The news of his construction skills traveled and Nathan soon began construction on the first town school and church. Nathan and his bride had three boys who were quickly involved in the rapidly growing family business. There is not a block in downtown Shawnee that doesn’t show the Cowen’s hand in construction – the City hospital, municipal auditorium, City Hall, Masonic Temple and Elks Building. Most of downtown Shawnee was constructed by Cowen, as well as many buildings on the local Oklahoma Baptist University campus. The Cowen family business was thriving.
The two oldest Cowen brothers took the helm when Nathan died in 1941. The youngest brother, Steve, was just old enough to begin attending college at Oklahoma A&M. During World War II, Cowen began building several large Army and Navy installations in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Among these was the $29,000,000 naval installation at Norman and Lexington, the alien internment camp at McAlester, The Newport Air Base and Glennan General Hospital in Okmulgee. During this peak, while America was struggling due to the war, the Cowen’s were running a $1,000,000 per week business.
Despite the Company being successful, John could see the changing economy could soon take a negative toll on the construction industry. He began working towards a new business plan that would change the entire focus and direction of the Company. Cowen began focusing on more personalized service and not necessarily the biggest projects in the region. Cowen began building relationships with the Owners and seeking out potential clients that will need continuing construction services – not just a one time deal. Each project is provided the type of personalized customer service that brings them back to Cowen Construction on the next project. Throughout the years, many friendships have formed. “For many construction companies, they come in, do a big project and then go away,” says John Cowen. “Our goal is to be there for the long haul. Rather than grow the business by increasing the number of projects, our focus is to grow our client base.” John Cowen doesn’t just delegate the work – he is intimately involved with each project – visiting the job site and forming personal relationships with the Owners.
Like the early days in Shawnee, Cowen Construction has built many pieces of Tulsa’s history. The Cowen Team continues to do work for two of the largest hospitals in the area, St. John and Saint Francis Health Systems. The Tulsa World and Williams Company are two other long standing clients for the Company.
“We don’t want to be the biggest, we want to be the best,” states John Cowen. “To succeed, we must change with the times. Our company wants to keep our clients satisfied by adapting to the market in which the Owner must adhere to. I think if we first and foremost keep the needs of our clients in mind and make them happy – the Company will be around for another hundred plus years.”