The quality standard of vehicles has changed vastly since J.D. Power and Associates entered the industry in 1968. After more than 50 years of measuring quality with the highest standards, Founder James David Power III passed away on Saturday at the age of 89. According to his family, Power died of natural causes at his home in Westlake Village, CA.
Power made automakers commit to excellence when building new vehicles. As the J.D. Power charts grew in popularity, automakers strived rigorously to get to the top of the list.
“There was no interest in finding out what customers really thought,” Power once said, referencing the state of the industry before JDP. “Instead, we were constantly asked to ‘torture the data unti it confessed,’ giving up the answers that the executives wanted to hear”
Power was born in Worcester, MA where he attended Saint Peter’s High School. After graduating from College of the Holy Cross in 1953, Power served four years as a line officer for the United States Coast Guard. After his service, Power earned his MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Before building his global market research firm, Power worked as a financial analyst for Ford. He also spent time representing General Motors as a marketing research consultant. In 1965 he moved his family from the chilly Midwest to sunny California with the intention of starting a family business. After moving to California, Power spent some more time as a consultant and spent some time working for McCulloch Chainsaws.
Three years later Power, his wife and co-founder Julie, and their three children formed J.D. Power and Associates on the family kitchen table. To support the new business, the family took out a second mortgage on their house. In 1968, Toyota became the first client of JDP as it looked for ways to catch up with other automakers. Toyota saw quality as its best opportunity to build a brand that people knew and trusted. Power offered Toyota his “California Import Car Buyers” study, which also included domestic brands. Toyota agreed and signed a contract for $8,000, remaining a client to this day.
J.D. Power and Associates began to be recognized industry wide after Julie noticed reports of Mazda breakdowns caused by defective O-rings while she was tabulating surveys. JDP published a study that found that the O-rings were indeed hurting Mazda engines. Shortly after the study was published, The Wall Street Journal reported on the Mazda engine failures, using J.D. Power’s study as a primary reference for the article.
However, Power’s research and surveys were not always well-received. For many years, the major automakers in Detroit despised the work of Power, concluding that his data favored Japanese brands because they were his first clients and always finished high in the rankings. According to a 2012 Wards Auto article on J.D. Power, former General Motors President Jim McDonald was not a fan of Power’s work. After being informed that GM nameplates finished as bottom feeders in a JDP survey during the 1980s, McDonald replied, “To hell with J.D. Power!”
GM and other Detroit automakers did eventually come around to JDP after it began to drive what consumers thought about automobiles. Today, there are over 1,000 licensed J.D. Power awards, in which automakers boast in Super Bowl commercials, stickers, dashboards, and digital ads.
In 2002, Power lost his wife Julie to multiple sclerosis. To honor Julie, The Power family started the Kenrose Kitchen Table Foundation. The foundation supports a number of different organizations such as the National Coast Guard Museum, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and College of the Holy Cross. In 2005, Power sold the company that he and Julie founded to McGraw Hill. He continued to serve in a supporting role into 2009.
Five years later, Power was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame for forging “a legendary path as the mind behind the analytical approach to customer satisfaction.”
“Even after his retirement, Dave’s indomitable presence was felt throughout our business, both through the many lives he touched personally and the strong foundation of uncompromising values of independence and integrity he built for our amazing company,” said J.D. Power CEO Dave Habiger in a press release. “He will be deeply missed by all of us, but his spirit will live on in the work we will carry forward each day.”
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