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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: James Power IV

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-06-15

James Power IV has enviable name recognition.

The name, of course, he was born with. But Mr. Power had to work especially hard to earn the recognition. His father made sure of that.

The brand that his Massachusetts-born father, James David Power III, created three decades ago, "J. D. Power and Associates," is the world's best known marketing information services company. Its market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction surveys are keenly awaited by consumers and businesses alike, but especially by the global automobile industry because a nod from JDPA can lead to significant surges in sales.

Indeed, the company's plaques - bearing a distinctive medallion created by Mr. Power's wife Julie, a graphic designer - are coveted by the auto manufacturers, and by financial, insurance, telecommunications and travel-industry companies. They are featured almost universally in television and print advertising.

"It's humbling," Mr. Power said the other day during a brief visit to New York from his California headquarters in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles. "But I'm proud to be carrying the family flag. I'm proud of what my dad and mom [Julie] built up. I feel that I've accepted the responsibility to be the caretaker of the brand and image of J. D. Power and Associates."

His father, James Power III, is the eminence grise of the company, the Wharton man who gave up a flourishing career in the auto industry to found his own company in 1968. Mr. Power's own title is executive vice president of international operations.

That means he oversees the company's large and growing businesses in different parts of the world. This responsibility apart, Mr. Power is also part of the senior leadership of the organization, which was acquired last year by the McGraw-Hill Companies for an undisclosed sum.

"My father started the business along with my mother on their kitchen table," Mr. Power said. "So when I was growing up, J. D. Power and Associates was like a sibling. One of my first jobs was taping a quarter to the surveys that my father would send out. Those quarters were meant to be an incentive for consumers to respond to his surveys."

He was the oldest of four Power children. His sister Mary works at the company as head of its travel practice. Jonathan Power is a therapist. And Susan Power is executive director of the New England Golf Course Association.

Their father would invite clients to the family home. Among the first guests were executives of Toyota Motor Corporation, whose entry into the American market had been less than auspicious.

"My father conducted important surveys that showed Toyota what American consumers really wanted in their cars," Mr. Power said. "I was enthralled with the auto industry - and I got exposed to sushi and other Japanese delicacies at the same time. I progressively did other activities for the company including key punching data, odd jobs, deliveries, and even cleaning rest rooms. My siblings did the same.

"This experience instilled a sense of making a difference - I saw from what my father and mother did what impact they had on clients and employees and their families. My parents' outlook and approach laid the foundation for the role that I would later play in the company."

Mr. Power said that he grew up reading the trade publication "Automotive News" over his father's shoulder every Monday night, when the weekly would arrive.

"In high school I had a desire to either be an architect or go into business, especially advertising. At the University of San Diego, I got a chance to bring the auto industry and advertising together, and took a summer internship at the ad agency Foote, Cone and Belding on the Mazda Motor account," Mr. Power said.

After graduating with a history major, Mr. Power was invited by FCB to work for them.

"Working for an ad agency was a great experience -I also met my wife Julie there - and got the opportunity to make contributions and have significant impact on a brand and company at a relatively young age," Mr. Power said. "After several years at FCB though, my interest in actually working for an auto company increased and I took a position at Chevrolet - helping them re-launch the import oriented GEO brand of vehicles in the southwestern U.S.

"While it was a great experience and I learned a lot, I also experienced the pains of working for a slow, bureaucratic and waning giant like General Motors. I felt I had lost the opportunity to make a significant difference," he said.

His father quietly suggested that perhaps it was a good time for the son to join the family company. The year was 1990, and JDPA was about to embark on its greatest period of growth.

He was put in charge of managing research projects. At the same time, Mr. Power was also responsible for JDPA's joint ventures in the Asia-Pacific region. He helped establish a strong presence for the company in Japan.

His affection for Asia proved enduring - and it translated into prosperous business for the company. JDPA serves 14 industries in Asia now; it conducts 47 syndicated studies annually, and 97 proprietary studies.

Mr. Power moved to Detroit for three years to monitor the auto industry, returning to California in 1997 to take charge of the company's international operations; it has a dozen overseas offices. In addition to Asia, he has helped develop business in Europe, where JDPA conducts 20 studies annually in seven industries.

That means Mr. Power must spend at least 40% of his time traveling. He needs to stay in close contact with the 30 or so auto companies around the world. He needs to attend the seven or eight major auto shows that are held in different cities globally. He needs to manage global client relationships, and also help with JDPA's strategic directions.

He recently co-authored "Satisfaction: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer," with colleague Chris Denove.

"The company will continue to grow - and my role will grow in the same step as the company grows," Mr. Power said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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