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Will J.D. Power Founder’s Death Change the Company?

The market research site J.D. Power lost its namesake, James David Power III, at the age of 89 this past January. The company he founded, known for its auto industry data, is trusted by car companies and consumers alike. With his practical insights and critical data derived from detailed customer experience, Power is credited with changing the auto industry for the better in areas ranging from marketing to manufacturing.

How did Power build the powerful and reputable consumer site? And what does the future hold for the company after his passing?

J.D. Power’s origins

Power, known to everyone as “Dave,” was originally from Massachusetts, though he relocated to California later. He started out selling tractors for Ford but moved to a market research firm working with auto clients. From there, he eventually created his own research firm.

In 1968, he founded J.D. Power & Associates, originally headquartered at his kitchen table. The associates were his wife and children. Holding the fundamental belief that many automakers weren’t listening to their customers, Power wanted to give them a voice.

The Japanese automaker Toyota was his first client in 1969. After 12 years in business in the United States, the brand sought to learn what would help it perform better in the market. It hired Power to learn what consumers expected from Toyota’s vehicles. As a result of the research Power provided, the carmaker improved its braking systems and added rustproofing to its vehicles.

In 1973, Power drew national headlines when The Wall Street Journal broke the story that data from his firm revealed problematic rotary engines in Mazda vehicles. The front-page story in the highly respected newspaper enhanced Power’s reputation in consumers’ eyes. Studies the company launched in the 1970s and 1980s are still important components of the company today.

By the 1990s, J.D. Power expanded to Japan and began surveying in Canada. With a new system to gather and analyze intel, Power confidently launched non-automotive surveys. In the 2000s, the firm expanded further to China, Germany, and Mexico and purchased the NADA Used Car Guide. Power sold the company in 2005 and stepped down as its leader, but he remained a consultant.

J.D. Power: From questionnaires to a multimillion-dollar business

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Dave Power took the simple act of sending questionnaires to consumers and turned it into a huge business. How? According to The Chronicle Herald, Power harvested all the information possible because he knew its value. He also wasn’t afraid to reveal vehicles’ flaws.

Power understood that smart automakers wanted to manufacture vehicles to meet consumer needs. When a company earned high marks from J.D. Power, it wore them like a badge of honor and advertised them widely. Power released a sampling of his data at no cost. But if automakers wanted all the intel, they had to pay a high price. 

If an automaker won a quality award and wanted to announce it, it submitted payment for that, too, along with its proposed advertising plan.

J.D. Power drew criticism for accepting payments from the companies it evaluated. Power easily dismissed it. He explained he offered consumers’ unbiased opinions. Auto companies wanted that feedback to know their strengths and weaknesses so that they could make better vehicles.

The company moving forward

J.D. Power’s president and CEO, Dave Habiger, explained that Power was a pioneer and visionary who was an inspiration to many. According to Business Wire, Habiger added that anyone who ever worked with Power knew him as a creative force who encouraged collaboration and supported innovation.

More than a half-century after its founding, J.D. Power and its awards still command respect. When consumers see the awards, it instills confidence in the product they’re considering buying. And for many companies, that’s worth a lot.

It’s unknown if or how its founder’s death will change J.D. Power. “He will be deeply missed by all of us, but his spirit will live on in the work we will carry forward each day,” Habiger said.