For 23 years, Murray Jones spent his days handling bank accounts and loans at Columbus Bank & Trust Company. Today, Jones deals with overseeing blueprints and electrical installation jobs.
Jones is president and owner of Columbus’ D.P. Jones Electrical Company, a third generation family business founded 70 years ago by Jones’ grandfather, Daniel Phillip Jones.
The 45-year-old made the unlikely transition from banking to the construction industry in 2004. Jones’ father, Earl, had started showing symptoms of dementia, and the family was uncertain whether Earl would be able to continue as the company’s president. So Murray Jones, who had been working at CB&T since he was 17, decided to leave his position as a vice president in correspondent banking. He bought D.P. Jones Electrical Company from his father on March 31, 2004.
Jones sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about moving from banking to the construction industry, weathering through the tough economy and remembering his grandfather and father.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about the business.
We’ve been in business since 1939. My grandfather started it. His name is Daniel Phillip Jones, but everyone called him D.P. He moved here from Savannah, Ga., and started the company. He basically started it out of his garage. As a kid, I remember my grandfather as one of the kindest, most sincere men you knew. Very religious, very church-oriented. Never heard him say cuss words, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke.
He had two sons: my father, Earl, and Rudy, who wound up being the probate judge here in Columbus. After my father finished his education at Troy (University), he went into the Marine Corps as a commissioned officer. He had been in ROTC all the way through high school and college. When he got out, he joined the company and really brought that Marine Corps mentality to it — the discipline, the structure. He eventually bought the company from my grandfather in 1967.
My father ran it basically until I came (to the company) five years ago. ... I had always done this growing up. I would work summers and Christmases here at the business or for his friends who were builders. I was always in this line of work until I got my first inside job at CB&T. I’d always worked outside.
We started noticing, as a family, that my father was starting to have some issues — dementia-type issues. My father was a real unique individual. He was a fitness fanatic. He ran 13 marathons in his life. Ran or walked every day. He was one of the original guys at Lakebottom Park. ... So it was real shocking to us to find out he started having dementia issues when his physical health was great.
When did you start noticing this?
I came here in March, so I’d say six months prior to March of 2004. It really got bad February or so of 2004. My brother and I went to my parents’ house for lunch and started talking about their financial issues. My father was a real private guy, so we didn’t know if he had 20 cents or $20 million dollars. We started putting his financial picture together and the last thing on his financial statement — which I understood, being a banker — was his company financial statement. We looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh. What’s happening?” It wasn’t looking very good. We just didn’t know.
So I went to Steve Melton, president of CB&T. Steve knew my dad because we did the electrical work at Steve’s house. I told him I needed to take a leave of absence from the bank to figure out what was going on with the company. He was gracious and told me to take as much time as I needed.
I did. I came over here and dug into everything I could dig into to make sure the company was still sound. Once I got comfortable that it was, and basically the “engine” just needed to be restarted — my dad had not been going out and looking for new business because of his illness — I called Steve. He said, “You’re not coming back?” I said, “No, I’m not coming back.” I haven’t been back, but (CB&T) was great in letting me leave to do the things I needed to do.
Since then, we have gotten the engine restarted — not that it was ever completely off. I think a lot of people might have thought we were going out of business. But we had such a good reputation in the community that all we had to do was get out there and really ask for people’s business.
So what was going through your mind when you were deciding to move from banking to the family business?
It’s something that I always thought I was going to do. In fact, I had approached my dad a couple of times before. My dad was the kind of guy where you just did what he told you to do. He said, “No, you’ve got a great job at CB&T, you’ve got all the benefits. You don’t have to deal with all the headaches of being an entrepreneur.”
I never thought I’d wind up where I was in banking. It was great. It gave me great experience to run a business. Getting out of college, it wasn’t the career path I thought I’d take. So this was more in line with something I wanted to do all along.
The circumstances, of course, were unfortunate in that I didn’t get to spend a lot of time working with my dad here. I would have loved to have spent more time picking his brain and learning more about the in’s and out’s (of the business.) But I knew enough about how businesses are run and how he did business — and the company philosophy — to really not miss a beat.
Of course it was scary — going from the security of a twice a month paycheck with all those benefits to basically being the guy who gets paid last, who has to juggle all the different balls. That was scary but exciting.
D.P. Jones Electrical Company has been in business for 70 years. What do you think has kept the company around for so long?
Our philosophy has always been that we do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it. It sounds so simple, but right now in this environment you don’t find very much of that. People will overpromise and underdeliver. We try to do the opposite. We try to underpromise and overdeliver. If we tell a customer we’re going to be at his house Monday at 8 o’clock, we’re there Monday at 8 o’clock. A lot of people now feel the frustration in our industry, the construction industry, when people tell you they’ll be there Monday at 8 o’clock and show up Wednesday at 6 o’clock. We are very diligent about being there and doing what we say we’re going to do...That’s why I think we’ve been so successful all these years and why we’ve never had to advertise.
The tough economy is affecting all kinds of businesses, and we’re seeing businesses that have been around for a while closing their doors. Does that ever make you nervous?
Absolutely. This year in particular, being in banking 23 years, I’ve never seen a recession like this. Saw some dips in the road throughout the years, but nothing quite this widespread and severe.
But we are actually having a good year financially. We had a great year last year. I think this will weed out a lot of the guys who don’t have a sound business plan, who don’t play by the rules, who operate out of the back end of a pick-up truck. We don’t do that...
With the housing industry a little shaky, has that affected the company in any way?
It has. Our niche is high-end residential building. The largest home we’ve done is 15,000 square feet. They’re obviously not building a lot of those today in this environment. So we’ve filled in those gaps with a lot of custom remodeling. People are deciding, “I can’t sell my house right now and build that home in Green Island Hills, so I’m going to fix mine up.” We also do light commercial work. We’ve done loft apartments downtown, restaurants, attorney’s offices, things like that.
So what are your future plans for the company?
We want to continue growing yet we don’t want to get too large. I like to know all my employees. I like to know them by first name. I like to know their families. We don’t ever want to get too large where we can’t manage it like a family-run business. But it would be nice to grow some and create more opportunities for some of the guys that work here.