By Rebecca Smith ‘99
After a successful career in advertising, Stephen G. Bowen Jr. ’65 decided to retire and ride his motorcycle around the world. Then one morning, while biking out West, he got a call from good friend and best-selling author, James Patterson, that changed his plans.
Now president of James Patterson Entertainment, Bowen finds himself once again drawing on his marketing expertise.
Bowen first learned about commerce as an economics major at Holy Cross. After four years in the Marines and a tour of Vietnam, he tried to pursue a degree in business—but was told by Harvard that he needed to work for a year before they would admit him.
So he applied to J. Walter Thompson, arguably the original—and most famous—advertising agency in the world. The only member of his training class without an M.B.A., Bowen was hired on the spot. He expected to stay only a year before matriculating at Harvard.
Twenty-three years later, he was running the place.
It was during his tenure at JWT that Bowen first met Patterson. Together, the pair ran accounts for top brands like Burger King. As partners, they worked off of each other’s creative energy. All the while, Bowen recalls Patterson waking up at 5 a.m. to write before work.
After they left the agency, Bowen tried his hand in entrepreneurship, and Patterson wrote full time, quickly rising to superstar status. Three years ago, when Patterson realized he was on course to publish five books in one year, he called on his old pal for marketing help.
They’ve been reunited ever since.
As president of Patterson’s firm, Bowen choreographs a small team of people—agents, publishers, producers—as they make one of the world’s most popular writers even more ubiquitous. Recently Patterson became the first author to release 18 international bestsellers in a row.
“My real function is to be Jim’s alter ego,” explains Bowen. “I keep the nitty-gritty business stuff off his plate so that he can concentrate on creating stories.”
Bowen also reads all of Patterson’s work—no small task based on the volume the author produces.
“Holy Cross gave me an appetite for reading,” he says. “And good thing—because Jim is a writing machine.”
Currently, Bowen is overseeing the development of a casual online game based on Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club book series—now a TV show. Employing the same techniques he used to sell hamburgers 30 years ago, he is marketing Patterson’s brand to new audiences using modern mediums.
So—is retirement in Bowen’s near future?
“Absolutely not,” he exclaims. “We have enough books, films and TV shows in the works to keep me busy for another 10 years!”