In the movie, “The Ultimate Gift,” the hero uses a $100 million inheritance to build a children’s hospital, unaware that he will receive a considerably greater sum in return.
In the Jack Lowe, Sr. version of this story, our hero builds a successful contracting and wholesale business as a way to provide jobs and serve his community. He asks nothing in return, beyond an honest day’s work, and respect and service to all.
His gift has kept on giving, as TDIndustries has grown to become a firm with more than $400 million in annual revenue, and more than 2,000 employees.
Electrical engineer Jack Lowe, Sr. (1913-1980) founded Texas Distributors, Inc. —an air conditioning wholesaler and contracting business — in 1946, in a section of his aunt’s auto parts store. To Lowe, this venture — which was renamed TDIndustries in 1983 — became an ideal way to provide jobs and financial stability to its dedicated employees.
“From the very beginning, Jack wanted the company to benefit everyone, not just a few at the top,” says Ben Houston, who joined TD as an engineer in 1961, and worked with Lowe for 19 years.
Jack Lowe, Jr. attests to his father’s concern for all employees and “stakeholders,” including vendors.
“From the beginning, he was much more interested in taking great care of customers, and having a family feel and relationship with the employees rather than making money,” Lowe, Jr. recalls. “He was very employee and customer focused. He taught me responsibility, and how to take ownership of a project. He truly was a man who led by example. He was a man of great integrity and great community involvement.”
From the beginning, he was much more interested in taking great care of customers, and having a family feel and relationship with the employees rather than making money. — Jack Lowe, Jr.
In 1952, Jack Lowe, Sr. instituted a non-qualified employee stock ownership plan, to give all employees a stake in the company’s profits, and help to ensure their financial stability. As a manager and leader, Jack Lowe, Sr. brought another innovation to the industry related to company leadership. In 1970, as son Jack, Jr. describes, the company was going through some difficult times, that seemed to be rooted in employees’ attitudes about company leadership. Before long, he got to the heart of the matter.
“Dad decided to hold a series of all-day meetings at his mother’s home with groups of employees, without their supervisors present,” he says. “They did this every third Wednesday for more than a year. Out of that came our first mission statement, and we realized we had not been preparing people for leadership. We prepared people for technical skills, such as engineering, plumbing, sheet metal, or accounting, but had not prepared them for leadership.”
And thus was “Servant Leadership” born at TDIndustries.
Jack Lowe, Sr.’s greatest contribution to the Dallas community is probably his role in guiding the desegregation of the Dallas public schools. After the Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that busing was a valid method to further school desegregation, Lowe assumed a leadership role in the new Dallas Alliance Task Force, which brought ethnic groups together to reach an agreement over a workable busing plan. He continued to help busing run properly, and later participated in initiatives to bring about improvements to the Dallas county jail, and worked to increase minority membership on civic boards. And, much of this work was accomplished as Lowe faced major health issues.
“Jack Lowe, Sr., Jack Lowe, Jr., and Harold MacDowell have each brought something unique to the firm and to the industry,” says Steve Saunders, who worked at TD as a leader in its residential division, Tempo Mechanical.
“The company today is quite a shining beacon of the best that our industry can be. They have a great history and have weathered the storms of economy, change, trial and tribulation,” Saunders says.
“Jack Lowe Sr, Jack Lowe Jr., and Harold McDowell have always been role models for myself and many others who are and were a part of the TDIndustries family,” says Larry Taylor, who went on from TD to form AirRite, another leader in the Texas market.
“Each has continued to raised TD to the next level of not only profitability, but team member partnership,” Taylor says. “The spirit of partnership which has and continues to be the guiding model grew stronger.”
And it all began with Jack Lowe, Sr.’s great gift to the community: a company with a difference, that would provide a future for many.