[one_half extra=”” anim=””]J.D. Power
2012 Automotive Leadership Legacy Award

By Cliff Banks

Over the last 50 years, nobody has influenced the automotive industry more than the 2012 Automotive Leadership Legacy Award recipient James David Power III, the founder of J.D. Power and Associates.

There is no one who has affected both the manufacturing side and the retail part of the business as much as Power has. Vehicles are better because he helped automakers view their products through the eyes of the consumer. He also improved the customer experience at the dealership by developing processes and strategies that measure customer satisfaction.[/one_half]

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“Under the leadership of Dave Power, J.D. Power and Associates developed measurable data to compare and rank the automobile manufacturers in product quality and customer satisfaction,” says Shau-wai Lam, Chairman of the DCH Automotive Group, one of the largest dealer groups in the country.“More than anyone, Dave has greatly influenced the manufacturers and their dealers to make substantial improvements in these two areas by focusing on the customer. I would call him the champion of customer service in the auto industry.”

The firm is known for its awards, something it sort of stumbled into in 1984 following a Super Bowl ad developed by Subaru in which the automaker, without getting approval from Power, claimed it finished second in J.D. Power’s customer-satisfaction survey. The company that finished first, Mercedes complained.

After a little research, Power realized they had a marketing play to make. The firm created the famous awards in 1986. Along with the awards, J.D. Power established policies for how companies could advertise and market their results. It quickly became a revenue generator as companies wanted to market how well they did in the surveys.

However, Power wanted to make sure nobody could question the validity or integrity of the surveys which measure and rank how consumers view different companies, so he kept the new marketing operation separate from the research arm. This way, survey results weren’t dependent on which automaker would pay the most for licensing rights.

Over time, the awards spread to a total of 12 industries such as cell phones, banks, real estate, used vehicles, airlines and hotels. Power is almost as well known in the hotel industry as he is in automotive. When he checks into a hotel, savvy general managers roll out the proverbial red carpet for him, often upgrading him to a suite and personally ushering him to his room in the hopes of receiving a positive ranking.

Power started J.D. Power and Associates in 1968 at his kitchen table with his wife Julie who maintained a strong presence at the firm until her death in 2002. A few years later, he married his next neighbor, Joan, following the death of her husband.

They travel together often today and are a couple who appear to be very much in love. Joan is quick to praise Julie’s efforts and work at helping Dave build the firm into a global brand.

Power originally hails from New England and graduated from Holy Cross in 1953. Following graduation, he immediately joined the Coast Guard and served as a line officer aboard the ice cutter Eastwind. For four years, Power traveled the Arctic and the Antarctic oceans aboard the ship.

After his stint in the Coast Guard, Power obtained his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1959. For the next 10 years, he worked a series of jobs with Ford Motor Co., Marplan, a division with ad agency McCann Erickson working on the General Motors account; and a couple of agricultural-related companies before deciding to start his own firm.

A study he put together on the California Import market helped convince an upstart– and at the time time floundering — automaker Toyota to give him a shot. The company liked his work and has been a client from the beginning. Industry observers will often credit Power with helping the Japanese automakers gain a foothold in the U.S. market.

After building the company into a global market research firm whose name became synonymous with the “voice of the customer,” Power sold it to The McGraw-Hill Companies in 2005. Even though the transition happened seven years ago, Power’s legacy and vision are still keenly felt at the California-based firm.

“Dave is a visionary who more than anyone else forced the automotive industry to take an unblinking look at product quality and the ownership experience,” says Finbarr O’Neill, President of J.D. Power and Associates. “It surely made him unpopular in some circles, but the industry and consumers have profited mightily from his pioneering research.”

Today, virtually every automaker uses J.D. Power’s research in some part of their vehicle planning decisions as well as in their retail distribution networks.

Power, who at 82, is still as sharp as ever, still lectures at colleges and is a frequent speaker at corporate board meetings worldwide.

Friends and colleagues often mention his legendary memory and grasp of industry details. In fact, he sat through an entire day — about nine hours of presentations during the Automotive Leadership Roundtable in Miami. When someone mentioned that to him, he smiled and said, “I love this stuff. This is a great industry.”

Mr. Power, it’s a great industry because of people like you.[/one_full]