Ask The CEO

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Molly McCartney October 31, 2010

In 1993, Jeffrey W. Jones, head of JCI Jones Chemicals, was in a shareholder meeting with 15 family members, including his mother. His father had just died, and Jones was the only one in the room who wanted to keep the company. “All the others wanted to sell,” he says. “I fought against that.” After five years and some litigation, the family stockholders offered to sell their shares to Jones. “It was probably the riskiest thing I have ever done, because I did it with money I didn’t have,” he says. Today he’s sole owner of the company, one of the nation’s leading repackagers of chlorine and other chemicals used for water purification. Jones, 57, says his Sarasota-based company employs about 300 people in 11 factories and five offices across the country. Annual revenue is about $100 million.

How did the company start?

It goes back 80 years. My grandfather had represented Clorox on Madison Avenue in advertising. He lost that job in the Depression. But with his knowledge of marketing bleach and with the help of his father, a chemical engineer, he produced a higher-strength bleach. He made the first batch in a 20-gallon tub in his garage; then he made coupons and dispatched his four children and neighbors to deliver them door to door. The coupons offered a chance to get two bottles of bleach for the price of one at participating stores. I doubt if my grandfather ever expected his 20-gallon tub of bleach to turn into a company that now makes over 150 gallons of bleach a minute in almost all our plants.

How’s business?

Our actual operations output has skyrocketed. We manufacture and distribute water treatment chemicals, which include chlorine, and we are the only company of our kind that is coast-to-coast. Almost 90 percent of our business is with municipalities and other countries. We’ve been told that we have more than 40 percent of the American market in the repackaging of chemicals for water treatment.

Describe your move to Sarasota.

The company had been based in Caledonia, N.Y., but I wanted out of there because of what happened with other family shareholders. It wasn’t a hostile takeover, but there was bitterness. After the settlement, I looked at several cities. But I had had a second home on Casey Key for years, and I knew a little about Sarasota. I had to convince my key team to come with me, and seven of them did. We now have about 30 people in the Sarasota office, including seven vice presidents.

Explain your passion for the company.

Some people catch the dream, and I certainly did. I started working summers, filling chlorine containers in the original factory. During college in Tacoma, Wash., I worked in our factory there, sweeping floors, doing the worst of the worst jobs. After college, I was assigned to run the San Diego factory for four years. Then I ran the Houston facility for six years.

Proudest achievement?

Being able to take the company against the tide of dissension. I keep the settlement agreement in my office as a reminder. I have my grandfather’s books and his desk. I just couldn’t throw his life away to a venture capitalist and sell the company. 

Your goal? 

Because of the heavy debt from the settlement to buy the other family shares, we have not achieved some of the growth that is possible, especially in the international market. Under the settlement, which provided for a 20-year path, I have been paying the family back for 14 years. It will be over in six years.

Lessons you learned as a manager?

You can learn so much by listening.

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