John Tunner Rubery and his two brothers entered into partnership in 1884 to establish a business for the manufacture of light steel constructions in the Victoria Works at Darlaston, South Staffordshire, known as Rubery and Company. On the withdrawal of the brothers from the business in 1893, Alfred Ernest Owen joined the partnership. By 1903, A.E. Owen, who had been trained as an engineer, was very much more active than his senior partner and the change in the relative strengths of the partners was reflected in the change of name to Rubery, Owen & Company. Rubery withdrew from the partnership in 1910, and A.E. Owen became sole proprietor. Owen had started manufacturing components for the aviation industry. By 1912, five departments were operating , each of which was treated as a separate profit centre: Roofing; Fencing; Motor Frames; Engineering; Aviation.
In 1912, Owen created the Staff Council with himself as chairman and the major heads of department to help him to administer the business. In April 1919 the name of the administrative board was changed to Committee of Management. In 1920 the Fencing department was closed and the Roofing department was re-organised into the Structural department, and a Metal Aircraft department was established. He developed wider business interests as well. With others in the Darlaston community he invested in local companies: Chains Ltd. in 1910, and the Darlaston & District Housing Association, to build homes for artisans, and Nuts & Bolts (Darlaston) Ltd. in 1912. Elsewhere, he invested in A.G. Sutherland Ltd., makers of gas meters, in Birmingham, and a firm of ironmongers in Wrexham, Rogers & Jackson, already partly owned by the Owen family. At the suggestion of the Midland Bank and the urgent prompting of his accountant, Charles Eustace Partridge, a private limited company, Rubery, Owen & Co. Ltd., was registered on 14 April 1920 (No. 166447), but A.E. Owen was reluctant to set about transferring the assets of his business to the new company.
Owen died on 29 December 1929, but it was not until 1934 that his executors were able to separate his different interests and transfer the assets of Rubery, Owen & Company to the limited company. Owen's eldest son, Alfred George Beech Owen ( later Sir Alfred Owen, C.B.E.), then 21 years of age and an engineering student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, immediately stepped into his father's shoes, and took over the business on 2 January 1930. He and his brother, Ernest William Beech Owen, were appointed joint managing directors in 1934, and in 1938 he started to expand the company by buying a company in liquidation, Easiclene Porcelain-Enamel (1938) Ltd. At the same time he was expanding the parent company. A Metal Storage Equipment department was opened in 1932, and when re-armament started in 1936, two new departments were established: Armour Plate (AP) in 1937 to produce armour plate assemblies for tank hulls and gun turrets; and the Airframe department started to produce parts in 1939. At the same time he acquired the company in Warrington which operated under a number of different names reflecting its move from refrigeration manufacture to the manufacture of aircraft components and hydraulic mechanisms, as Electro-Hydraulics Ltd., and which was finally known as Rubery Owen Conveyancer Ltd. During the war the company's fabricating and presswork departments were employed in a wide range of products from lifeboats to aircraft propeller hubs. The Warrington company's engineering department was turned into a separate company to fulfil orders for the Admiralty. With the end of the war approaching, Alfred Owen set about turning his companies into manufacturing peace-time products. The Metal Aircraft department (MA) became the Metal Assemblies department producing its deep-drawn presswork for a variety of products, including gas cylinders. The Armour Plate (AP) department, under the direction of Ernest William Beech Owen, became the Agricultural Plough Division in 1946, making ploughs for the revolutionary Ferguson tractor, and, after that company's merger with Massey-Harris of Canada, to Massey-Ferguson specifications. Other products included tractor components, quadrant controls (for operating the tractor lift) for other tractor manufacturers, and dry element air cleaners.
By the end of the War the Owen companies were employing 16,000 people and Alfred Owen sought further growth by taking over metal-working and motor vehicle components' firms. In 1951 he set up the Owen Organisation with the slogan, "A Linked Family of more than Fifty Companies" so that a clear distinction could be made between the Owen Family's ownership of Rubery, Owen & Co. Ltd. and their investments in other companies. Until a new corporate identity programme was introduced in 1970, this logo remained, with the number of companies in the slogan gradually updated. After the war a group of car component manufacturers were brought together to form the British Motor Racing Research Trust to create a racing car made entirely of British components under a team led by Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon. Alfred Owen soon became chairman of the Trust, and when it was running short of funds, he decided that Rubery Owen should take over the assets of the Trust. They were purchased on 24 October 1952. The Trust became known as the Owen Racing Motor Association, and its Works at Bourne, Lincolnshire, was called the Engine Development Division.
At Darlaston, Rubery Owen's loose structure of manufacturing departments operating as individual profit centres with managers responsible directly to the Chairman, was replaced by a divisional structure of seven divisions in 1956, each responsible for their own design, manufacture and sales, with central control being exercised over finance, purchasing, research, personnel and engineering plant and maintenance services. The seven divisions were organised as follows: Motor; Structural; Contracts; Bolt and Nut; Metal Assemblies; Metal Equipment; Rowen-Arc. There were also specialist factories, like Pressings in Coventry, Foundry Equipment in Shropshire, Engine Development at Bourne and Industrial Storage and Office Equipment at Wrexham, which were managed from Darlaston.
The Organisation itself operated a Central Services Division which offered assistance to subsidiaries and charged for the services they provided. It consisted of the following functions: Secretarial; Accounting; Supplies; Engineering; Research and Development; Production; Engineering; Personnel Public Relations. In addition there were a number of trade investments, some of which were important to the Group and its associated activities: Eaton Axles Ltd.; Ruberowen (South Africa) Ltd.; Mahindra Owen Ltd. (India); Cardinal Steels Ltd.; Gillots Forge and Rolling Mills Ltd.; Kleine Reinforced Concrete Ltd.; Bowser International Ltd.; Luke Bros. Ltd.; Port Hamble Ltd.; Isetta of Great Britain Ltd.
The third generation of the Owen family started to join the company. Helen Grace, Sir Alfred's eldest child was closely associated with the Company's pioneering Preparation for Retirement programme and introduced Industrial Life and Christian Teamwork into the workplace. She was also responsible for Office Development. His elder sons both graduated in Economics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Alfred David Owen started in the Motor Division in 1961, after completing National Service, becoming its General Manager in 1963. John Ernest Owen, after a year as a Management Trainee at Jaguar Cars Ltd., joined the firm in 1963 as Managing Director of the Easiclene company, responsible for the Organisation's domestic and office equipment activities.
In 1966 Rubery Owen & Co. Ltd was turned into a holding company which supervised the activities of the Group, Rubery Owen Holdings Ltd.; and the assets and trading activities of the Darlaston Works and its related factories were transferred to a new company, confusingly also called Rubery Owen & Co. Ltd. (This name was later changed to Rubery Owen (Darlaston) Ltd.) David and John Owen were appointed directors and started to shadow the senior family directors, David following the Chairman's role, and John operating in the Domestic Equipment Division. After the sudden death of his uncle, Ernest Owen, in February 1967, John took over all his responsibilities in the Contracts and Agricultural Divisions. The brothers were appointed Joint Deputy Managing Directors in March 1967. Sir Alfred Owen suffered a serious stroke in October 1969, and the day-to-day management of the Group was left to the two brothers. They decided to split the management duties, A.D. Owen becoming Acting Chairman of the Group and supervising the management of the subsidiary UK and overseas companies, and J.E. Owen becoming Managing Director of the Darlaston company and its associated factories in Moxley (Wednesbury), Wrexham and Warrington. In 1970 the major subsidiary companies were brought together into sub-groups each headed by a new holding company, viz., Conveyancer Group Domestic Equipment Group Fasteners Group C.& L. Hill Group Distributors Group. In addition Rubery Owen (Darlaston) Ltd. was also administered as a separate sub-group.
Reference: Leonard McDonald, Rubery Owen Holdings Ltd. Archive (University of Warwick, 1997).