Big data. Brand value. Customer satisfaction.
In the 21st century, these are crucial elements for success in business and they have driven the growth of the technology titans that dominate our everyday lives.
But Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and countless others owe a debt to J.D. “Dave” Power, who laid out the design for a pioneering research company on the dining room table of his home in Calabasas in the late 1960s.
Over the years, J.D. Power & Associates came to symbolize quality rankings in autos and consumer products, and its awards are the gold standard for customer satisfaction. Dave Power, a member of the Business Times Hall of Fame, died at age 89 from natural causes in Thousand Oaks on Jan. 23.
I got to know Dave when he moved his company from L.A. County to Thousand Oaks and into the orbit of our news coverage. That was shortly after we started publishing in 2000. He was always willing to share an idea or two, and he seemed to enjoy that fact that the local business journal took an interest in his work. I was flattered that he would return my calls and over the years I got to know his son, Jamey, as well.
Power was a native of Worcester, Massachusetts and attended the College of the Holy Cross. He reminded me of many executives I got to know when I was a rookie reporter in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1980s. After serving in the Coast Guard, Power got his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, then worked for Ford Motor Co. and for McCann Erickson, and then struck out on his own after developing an interest in automotive marketing.
One of his major innovations was to survey customers, lots of them. Armed with a passion for data and data analysis, he sent surveys by mail to millions of consumers, enclosing a fresh dollar bill as a thank you. The results were a gold mine for companies that wanted to include “the voice of the customer” in their product design and quality assurance programs. With his low-key but engaging personality, he was able to earn the trust of CEOs, particularly at global auto manufacturers.
Japanese automakers used his surveys to improve their fledgling efforts at producing vehicles that would hold up to the rigors of the American market. Detroit automakers used them to increase quality as the Japanese made inroads. J.D. Power expanded its efforts, at first with worldwide auto rankings and then into areas ranging from appliances to telecommunications services. The J.D. Power No. 1 ranking award has been seen billions of times by consumers worldwide.
One of the hallmarks of the Dave Power management style was a deep connection with his “associates.” He loved to wander around offices late in the day and check in with staff, encouraging new ideas and telling stories. He kept track of “alumni” who left the company and encourage them—whether they were working for a client or a competitor.
J.D. Power & Associates was sold to McGraw-Hill in the early 2000s and now operates as part of private equity firm Thoma Bavo, a Chicago-based company that maintained J.D. Power & Associates’ headquarters in the Conejo Valley and provided funding for new acquisitions in recent years.
In addition to raising a family and building a company, Power exerted a subtle pull on economic development in the Conejo Valley. His example helped establish the greater Thousand Oaks corridor as a home for corporate headquarters, particularly for iconic niche companies. Guitar Center, Blue Microphone, Jafra Cosmetics, PennyMac and others have followed his example.
After the sale, Power set up a family office in Thousand Oaks and continued to live in the area. He is survived by his wife Joan and four children.
Contributions in his memory can be made to the National Coast Guard Museum Association or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
A public memorial will be held at a later date. It is an event that I would not want to miss.
• Business Times editor Henry Dubroff can be reached at [email protected]