From humble beginnings his belief in hard work, his can do attitude and tenacity built an enormously successful business and made a difference to many aspects of New Zealand civic and business prosperity.
Born in Manchester, England, Sir Robert emigrated to Auckland and in 1953 he moved to Tauranga where he started a shipping agency and stevedoring business. There were numerous changes over the following years, and this start was the foundation of the Owens Group.
In 1958 Sir Robert obtained a contract at the Port of Tauranga for loading logs to Japan and his initiative contributed greatly to the growth of exporting New Zealand forestry products.
Sir Robert made an enormous contribution to civic affairs in the Bay of Plenty as well as the port and the business sector. Elected Mayor of Tauranga in 1968, he retired from the Mayoral in October 1977 having served three terms. He was also the Mayor of Mt Maunganui for a period, a unique status.
Following the tragedy of the Mt Erebus plane crash in 1981, Sir Robert was appointed Chairman of Air New Zealand. In his three year term he restored morale and made sure the airline was reorganised and back on track.
In 1996 Sir Robert was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame. But the culmination of recognition of his services to the country came in 1997 when, in the Queens Birthday Honours List, he became a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.