“I’m still the same Jack who grew up across the street from the University,” said Cracker Barrel co-founder Jack Lowery.
B.F. “Jack” Lowery delivered a September 16 business forum address to an audience of nearly 300 on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Lowery, a 1958 UNCP graduate, proved both entertaining and informative as he discussed the business successes that have made him a wealthy man.
As a student at UNCP in the late 1950s, Lowery said he was a disappointment to his father Zeb, who was on the Board of Trustees.
“I was such an embarrassment, that he thought I should go to another college,” Lowery said. “I didn’t do much better at Catawba.”
Two things happened that turned Jack Lowery’s life around.
“I went to Detroit, which is a cold place that had a sobering effect on me,” he said. “I found I wanted to go back to college.”
Back at UNCP, he met Dr. Myrtle Pope, an English professor and his new advisor.
“She said, ‘You haven’t been doing worth a damn,’” Lowery said. “I was shocked because women didn’t talk like that back then.”
Dr. Pope scheduled him into as many of her classes as possible.
Jack Lowery with Lorna Ricotta, director of Alumni Relations
“This lady turned my life around and saved my education,” Lowery said. “I had life changing experiences at this institution.”
Lowery was later elected president of the Student Government Association and went to Cumberland Law School after a brief stint teaching school. Teaching was not for him.
“I made up my mind that I had enough teaching,” he said. “I was either going to law school or drive a truck.”
After law school, Lowery joined a Lebanon, Tenn., law practice and was elected to several offices, including mayor. He learned politics was not for him either.
“I had to decide whether I wanted to be popular or make money,” Lowery said.
Although he continues to practice law today with his son Jack Junior, he made his mark in business.
Lowery is proud of the success of Cracker Barrel, which has 505 stores in 41 states and $2.4 billion in sales in 2004. He was general counsel for Cracker Barrel for 26 years and continues to serve on the executive committee of its board of trustees.
In 1969, Lowery and 14 partners invested $10,000 each in the first store. He noted that a $10,000 investment in Cracker Barrel stock in 1970 is worth $12.8 million today.
“None of us knew how to run a restaurant,” he said. “We had some ups and downs, and it was not all as rosy as I’m telling you. I’m very proud of it.”
Lowery also takes great pride in his second major business venture in Lojac Enterprises, a diversified highway building company with sales of $85-100 million a year and 470 employees.
He showed photos of several asphalt plants and block and brick products. He answered several students’ questions about financing, corporate structure and business competition.
“I didn’t know much about asphalt until I got in the business,” Lowery said. “Today, we have 16 plants, and we are the largest asphalt producer in our area today.”
From floundering college student to business success story, Jack Lowery still feels at home in Pembroke.
The lecture was sponsored by the School of Business.