In 1972, Rowling began working for Tana Oil and Gas, which was owned by his father, Reese Rowling, and William Colson. In 1989 Texaco acquired Tana for $476 million, thereby providing money that was used to form TRT Holdings. Five years later, TRT Holdings sold Corpus Christi National Bank for $131 million. TRT Holdings would later purchase Omni Hotels for $500 million and Gold's Gym for $180 million. In August 2010, Rowling made the winning bid to acquire the bankrupt Amelia Island Plantation Resort for $67.1 Million.
Rowling served as a regent to the University of Texas System until February 6, 2009 when he resigned over a controversy regarding bonuses paid to the UTIMCO investment staff. Governor Rick Perry and Texas state senators had sought to go back on compensation agreements with the staff. Unwilling to break the contracts and disgusted by their grandstanding, Rowling quit during a Texas Senate Finance Committee meeting and followed it up a day later with a formal letter of resignation 
He is a conservative Republican and a major donor to the party. He is also one of four billionaire backers of the conservative political action group American Crossroads. According to an article published in Forbes, four San Francisco Gold's Gym franchises split off from the brand after Rowling made a $2 million donation to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC, sparking protest from gay rights advocates. He gave more than $2 million as a private donation completely independent from his company, TRT Holdings. TRT Holdings has also given an additional $2.5 million from the company treasury this election cycle, according to public filings. He commented to Fox News, explaining that his donation to American Crossroads had nothing to do with social policies that could spark crossfire. "I've never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity." 
- Forbes biography
- A copy of Rowling's resignation letter is posted at
- The Forbes 400: The Richest People in America
- "Robert Rowling is the billionaire Dallas doesn't know". August 24, 2008. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- ""Grassroots" Rove-linked group funded almost entirely by billionaires". Jul 23, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- "Karl Rove-Linked Conservative Group, American Crossroads, Adapts to New Campaign Finance Landscape". August 19, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- Rutenberg, Jim (September 25, 2010). "Rove Returns, With Team, Planning G.O.P. Push". The New York Times. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
- "Gold’s Gym Franchises Revolt Against Billionaire Owner For Funding Rove Group". Forbes. October 26, 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
- Condon, Stephanie (October 26, 2010). "Gold's Gym Faces Backlash After CEO Gives to GOP Group". CBS news. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
- "This Isn't Working Out: Gold's Gym Franchises Split with Parent Co. Over CEO's American Crossroads Donation". Fox News Channel. October 26, 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2010.