The HVAC Industry Loses a Pioneer and Friend

After battling cancer and other ailments for a number of years, Robert H. Owens, 78, founder and chairman of Owens Companies, Inc., died on March 6 at his home in Wayzata, MN.
Owens began Owens Service Company., a Bloomington, MN-based commercial heating, cooling, and ventilation services company, in 1957. Originally the company was named the Owens Trane Service Company. He eventually recognized opportunities in building a professional, full-service/single-source service organization; so he left Trane in 1973 and renamed his company Owens Services Corp.
Bob Owens was a pioneer in offering preventive maintenance service contracts, and an early advocate for the Design/Build construction model. He believed in the concept of single-source responsibility.
In addition, he was a founding member of the Service and Maintenance Bureau (SMB) of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. It was renamed the Mechanical Service Contractors of America in 1990.
“In those days, only the large mechanical contractors had representative associations — service-oriented businesses had nowhere to turn,” recalls son John Owens, who currently serves as company president and CEO.
“There were no programs for commercial service contractors, so my father and other contractors got together to form SMB, an organization designed to provide educational programs as well as voice for the commercial service contractor.
According to John Owens, his father wrote some of the first commercial preventive maintenance programs in the early 60s, and pioneered some of the preventive maintenance standards in use to this day. After seeing an ad for its use in jet engines, he pioneered the use of refrigerant oil analysis, which soon became a standard industry diagnostic tool. In the 1970s, Owens was one of the first companies capable of providing complete building preventive maintenance contracts; from chillers and boilers to controls and even water treatment, all under one roof. Owens formed its first Energy Management Department is August of 1973, two months before the first oil embargo. During the 1990s, Owens’ “Ozone Matters” campaign raised regional awareness of the pending CFC phase out.
Owens was named the Bloomington, MN Small Business Person of the Year in 1991, and the company was named Contracting Business magazine’s Commercial Contractor of the Year in 1996.
He is survived by sons John and Jim, who are currently active in the business; son Tom of Minneapolis; daughters Mary Neal and Catherine Duncan, both of Minneapolis, and Nancy Fraser, of Orono; 13 grandchildren, and a brother, Jack of Coquille, OR.
Ken Wohlfarth, past president of Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), Columbus, OH, remembers Owens as a helpful mentor who was always willing to share ideas with others, and improve the industry.
“He was a mentor for things MSCA accomplished,” says Wohlfarth.
“His company was outstanding in the way it was laid out and organized. You could always count on Bob to come up with ideas. He was an outstanding man, too.”
Bob Owens was a devoted father, who never let work detract from his attention to his children’s’ activities.
“He was always there for us,” says John. “We were very active in sports, and no matter how busy he was, he never seemed to miss a game, track or swim meet.”
Bob Owens was a pioneer, a forward thinker, and a mentor to the HVAC industry. He will be sorely missed.

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