Archive for March 20, 2011

Tyler Owen: Man of MAHA

March 20, 2011 8 comments

Superchunk @ MAHA

Image by ruralocity via Flickr

UPDATE: The 2011 MAHA Music Festival lineup has just been announced and the headliners for the August 13 event are major indie artists: Guided by Voices; Matisyahu; and Cursive. The subject of my story below, Tyler Owen, is one of the founders and driving forces of this emerging Omaha festival.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet people who are making things happen in my community, the proverbial movers and shakers we all read about but rarely ever encounter.  Well, as a cultural journalist in my hometown of Omaha, Neb. I consistently get the chance to meet all manner of individuals who are making a difference here and elsewhere.  My assignments interviewing and profiling these figures allows me the opportunity and privilege of sharing their stories and activities with not only the Omaha community but with the larger community that the Web makes possible.  The following story is about one of Omaha’s young professionals, Tyler Owen, now making his mark on the scene in business, the arts, community service, and leadership. As Omaha’s Old Guard begins to fade away Owen and others from his generation are poised to take over the reins, much as he’s done in his own family’s business.  I look forward to Owen and his peers in the 30 and 40-something age group to continue the growth and momentum that’s helped Omaha come out of its shell the last decade to become one of the great urban success stories in America.  My story appears in the March issue of Metro Magazine (


Tyler Owen: Man of MAHA

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Metro Magazine (


Tyler Owen hails from an Omaha legacy family who has made a fortune in the steel industry and who spreads their wealth around. The Owen Foundation funds higher education, cultural programs, social agencies and the Henry Doorly Zoo. While he may not have a big red S” printed across his chest, this fourth generation homegrown entrepreneur/philanthropist has already staked his claim as (okay, not METROPOLIS’ but MAHA’s) “man of steel”.

As a young professional, Tyler Owen carries on his family’s legacy of giving back. He’s also staked out his own territory as a volunteer with various creative and community endeavors close to his heart.


He doesn’t fit the mold of a steel executive. For starters, he’s a one-time actor and a lifelong rocker. Growing up, the Westside High graduate spent far more time practicing the piano and playing the guitar than he did grooming to be a titan of industry.  He fronted his own garage band, The Bottom Line.

After graduating from the University of Colorado he pursued acting and music careers on the west coast. He parlayed his good looks, easy charm and modest talent into screen extra gigs– his credits include a minor speaking part in a Murder She Wrote– and releases of original recordings with his group, The Eye. He headed his own small record label. Along the way he wrote an unpublished novel and learned to fly.

Throughout this period of finding himself his family encouraged him.

“My parents were incredibly supportive,” he said. “They were like, ‘You’ve gotta go do whatever you want to do and you’ve got to come back to this (the family business) on your terms– not stay here on our terms.’ It’s great because I don’t have a single ounce of resentment about being in the business. If anything, it was worth leaving and maturing to the point where I accepted it, rather than being thrust [into] it.”


Tyler and his wife Lisa returned to Omaha for good in 2001 to start a family. Following tradition, he began at the bottom of Paxton & Vierling Steel, a steel processor, in order to learn the operation from the ground up.

Today, the 38 year-old is the fourth generation of his family at Owen Industries, of which the Carter Lake, Iowa-based P & V is one of several divisions. He heads day to day operations at Lincoln Structural Solutions, a Lincoln, Neb. supplier of nuclear grade construction materials. Playing to his creative strengths, he handles marketing and branding for Owen Industries. P & V’s “iron is in our blood” tag is his.

As businessman, husband and father of four, Owen’s not so much abandoned his free-spirited ways as settled down to focus on a few key passions.

In 2009 he helped found the local MAHA Music Festival, a one-day phantasmagorical immersion in rock. The free, nonprofit event takes place at the Lewis & Clark Landing on the downtown riverfront. The fest’s expressed aim is “community building.” MAHA 2011 is set for August 13th.

He served two terms on the City of Omaha’s Human Rights and Relations Board. His tenure coincided with the public flap over the police auditor office. He fought hard to retain the auditor but in the end the post was eliminated by the city.

The self-described “bibliophile” is in his fifth year on the Omaha Public Library Foundation Board, a period that’s included the resignation of library director Rivkah Sass, the hiring of her successor, Gary Wasdin, and staving off budget cuts.

Owen’s steeped in the local philanthropic community through his and his family’s long involvement in Ak-Sar-Ben, which he calls “a great organization.” He and Lisa have also helped organize major fundraisers for the Omaha Boys and Girls Club.

The example of being a good steward has always been there as expectation and obligation. Whether donating time or money, he learned it’s the right thing to do.


“There seems to be an overwhelming sense of giving back in this community and of our being greater than the sum of our parts. There’s this kind of bonding together into making something bigger,” Owen said. “I think that comes back to an Omaha thing. I don’t think people in Omaha suffer a lot of grandiose, inflated egos, so there is this spirit of– let’s actually create something, rather than bluster about something.”

The Omaha work ethic of getting things done is one his family’s exemplified. Now that he’s in a position to lead, he finds few things as satisfying as giving back.

“I think any time you serve something outside of yourself it’s a satisfying experience. People may quibble with where donor dollars go, but in the end,” he said, “it’s not important how you give, it’s only important that you give.”

An advantage Omaha offers, he said, is that it’s still small enough for an individual or an organization or a small group of philanthropists to make a big difference. “One person can change the world from here,” he said.

Social media is only helping Owen (and others like him who want to make a difference) in their efforts to communicate and collaborate. “People are more connected and more aware of what other people are doing,” he said, “and so that offers more opportunities for overlap.”


MAHA’s an example of a few kindred spirits joining forces to launch an event that depends on social media for its traction. Owen, together with Tre Brashear, Mike App and Mike Toohey, made MAHA happen after years of kicking around the idea.

Owen’s smart enough to pull in some veteran live music promoters, including Jeff Davis the first two years (and now Marc Leibowitz) to lend their expertise. “I’m surrounded by incredibly bright guys,” he said. A team of volunteers stages and manages the event, with sponsors underwriting and promoting it.

All that help and experience, he said, has helped MAHA go off without any major hitches. Attendance grew from year one to year two. The goal is to evolve it into a multi-day fest with various arts offerings. Festival planning goes on all year.


For Owen, there’s no conflict jumping from his music thing (he still writes, plays and releases his own music and he’s reunited with his band from high school) to his corporate thing.

“I’m pretty balanced between left and right brain, so I have this ability to switch back and forth. I don’t really see them separately.”

Whether rocking in his basement or strategizing a P & V campaign or designing MAHA T-shirts or playing with his kids, he’s feeding that same seeking spirit that drives him. “Life is about taking advantage of opportunity,” he said.

Tyler Owen may not follow his old mantra of “you’ve got to try everything once,” but he’s still burning to make his mark on the world.

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