Owen continued to call her. But while she found reasons not to be available on numerous occasions, Owen's persistence won out, and they were married at St. Mary's in the Hills Episcopal Church in Blowing Rock.    

They were the parents of three children: Franklyn Owen III, Elizabeth Greene Owen, and George William Owen.

Dottie Owen describes Frank as a "warm and caring husband and father." His family and Owen Steel were his major interests, she says.

As Owen Steel Company grew, its reputation spanned the United States. By 1994, it had grown to more than 1,700 employees and 12 separate plants in five states—South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. Besides extensive work in the continental United States, Owen Steel has done work in Ireland, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Guam, the Ascension Islands, and Turkey.    

Upon the death of his father in 1974, Frank Owen, Jr., was elected chief executive officer, and on January 1, 1980, he became chairman of the board.

As a diabetic, his health was a major concern, but Dottie Owen says her husband never complained and tried always to be self-sufficient. He underwent open-heart surgery in 1974 and 1981 in Cleveland, Ohio. He also had a stroke in 1979, but he managed to continue a full load of work.

Franklyn Owen died March 30, 1982, after being taken by ambulance to a Columbia hospital. The ambulance attendants were served coffee while waiting for Owen to finish dictating letters.    

Owen Steel continued as a closely held family corporation, with Dottie Owen serving as chairman of the board, until 1994, when Owen Steel was sold to Dallas-based Commercial Metals Company. It operates now as SMI–Owen Steel.

Frank Owen was active in many steel industry organizations. He was a director of the First Bankshares Corporation of South Carolina and First National Bank of South Carolina and a member of the Presidents Association of the American Management Association.

He served on the Columbia College Board of Visitors and was a member of St. Martin's in the Fields Episcopal Church, where he served on the church vestry. He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1994.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame

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