By J.D. Booth
Oct. 17, 2013
While “judging a book by its cover” may be a dangerous thing, a glance at John Bailey’s “The Power of Ownership” does offer a few clues as to what this veteran Michigan public relations professional hopes to bring to his readers.
For starters, it’s a series of lessons learned: “How to build a career and a business”
But mostly, Bailey tells a great story-how he built a career and a business while overcoming many challenges and obstacles: direct words from what could also be described as a memoir of sorts.
And while “Power” may not be a definitive history of public relations during a career that Bailey admits “had no plan,” there is something of a non-stop history lesson within its pages.
Beginning right after his graduation from Redford High School, Bailey seems to have tapped into a natural curiosity, taking courses (but not graduating) from Wayne State University while working, first at the now-defunct Burroughs Corp., where he had his first writing job-putting together a company newsletter.
From there, he took on a similar role at Chrysler, although within a couple of years Bailey experienced his first “downsizing” as part of an economic downturn.
Even as he recalls what would be the first of four such out of work experiences, Bailey offers “lessons learned” in his book.
“Each time, I bounced back and was better off than before,” he writes. “You can too.”
Building and learning
Those who know John Bailey may recall his eventual ownership of an eponymous public relations agency or perhaps they worked with him in one or more of his career milestones.
But as “Power” reveals, it wasn’t necessarily a straight line (or even a smooth one) that brought Bailey to that point. Still, it’s a read that demonstrates how building key relationships and learning from the results gained from those relationships can add value to a career and to those around you.
In Bailey’s case, sticking to a set of principles that he generously admits came at least in part from reading a number of books-among them Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Successful People.”
Yet Bailey brings unique insight into a profession that he quickly came to embrace, even after an initial stumble when he worked as director of PR for a real estate company. “One of my mistakes was leaving a good job . . . for one I did not understand for a little more money, a nice title and a shorter drive to work,” he recalls in “Power.”
Once his career was back on track, it was a ride Bailey says took him far.
Indeed, the 14 years he spent at what is now Franco Public Relations Group (then Anthony M. Franco) may have been the most defining in his career, notably through his role as part of a team managing the Stroh’s Brewery account.
When Bailey left Franco (in 1989), it wasn’t to start his own business, but at least his taking a senior position with Casey Communications (now Weber Shandwick-Detroit) was a stepping stone to doing so, leading to the formation of John Bailey & Associates in 1996.
It may have been more of a confidence issue, he confides.
“I did not think I was ready for a business ownership, but I was taking ownership of my career,” he writes.
Looking back, it was a subsequent decision by Shandwick, the London-based firm that eventually scooped up Casey (rather than Franco) that Bailey said was a reflection of a missed opportunity on the part of the late Tony Franco not to have developed the depth and breadth of management.
“Once again, I made note,” writes Bailey.
It was the formation of JB&A that solidified Bailey’s position in the public relations community, with early “wins” at Kmart, headquartered in the Detroit area, as well as Kelly Services.
“Power” has several anecdotes (and, again, those “lessons learned) from the early days of JB&A and the “rapid growth years” of 1998-2007, during which time the firm took on a marquee account-the North American International Auto Show.
Key to the success, Bailey writes, was his policy for hiring.
“We always hired people that I knew, knew of, knew their work, or knew their boss or someone who worked closely with them,” he writes. “Whenever we went away from that policy, we had the potential to add someone who did not fit in.”
The journey included an affiliation with a New York firm, although the connection did not “catch on” in the way Bailey hoped. “I would absolutely do this again,” he writes, adding that attempts were made to extend networks internationally as well, efforts he says worked to some degree.
On to Lansing
In 2003, JB&A opened a Lansing office, a gutsy move that hadn’t panned out for several other firms in earlier years.
But it did prove profitable for Bailey and his colleagues, almost from the beginning.
“Our goal was to lose a minimal amount of money in the first six months of the first year and break even the second six months. We were wrong. We broke even in the first six months and made money for the first year.”
Since then, the Lansing office (now under JB&A’s successor ownership) has steadily made money.
There’s a great deal more nuggets-boulders perhaps-in “Power,” including Bailey’s sale of the firm to Lambert, Edwards & Associates in late 2009, a year after JB&A had hit the recession of 2008 with a bang.
The decision to sell his firm may be easier to view in hindsight, although Bailey says it came down to a choice of three paths, including going out of business, seeking an internal replacement. But it was the third-seeking a buyer-that eventually lead to his meeting and then selling JB&A to Jeff Edwards, whose company is based in Grand Rapids.
“Jeff and I knew our firms were compatible,” Bailey writes. “And I was looking to get from under the financial burden the bank had placed on us.”
You can read more about that banking story (and perhaps what to avoid if you’re in similar corporate circumstances) by reading “Power.”
For John Bailey, the story behind his memoir is very much one of perspective, opportunity and rewards.
And yes, ownership.
“Being an owner gave me-and will give you-a platform to do so many other things, like contribute time and money to charities,” he writes. “I started JB&A when I was 57 years old. It’s never too late. Do not let someone else make news about you; make that news yourself.
“The Power of Ownership” (ISBN 9781482639551), by John J. Bailey, is available at www.thepowerofownership.com.