Aston 50th Anniversary: David Owen Q&A

50 Aston Greats: David Owen

Dr David Owen

Dr David Owen, of Darlaston firm Rubery Owen Holdings Ltd, has had a long connection with Aston University. He was a member of the Council from 1980 to 2002 and he joined the University’s Development Board in 2008. He was awarded an Hon. DSc at Aston University in 1988. The connections between Aston and his firm go back even further - Rubery Owen was responsible for erecting the steel structure for the Main Building, opened by the Queen in 1955.

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

I was President of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1980-81 and a vacancy came up to join the Council at Aston University. And that’s the only reason I can think of - that somebody must have put my name forward. It was very nice to see the invitation.

What is your fondest Aston memory?

Well, they’re all fond in a way. Some were tricky and difficult. I mean, the cuts [to Higher Education spending in the early 1980s] were really awful. I was there to see the University through it. You can’t call that a fun memory, but I think it’s an important one. But talking about fond memories, I think I just enjoyed meeting a completely different set of colleagues - both on the staff and on Council. One of the jobs that I was asked to do was to Chair the committee of the Aston Triangle [arts centre]. The range of shows was extraordinary. There were the constant films. I know Welsh National Opera used the Triangle. The arts centre was also among the first to talk about gay and lesbian culture. It was very avant-garde.

What do you think Aston’s greatest achievements are?

I think it’s a very open university to people of all cultures and different faiths, including no faith. I think it’s super to have positive things like the Chaplaincy. Also, the Guild used to run a huge charity event once a year. That was a very important aspect of Aston because it took the University into the outside world through its events.

Is it true that Rubery Owen built the steel frame for the Main Building in the 1950s?

Yes, we had a very strong sales force in Birmingham for our structural steel department and they won a lot of contracts, one of the proudest being the Main Building. Sadly that department closed down in the early 1980s. We actually merged the sales force with another company and they still won a lot of contracts in the West Midlands, one of which was the restoration of the Victoria Bridge at the Severn Valley Railway.

What has your connection with Aston given you personally?

It’s given me a very strong, proud link with a university that’s certainly punched above its weight. It’s smaller than the other universities but, by golly, I was proud to be a member! And I stayed on Council as long as I could. I had to leave in the end - and I didn’t mind, my time was up and I had to be realistic - but I’ve always kept my links with Aston.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s students?

I would say - realise you’re at university to learn and work hard. I think it’s worth researching what you’re really good at and making sure, if you possibly can, that there are jobs available to go to. And I know Aston has a very good track record for university students finding work when they leave.