It’s safe to say that Ron Fowler has been involved in every major sporting event in San Diego over the last decade. Fowler, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments, has chaired, served on boards or held advisory roles for the Super Bowl, the San Diego Padres, the San Diego Hall of Champions and athletic teams for San Diego State University and the University of San Diego … and those are just some examples of his contributions to athletics. So it’s no surprise that one of Fowler’s mottos reflects his passion for sports: “Keep on changing the game till you find one you can win.”
When Fowler began considering his college choices, he initially hoped to play baseball for the University of Minnesota. A knee injury disrupted that dream, and Fowler chose St. Thomas instead. “If I couldn’t play sports, I wanted a smaller school. St. Thomas was considered a good men’s liberal arts college,” he said. “It was everything I hoped it would be.” While at St. Thomas, he met two of his earliest mentors, Dr. Tom Bohen and Father James Whalen. Both professors provided him with direction and confidence. While at St. Thomas, he was able to determine that he was interested in business and gained the self-assurance he needed to succeed. After graduating, he earned an M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota.
Fowler’s first job after getting his M.B.A. was with Theodore Hamm Brewing Co. He chose the job because it offered more interesting opportunities in areas such as brand development than the other positions he was considering. From there he moved to Lucky Breweries on the West Coast, where he met Peter Widdrington. “He constantly challenged me,”Fowler said. “He wanted people who say the cup is half full.” Lucky Breweries was facing a lot of problems, and toward the end of his time there he learned from a man who “cut everything to the bone. It wasn’t what you’d learn in an M.B.A. program,” Fowler reported. Though running a business on a small margin was not something Fowler wanted to emulate, it was another chance to learn.
Fowler continued to work in the beverage industry, eventually ending up in San Diego, where he worked for H.A. Lavezzi Co. In 1967, the owner offered to sell him the lower-San Diego part of the business, and Mesa Distributing was born. “I built (what I acquired) from a $12.5 million business to a $260 million business.”
Until two-and-a-half years ago, when he hired a president for Liquid Investments, Fowler was involved in the day-to-day aspects of the business. Now his job is to “view things from 40,000 feet,” including handling strategic and community issues. In fact, Fowler is extremely involved in the San Diego community. In addition to his activities in the sports scene, Fowler strongly supports San Diego-area academics. He is one of the founders of the Entrepreneurial Management Center at San Diego State University and has served on the president’s advisory board. He is a member of the board of trustees for the University of San Diego. While athletics and academics are his two passions, he has not neglected other community service. Says Fowler, “In business today, you have to be responsible; you have to give back. Part of my business philosophy comes from something my mom used to say: ‘From whom much is given, much is expected.’”
Fowler also has begun to explore work-life balance issues. “I had a wakeup call when my oldest son was killed in a car accident.” He is now spending more time with his children. Fowler says he has a great wife, who lets him know if he is not balanced. His reading reflects this interest in balance; some recent favorites include Tuesdays With Morrie, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, and Halftime.
“I feel very proud to be in this situation,” says Fowler, who reports that he sometimes looks at his life and is amazed at what he has accomplished. He shouldn’t be. He has lived by his motto and found a game he could win.