It seems that Tom Owens ’73 was born to build.
“From an early age, I was always fascinated when I saw fields transformed into foundations or structures shoot up around me,” said Owens. “I wanted to know who the builder was and how I could become one.”
Inspired by his high school drafting teacher, Owens looked for opportunities to learn about and gain experience in the building industry. “I began working as a construction laborer at age 16,” he said. “I dug ditches for foundations and whatever else was needed, which was a great learning experience.”
While a freshman at San Antonio Junior College, Owens learned that Texas A&M University offered a degree in building construction, a wide-ranging curriculum that included coursework in construction, design, engineering and business in the College of Architecture. “It was a well-rounded program, and I thought, ‘That’s for me!’” he recalled.
Foundation for Success
Admitted to Texas A&M at the start of his sophomore year, Owens soon joined the student chapter of Associated General Contractors. Guest speaker John Harris ’54, an executive with Hines, a Houston-based development, investment and management firm, spoke to the group about the role of developers in establishing communities. “I was intrigued and decided that I was going to work for him,” said Owens. “After graduating, I showed up at John’s office without an appointment and told his assistant that I heard him speak at Texas A&M and that I was there for a job. I owe my career to her, because she convinced him—against his better judgment—to give me five minutes.”
Four hours and five interviews later, Owens needed to meet with the company’s founder, Gerald Hines, an industry leader who built Houston’s 50-story One Shell Plaza, the tallest reinforced concrete structure in the world. That meeting led to a job offer, and today, Owens has been with Hines for 46 years.
From the Ground Up
Owens began his career in construction, planning and building out internal spaces in office buildings to meet tenants’ needs. He has worked as a construction, conceptual, property, engineering, project and fund manager. He currently serves as Hines’ senior managing director and chief risk officer. “My responsibilities include safeguarding the company’s reputation and financial investment on projects across the globe,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are doing the right thing, in the right way, resulting in a product that we can be proud of, and one that will stand the test of time.”
A privately owned multibillion-dollar firm, Hines has shaped the skylines of some of the world’s most exciting cities. As an integral member of the Hines family, Owens credits his success to the education he received at Texas A&M and to the investment that Harris and Hines made in his development.
“John and Gerald were great teachers and mentors,” he said. “They demonstrated leadership, selfless service, integrity and a commitment to excellence.”
Put to the Test
Owens was scheduled to speak at the College of Architecture’s 2017 John Miles Rowlett Lecture Series a few days after returning from a mission trip to South Sudan, but he fell ill. “We thought it was the flu at first, but when I became delirious, my wife, Patti, rushed me to the emergency room,” Owens recalled. “I went into a coma, and it was determined that I had contracted cerebral malaria.” The parasite had infected 20 percent of his blood cells.
“The doctor thought that I only had a few hours to live, and there were few options. He prescribed a treatment plan that had previously only been used to treat children, which involved draining my entire blood supply and replacing it with new blood,” Owens said. Over a couple of days, the process was repeated three times, reducing and then eliminating the parasite from his blood.
When he came out of the coma, the first thing Owens asked was, “Did I miss the lecture at Texas A&M?” Needing time to recover, his presentation was rescheduled for the 2019 spring conference.
“It was an honor to be invited back to speak,” said Owens. “Texas A&M means so much to my family and me, and it was wonderful to be part of the conference.”
Building a Legacy
The impact that John and Gerald had on Owens’ life and career inspired him to work with the Construction Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) to establish a scholarship in their honor. The Gerald Hines/John Harris Endowed Scholarship in Construction Science has benefited students pursuing degrees in construction science since 1999.
More recently, he and Patti decided to fund two additional scholarships for architecture students. “Patti and I wanted to support students pursuing the Department of Construction Science’s leadership minor,” said Owens. “We value the leadership development and interdisciplinary aspects of the program, since developing leaders of character is critical for our industries and communities.”
The Leadership in the Design and Construction Professions minor educates students about different leadership techniques and skills that will help them become effective leaders in the design and construction industries. The Owens’ gift will fund awards of $2,000 per year for students enrolled in each of the college’s four departments and those pursuing degrees in the college’s University Studies program. Additionally, the couple established the Tom Owens ’73/CIAC Endowed Scholarship for students in the Department of Construction Science.
“These scholarships are an investment in the future of our students, the college and in the industries that hire our graduates,” said Dr. Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture. “The Owens’ generosity is building a legacy that will make a difference for generations to come.”
To learn how you can support scholarships in the College of Architecture, contact Larry Zuber, assistant vice president for development, at email@example.com or 979-845-0939.