When my father, Dave Power, founded J.D. Power and Associates in 1968, he was already in his late thirties with enough education and work experience under his belt to provide a solid understanding of business. But he also had a lifelong interest in understanding people’s motivations—what made them tick—that I think allowed him to excel not only in the field of market research but also effectively lead the more than 700 in his organization.
Like many in family businesses, my mother, siblings, and I were closely connected to its triumphs and travails from a young age. When we sat round the kitchen table or when we visited him at the office, Dad imparted valuable lessons about running a business. Just as his parents had instilled core values in him as he was growing up, my father let me and my siblings know that the values he had built and operated his business under—integrity, independence, and impact—were ones that we should apply to whatever we pursued in life.
Later, when I worked at J.D. Power, I had the opportunity to observe the qualities and characteristics that my father brought to his interactions with employees and clients, as well as the way he integrated his values into business strategies. I was able to clarify some of the most valuable lessons I learned from him—ones that I think others would appreciate also.
Lessons My Father Taught Me about Business
1. Create a culture: My dad built a business with a sense of purpose. For him, it was genuinely about doing more than making money; it was about doing what was right and making a difference. He calls it having impact. Employees loved the idea and implicitly knew what the mission was. Today he remains most proud of the organization he created and the impact he and his associates had on how businesses respond to customers.
2. Manage by walking around: In addition to his open door policy, Dad made it a point to walk the hallways to be accessible. He would use this time to check on things, to make people feel important, to get into impromptu discussions, to provide feedback, to encourage, and to seek out information. He also found it to be an effective way to communicate directly with employees, giving them feedback on the business and insights into what clients were experiencing.
3. Set expectations and challenge people: Often, the goals my father set were not target numbers but rather visions and concepts that he wanted to see realized. He’d put an idea out there and ask people to develop it and execute against his estimation of how far that idea could go. One example was the Power Information Network, a subscription database auto dealers could use to access real-time sales information. It took years to develop but because he continued to challenge employees to pursue it, it eventually met with success. Years after my father first initiated the idea, we happened to be sitting next to some mid-level auto executives at an industry event. Without knowing who we were, they started telling us how excited they were about the PIN information. They showed us how they had access to the data on their iPads and described how they used it to monitor the sales and incentive situation daily. It has been gratifying for him to see that part of his vision played out—finally.
4. Maintain integrity with clients: My father had the fortitude to tell clients when their customers were not happy or when they were falling short on quality. The fact that he was known as a respectful straight shooter paid off in business success and modeled an important value to employees. Today, in retirement, he looks back on his career without regret and enjoys a reputation of integrity and respect—even among people who didn’t particularly like to hear what he had to say at the time.
5. Share the limelight with associates: Dad made sure that associates who contributed were given exposure—both internally and externally. Many times he would ask junior staffers to go to client meetings and he would even include them in presentations. He took the same gracious approach to media requests. A lot of the employees loved the chance to see their names in the newspaper, commenting on a situation. He was always on the lookout for opportunities to share the stage once he judged an employee ready to handle the task.
6. Seek different perspectives and counter-intuitive solutions: My dad has a knack for viewing and discussing an issue from different viewpoints. He often asked people to provide differing opinions on an issue. He really shined when he himself would take an opposing view just to vet the issue further, or to try and find a solution that was not apparent or on the table. Probably part of this stems from his Jesuit college education—though we joke about it being his right-brain orientation. (He is extremely left-handed.)
Learn more about inspirational leadership at these AMA seminars:
Achieving Leadership Success Through People
Leading with Emotional Intelligence