"If I was going to have to work for someone, it might as well be me."
Dian Graves had a plan.
As a young girl in post-war West Texas she was supposed to roller skate, play jacks, and say "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir." She would make good grades, be a cheerleader, get married and live happily ever after. Plans change.
Dian did in fact play jacks and roller skate, make good grades, cheer for her beloved Midland High, and always was very respectful. She married, attended Texas Tech and McMurry universities and had two children: daughter, Deborah, and son, Tone. In 1965, however, Dian found herself a single mother, working in Abilene as a secretary. Happily ever after had taken a detour.
In 1969, she married pharmacist Jean Owen who had recently formed a company to manage hospital pharmacies. Just three months into their marriage, however, Jean lost his position with the company. Together, the couple had $250 in the bank, but with a loan from Dian's former in-laws, she and Jean launched a new hospital pharmacy management company. They called it Owen & Company, eventually renaming it Owen Healthcare.
The business plan was simple. Jean handled the technical aspects of pharmacy management and Dian was responsible for marketing. They traveled the state in search of hospital clients with Dian often typing up proposals on a typewriter kept in the trunk of their Buick. Business grew and in September 1976, with 21 hospital accounts in hand, they brought on Carl Isgren as president to help plan their future growth. Two days later, Jean died in an airplane crash.
Many companies sought aggressively to purchase Owen Healthcare, but Dian decided, "If I was going to have to work for someone, it might as well be me." The young widow with two children, a mortgage, and massive debt resolved to keep and lead their fledgling business. She became chairman of Owen Healthcare, reassured her existing employees, and together with lsgren and Harlan Stai, executive vice president, went in search of new clients.
It wasn't easy. Twice she sold homes to stay financially solvent. Still, Dian characterizes those years as the good days. She was developing a great team, growing a company that was revolutionizing the practice of hospital pharmacy, and helping heal people. She was also having fun doing it.
Dian served as chairman of Owen Healthcare from 1976 until 1997, leading the company to a position of dominance in the industry with more than 3,500 employees and operations in 45 states. Owen Healthcare was an innovator in developing computerized tools for pharmacy and supply management that later became industry standards. When Dian became chair in 1976, the company was valued at $1 million. Nineteen years later, the company had its initial public offering. In 1997 Owen Healthcare, then valued at $500 million, merged with Cardinal Healthcare.
Dian regarded her employees as the most precious asset of Owen Healthcare. In 1984, as the sole shareholder of the company, she created an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). As a result, the 1997 merger made millionaires of many rank and file employees who had helped to build the company, an achievement Dian considers her greatest career accomplishment.
Dian's business honors include five times being listed among Working Woman magazine's Top 25 Business Women and four times receiving similar recognition from Savvy magazine. She has been inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame, was named one of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World by Ernst and Young, and Business Houston's Regional Entrepreneur of the Year.
She received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McMurry University and Northwood University's Outstanding Business Leader Award. A member of the Committee of 200, Dian has served on the boards of Zale Lipshy University Hospital in Dallas and the Texas Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Bill Clements appointed her as a founding commissioner of the Texas Department of Commerce. She also served on the Abilene-based boards of West Texas Utilities, McMurry University, First Abilene Bankshares, First National Bank, West Texas Rehabilitation Center and the Community Foundation of Abilene.
After the Owen Healthcare merger, Dian re-focused her energies as chairman of the Dian Graves Owen Foundation and Mansefeldt Investment Corporation, a private equity company managed by Tucker Bridwell. As Owen Foundation chair she has overseen more than $85 million in grants, primarily to organizations in Abilene, Fredericksburg and Houston. Her philanthropic and business leadership have led to recognition as Abilene's Outstanding Citizen of the Year and honors from the Houston Grand Opera, the Abilene Philharmonic Guild, the Grace Museum and the United Way of Abilene.
Dian and her husband, Harlan Stai, reside in a restored German homestead near Fredericksburg, where they enjoy entertaining their four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.