2014-02-06 / Community

Company changed an industry

By Marie F. Estrada
Special to The Acorn

SUCCESS STORY—James David Power III, founder of marketing researchfirm J.D. Power & Associates, discusses his life on Jan. 18 at the Grant Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks. Power, 83, lives in Westlake Village. 
SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers SUCCESS STORY—James David Power III, founder of marketing researchfirm J.D. Power & Associates, discusses his life on Jan. 18 at the Grant Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks. Power, 83, lives in Westlake Village. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers A household name since the 1970s, J.D. Power & Associates is still relied upon worldwide by car buyers in search of the toprated— and the best-priced—motor vehicles.

Behind the global marketing firm known for its consumer survey ratings is a man who used data and research to revolutionize an industry.

At the Grant Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks on Saturday, moderator Peter Marlow, a vice president in charge of communications at the company, spoke with James David Power III about his life and his recent biography.

Writers Sarah Morgans and Bill Thorness worked with Power over the course of three years on the book “POWER: How J.D. Power Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor and Eyewitness to History.”

Margaret Douglas, an adult services librarian at the T.O. library, said it was the former CEO himself who wanted to organize the presentation.

“He attended a book event at the library in the fall and suggested his book,” Douglas said. “I thought it was so important to have a local automotive industry representative speak. He has such a lovely reputation as a human being, I knew it would be beneficial for the community.”

Power, 83, discussed his start with Ford Motor Co. and the later creation of J.D. Power & Associates.

The Wharton School of Business graduate founded the company in the kitchen of his Calabasas home in 1968, a short time after the family had moved to Los Angeles, where Power worked for the McCann Erickson division of Interpublic, a global advertising agency network.

Wife and co-founder Julie pushed Power to branch out on his own, and soon after they hit the jackpot with Toyota.

At first, “they declined, saying that they already had a firm,” Power said with a smile. “I kept calling.”

Eventually, Tatsuro Toyada— grandson of Toyota’s founder— gave J.D. a shot. The startup signed an $8,000 contract that gave Power 90 days to produce results. Power had them in 60 days, and Toyota is still a major client.

Although the family sold J.D. Power & Associates in 2005 to the McGraw Hill Companies, the influence and success of the company is still attributed to the man who compelled automakers to heed consumers’ demands and expectations.

“I saw flaws because (auto) companies were getting results that were all one- sided,” he said. “When I (started) my own company, our business model turned the agency on its head. We worked with multiple companies, not just one.”

Power summed up his business with “the three I’s.” “Integrity, independence and impact,” he said on Saturday. “I tell it like it is, say it like it is, and without impact, there’s just no reason for the others.”

Power’s older son, J.D. Power IV, known as Jamey, was just 5 years old when the company was created. He remembers a company modeled around the consumer.

“It wasn’t a company to just make money, it was about making an impact,” Jamey said. “Oftentimes companies were upset with our results, but we said look, it’s not the opinion of J.D. Power, this is your customers talking.”

The company offers two types of research, syndicated studies and proprietary research. The first is a compilation of customer surveys for public use; the latter is contracted research for specific companies and not accessible by the public.

Jamey described his father as an honest, genuine and very modest man who endeared himself to his employees. It’s for this reason that his father decided to not write an autobiography.

“We made (the book) more of a company profile,” the former senior vice president and strategic advisor of the company said. “We included interviews of former employees and other aspects of the business.”

Power Sr. habitually walked around the office at 5 or 6 p.m. and sat down with an employee to talk and see how they were, always encouraging them to take responsibility for projects and have an active role.

Many former employees attended Saturday’s event to support Power and reminisce.

“( They were) part of the magic,” Jamey said.

But family was also a factor in J.D.’s success. Jamey and his three siblings, Mary, Jonathan and Susan, grew up with the company. “My mom (Julie) never had an offi cial title, but she was a big part,” Jamey said. “And as we grew older we processed information, entered data and helped while on break from school.”

While the decision to sell in 2005 was difficult, Jamey said, they were happy to have achieved so much as a family-run business and pass it on to a company with the resources to help J.D. Power and Associates grow.

“( The company) has been around a long time, and in a way touched everyone,” he said. “The fact that former employees attended on Saturday shows that you don’t have to reach too far to find someone who worked, knew someone who worked or (benefited) from the company.”

Power Sr. and children Mary and Jamey live in Westlake Village, where they run the JD Family Office, a small company formed to help keep track of the family’s investments.

While the last two to three years have been focused on the biography, J.D. still keeps tabs on and advises businesses related to the auto industry—all while keeping up with his family, which includes nine grandchildren.

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