Lowe, a Chicago native, earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated from Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law in 1998. He became friends with the Bauers while he was a first-year labor and employment attorney at Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter. Lowe helped the couple set up the company in exchange for a pint of Salty Caramel ice cream and a beer.
John Lowe’s career arc has been anything but ordinary. The married father of two (now three) left a promising position as corporate counsel at GE Aviation to grow Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams with his friends Jeni Britton Bauer and Charly Bauer. • “Deciding to become business partners with Jeni and Charly was a major career leap,” says Lowe, who joined Jeni’s in June 2009. “They were on a very short list of people that I could bet it all with.”
Lowe, a Chicago native, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated from Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law in 1998. He became friends with the Bauers while he was a first-year labor and employment attorney at Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter. Lowe helped the couple set up the company in exchange for a pint of Salty Caramel ice cream and a beer.
Lowe left the law firm in 2005 to work in the legal department at GE Aviation and spent the next four years living out of his suitcase. When he began talking to the Bauers about running the growing business, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
It was a quality-of-life decision he has yet to regret. Lowe’s passion for Jeni’s products is one of the rewards of his work, he says. “The hopes I had when I gave up my prior career to join Jeni’s have all come true.”
Q: What do you value about your work?
A: I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world. I get to come to work every day with friends, and my job is to build a team around the Michael Jordan of ice cream. I have to find the talent and help us take on the biggest, most-successful companies in the world. And there’s no other team I’d rather be associated with than ours. We have a simple, two-part mission, which is to make the best ice creams possible and to make the world a better place.
We probably don’t do a great enough job telling the story of that second part of the mission. But in about everything we do, we’re trying to improve the world in some way. So when we made our first investment in a production kitchen three years ago, we tried to do some urban redevelopment by taking over an old meatpacking facility in Harrison West that had been vacant for many years.
We’re having success. We’re on the shelves of something like 750 locations across the country. The ice cream’s carried in Dubai (and) Kuwait. We’ve increased from four to 11 stores, and we’ve got plans for more. We’re getting to take on big challenges with an energized, focused group of very dedicated employees.
Q: How did founding in Columbus contribute to Jeni’s success?
A: Columbus has been incredibly supportive of Jeni from the very earliest days through today.
Doug Kridler at the Columbus Foundation and Alex Fischer at the Columbus Partnership and Gordon Gee and leadership across Columbus, the mayor, have in many ways taken us under their wing and been supportive. (They) know that we are trying to run a business the right way, trying to grow and compete at the national level, and their support and help has been invaluable.
Q: Would you have stayed in Columbus had it not been for Jeni’s?
A: I was trading in pay and Fortune 500 corporate success for the opportunity to do something unique with my friends in growing Jeni’s.
One of the numerous attractive things about leaving GE to come to Jeni’s was the realization (for) my wife and I that we could buy a house and live in it for the next 20 years and not constantly be moving. In fact, when we bought the house in Upper Arlington, it was our fifth house in five years. So it was a true quality-of-life decision in addition to the opportunity to try to grow something that was great, and that I thought we had a truly world-class product.
Q: How bold was your decision to leave corporate stability to lead an up-and-coming local company?
A: I had found success in an organization that was the most-admired company in the world at the time, and the opportunities to leave it to go to other large companies were constantly there. But when Charly and Jeni called, the opportunity was too special.
I truly believe Jeni to be the finest ice cream-maker in America. She’s been honing her craft for 17 years. She has created a product that truly might be the best ice cream in the world. So the opportunity to join friends and try to take this amazing product onto a national or international stage was just too exciting and too special to pass up. Although looking back, I think it was riskier than I wanted to admit to myself because I wanted so bad to do it.
Kitty McConnell is a reporter for Columbus C.E.O.