- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Despite having an uncle in a high level position at General Motors, Dave Power, born in Worcester, MA in 1931, wanted to get his first job by himself, according to “POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History” (Fenwick Publishing Group, Bainbridge Island, WA, 416 pages, foreword by CNBC’s Bill Griffeth, afterword by Dave Power, index, notes, trade paperback, $19.95, available at Amazon.com and other online sources, also available in a Kindle edition).
Authors Sarah Morgans and Bill Thorness have produced a book that I’ve been waiting for…even if I didn’t know it. I’m a car nut and I’ve also experienced the wrath of car dealers as an auto editor at The Milwaukee Sentinel in the 1970s, when one reporter I assigned a big Buick with a small displacement V6 engine gave the sedan a less than glowing review after a week of behind the wheel testing. The Buick dealer complained and the newspaper decided to end the well-received auto section, sticking to non-editorial-produced “advertorial” sections. My auto editor job disappeared and I went back to my regular duties as real estate editor.
What happened to me was nothing compared to what Dave Power experienced after he started what was literally a family business, J.D. Power and Associates, in Los Angeles in 1968. After making a name for his fledgling business when his research revealed the O-ring problems of Mazda’s Wankel rotary engines, his customers were mainly other Japanese manufacturers like Honda and Toyota.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japanese manufacturers were just getting a toehold in the U.S. I remember my 1972 road test of the newly introduced Honda Civic as auto editor in Milwaukee. I praised the Honda, comparing it to the British Mini, but with much better quality. It was one of the first mass-market front-wheel drive cars. I predicted success for the car at a time when VW was outselling it by a huge margin.
Drawing on his background as a Wharton MBA and his auditing experience at Ford Tractor, Power and his staff developed a statistically accurate tabulation of customer complaints and praise. The authors describe how, when the company that was initially his biggest foe — Ford Motor Co.! — challenged his model, Power hired three university statistics professors at $5,000 a head. After examining his methods, all three pronounced them statistically sound. The rest is history, as they say.
No other individual has had as broad an impact on the auto industry during the past fifty years as Dave Power. Dave’s persistence in getting auto executives to listen to customer concerns was key to the across-the-board rise in car quality, and the influence of his J.D. Power and Associates rankings has permanently raised the bar on customer satisfaction.
Enhanced with anecdotal quotes from Dave Power as well as dozens of industry insiders, “POWER” is a compelling study of an intelligent, polite, market-research regular guy wonk who bluntly called them as he saw them. His unblinkingly honest research ended up making customer satisfaction a watchword — not just in automotive but in all manufacturing and service industries.
Power’s late wife Julie was an important factor in his company’s success, as were his children who helped prepare the questionnaires for mailing to customers, complete with a shiny quarter pasted on the form.
At first — largely because of his involvement with Japanese car makers — the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) was hostile to J.D. Power & Associates, accusing the firm of being pro-import and anti-domestic car. After all, it was based in southern California, where imports were more accepted than in other parts of the country. Soon, however, most of the makers came to realize the value of the studies and the company became a worldwide success, with offices in Detroit, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. It was sold to McGraw-Hill Financial in 2005.
“POWER” is valuable because it describes how the idea of asking customers about quality issues — something that sounds like common sense today — was far from that in 1968 when Dave Power started his company. The book will appeal to car nuts, of course, but also to marketing students and general readers interested in the subject. Topics covered include the Audi 5000 sudden acceleration issue, which turned out to be false, and John Z. DeLorean and his “Back to the Future” sports car — and how DeLorean scammed Power — among dozens of other anecdotes. Including his experience with the beautiful but problem plagued Jaguar XJ6 sedan he owned.
Dave Power’s top 10 cars he’s owned:
About the authors
Sarah Morgans has spent more than a decade documenting the history and culture of some of the country’s most storied corporations, organizations, and individuals. She served as the editor of more than a dozen authorized histories, including those of Ford Motor Company, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby, the New York Giants, Humana, Dover Corporation, and CBRE, as well as entrepreneurs Wayne Huizenga, Gerald Hines, and Gary Milgard.
Bill Thorness, from his Amazon.com profile: “I am a Seattle-based writer and editor who has somehow finagled publishers into letting me write books about two of my favorite pastimes: gardening and biking. (Sometimes I even combine the two, and give free bike tours to community gardens and local organic farms.)”