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Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

As a Leader, He’s Aces

Scott Jones, the king of San Diego’s parking lots, now runs an empire that encompasses some 500 lots, stretches over five states and employs more than 6,000 workers. But as his favorite rock band, the Rolling Stones, sings, he can’t get no satisfaction.

“We’ve been successful, and that’s fueled our pride and our ability to be competitive, but hasn’t changed our feeling that we’re going to take anything for granted You have to work hard to keep getting better.”

Jones’ company, San Diego-based Ace Parking Management, Inc., has dominated the local parking market since 1965, when founder Evan Jones, Scott’s late father, who was a real estate developer, acquired all the lots of his main competitor, Paul Sutherland, in a $600,000 deal that took the business from about 60 to about 100 lots. Evan started Ace in 1950 by leasing a lot at the corner of 4th Avenue and B Street.

In the last three years, Ace Parking has expanded by an average of 60 lots a year, including adding several airports, and off-airport parking operations. It operates about 200 lots in San Diego, about 70 percent of the total market, Jones said.

According to the San Diego Business Journal’s 2006 Book of Lists for largest private employers, Ace Parking was the sixth highest revenue producer, with $269 million in 2004, and the county’s 19th largest employer, with 3,974 as of Jan. 1, 2005.

Ace’s expansion has boosted its annual sales above $300 million last year, and increased revenue by an average of 15 percent over the past four years, Jones said. He declined to reveal profits, but said the company has always been profitable.

Integrating all the new acquisitions, and effectively managing them, is no small task.

While the operations side of things is not all that complicated, finding the right people and keeping abreast of all the locations to ensure quality service continue to stretch his organization, Jones said.

“We have a 100 percent turnover here,” said Jones, who is the company’s chairman and full owner. “Fifty percent stay and 50 percent turn over twice a year. But I’ll also tell you that a lot of other parking companies have 300 to 400 percent turnover.”

With about a third of its work force working part-time and at lower wages, retaining good workers isn’t always possible. Jones said the company tries to let everyone know there are plenty of chances for promotion within the firm.

Ace has its share of veterans. “We’ve had some people who’ve been with us for 20, 25 years,” he said.

A Student Of The Business

Jones, 56, is one of them. One of three children, he began working for his dad’s company while still attending Point Loma High School, collecting money from parking lots, and performing other menial tasks.

For a football game held at Texas Stadium near Dallas in 1971, his father put him in charge of part of the parking detail.

The feeling the young Jones got from that experience made him realize he enjoyed managing people.

“All of a sudden a light went off, and I said, wait a minute I like being the employer, not the employee. I don’t care if it’s tiddlywinks, but I like this because I like being the boss,” he said.

He also had a special relationship with his father, and decided he wanted to work alongside him.

After graduating from Stanford University in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Jones went to work for Ace full-time.

The two Joneses complemented each other. Evan was more easygoing and deliberate in his business interactions, while Scott was more aggressive and a risk taker, Scott said.

A Breakthrough

Leading up to the opening of Horton Plaza in 1985, Evan delegated the bidding for the contract on the 2,200-space parking garage to Scott.

Despite competing against much larger parking companies and withstanding a constant barrage of criticism about Ace by competitors, the shopping center’s owners awarded the five-year deal to the local firm.

“That was a big, big thing for me,” Jones said. “I did that on my own and I had a lot of competition, and people who were bad-mouthing Ace Parking. It was the toughest thing I had been up against and I was successful at it.”

Ace still has the contract, and continues to provide excellent customer service, said Scott Turcotte, Westfield Horton Plaza’s general manager.

“Ace has been running the garage for a long time, and learned all the ways to minimize wait times for our customers and allow them to get in and out quickly,” he said.

Another growth milestone Jones cited occurred in the mid-1980s when Ace was able to win a bid on 15 lots in Orange County owned by the Irvine Co. Up to that point, Ace had only one lot outside San Diego.

A Fan

Stephen Brahs, Irvine Co.’s vice president of operations, said in a letter announcing the renewal of that contract that Ace exceeded expectations in its performance.

“Ace has been responsible for the installation of our highly sophisticated, computerized parking control system,” Brahs wrote. “They have been aggressive in making operation changes to control our expenses without decreasing service. Ace has made recommendations for substantial profit improvements by bringing forward new ideas to increase revenues.”

In 1992, Ace won its first major out of state location by winning the bid on operating parking at Portland International Airport in Oregon. The company now has significant parking operations in Texas, Arizona, Washington and Oregon, in addition to Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Ace submitted and won the bid on Palm Springs Airport last month, the sixth airport it has, including Lindbergh Field. The company it replaced had the contract for 29 years.

Jones said he is personally involved in every contract the firm bids on, and says a track record of high customer service is the mainstay for winning new large contracts.

“In this business, you see the results pretty quickly. There’s no life span on development or R & D; (research and development). It’s a pretty simple business, and it’s a customer service business,” he said.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Jones said he never takes his firm’s success for granted, and emphasizes to his workers to be prepared for the unexpected.

“I tell my people to operate as if there’s going to be another 9/11. You have to come to work every day ready for change,” he said.

While he puts in a regular workweek at Ace, Jones knows how to relax. A lifelong fan of rock ‘n’ roll music, Jones has a special place in his heart for the enduring rock legends, the Rolling Stones. He was able to meet Stones co-founder Keith Richards while on tour with his solo band in the early 1990s and became friends with the guitar legend.

How big a fan is Jones? On the Stones’ current world tour, he’s attended about 40 of the 50 concerts, and has a pass that says “Entourage.” He also named his two children, Brian and Keith, after Stones musicians.

Ace Parking Management, Inc.

Chairman/owner: Scott Jones.

Address: 645 Ash St., San Diego 92101.

2005 revenues: About $300 million.

Employees: More than 6,000.

Year founded: 1950.

Web site: http://www.aceparking.com.


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