Book Excerpt

Great ideas, such as the way the brand was marketed, were not often born as agenda items of a team meeting held around a conference table. As the owner of the company, Dave had a brainstorming style that was decidedly more casual.

"Dave was not a person who set up meetings or rigorously followed a calendar," says longtime company leader Steve Goodall. "He would check in. He wanted to know how things were going." Often, he practiced management by walking around, which many key team members found comfortable and useful.

"If you were working late in the office and he'd come walking down the hall and see you there, he'd always come in and talk about whatever was going on," recalls Tom Gauer, who served as senior director of automotive retail research. "The idea of normal bureaucratic channels, that would be in an organization, was not the way he lived or ruled the company." Gauer, who started at J.D. Power while he was still in college, saw Dave as a father figure and "a stately gentleman who knew everything."

"His passion for the business was infectious," recalls Charles Mills, who served as publications editor and also came to the company very young. He says the "incredibly informative and educative time" with the company's chief was made possible by Dave's willingness to interact in a collaborative manner rarely granted to junior staff at more traditional firms.

Dave's stature with the staff made the casual interactions all the more powerful. "It was that personal contact, with him walking down the hall at the end of the day, where you'd get these gems and insights," Gauer says, adding that Dave continued to do this even after the company had hundreds of employees and he presided in an imposing corner office.

Jamey Power connected his father's leadership style to his family's educational background. "The staff interacted with him almost like they would a favorite college professor. He could really light the creative spark and inspire people. And he would challenge them, in that kind of Jesuit education way. Sometimes he would ask questions just to provoke a more inspired and creative thought process."

Goodall recalls that attitude stretching back to when he was hired as well. During the interview process, "I was struck by how relaxed he seemed to be." Goodall was meeting with different firms as part of his job search, and Dave was his third and final interview. "He didn't actually put his feet up on his desk, but I almost had a feeling he could have. It was more kick-back, and we just talked."

"He'd come to my office late in the afternoon and bullshit," recalls John Rettie, editorial director through most of the 1990s, who says he always found the discussions pleasant. "Other people in the office would be looking for Dave, and they couldn't find him. They'd come by my office and say, ‘Oh, there you are.'"

Goodall had the same experience, often at the same time of day. "Dave would come into my office, typically about five o'clock, after the business day was done, so there weren't interruptions." What began as chitchat could turn strategic. "A lot of the discussions struck me more as brainstorming sessions," he says. Then, "time would kind of get away from both of us, and you'd look at your watch and it was eight o'clock."

While those evening sessions were fruitful, they frustrated some staffers, who came in early and wanted to knock off at five. But, says Rettie, with Dave the practice went deeper than just a quirky management style. "Do you want the honest truth? J.D. Power was Dave Power's total life, his hobby, everything else. If you were going to play with him in his sandbox, you had to play when he was in the sandbox."

But if Dave's style was a bit obsessive, his method was nothing but collegial. He was widely regarded as generous with credit for good ideas and willing to give his people the space and power to generate their own projects. "Often, it was five o'clock on a Friday," recalls Loretta Seymour, a senior director at J.D. Power and Associates, when his "outside-the-box exploration" would come to light. Dave would have dug into the data and found something that interested him. "And he would bring that nugget and would say, ‘Did you know that?' and follow it up with, ‘Isn't there something we could do with this?'"

"He was the visionary," Seymour explains. "Our job was to get from here to that vision. You always felt that entrepreneurial spirit at every level and every dimension." The result was a steady progression of "organic, new ideas," and "Dave's mode was, if you came up with an idea, then you owned it. Then you had to create it, produce it, and sell it."

"How did Dave Power the man become
J.D. Power the brand? It's all here. . . . The companies that heeded what Power's data revealed were winners. So are millions of consumers, in America and elsewhere, who enjoy quality cars thanks to Dave Power's pioneering work."
Paul Ingrassia
Automotive author and managing editor of Reuters
© 2017 J.D. Power III