De Verges Booker Jones, MBA ’74

2013 Wilbur Parker Distinguished Alumni Award recipient

In his 40-year career in global branding and marketing, De Verges Booker Jones, MBA ’74, launched products ranging from Clairol hair coloring to Pedigree Puppy food. But as diverse as these brands may seem, Jones followed the same key strategies that drove their success in the marketplace.

His marketing philosophy can be summed up with two basic principles:

Never underestimate the value of consumer insights.
The more time you spend on strategy development, the more successful the product will be.
“You can’t get more different than health and beauty aids and pet foods,” Jones says. “But the strategy in these two dramatically different corporations — Mars, Inc. and Clairol — was basically to get entry-level products established that built bigger consumer franchises in the long-term.”

As he rose through the ranks at major corporations and smaller companies, including Pepsi, Philips, and Uniworld Group, Jones still made time to mentor Johnson students as a member of the Marketing Executive One-On-One Coaching program. Near his home in Irvine, Calif., he has also served on the board of the Orange County Children’s Museum and participated in the Executive Mentorship Program at the University of California, Irvine.

“De Verges’ incredible professional success, coupled with his service on multiple nonprofit boards, provided Johnson with a natural choice in selecting our Wilbur Parker award recipient this year,” says Tara Lynn, director of alumni affairs for Johnson. The award, established in 2003, recognizes African-American alumni who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to their community.

Raised in Mt. Vernon, New York, Jones arrived at Johnson with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Morehouse College. The connections he made at Cornell facilitated his recruitment by a Cornell alumnus at Kraft General Foods, where he launched the Country Time lemonade brand as part of a new cold beverage portfolio group.

Four years later, he became a group product manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb (Clairol Division), where he was able to leverage his marketing savvy by creating brand identity among younger customers. In addition to launching Clairol’s first hair coloring products for African-American women — a multicultural marketing strategy that became a cornerstone of his career — he was successful in tapping into the youth market with brands such as Frost and Tip.

When he became the Pan American marketing director at Kal Kan Foods, a division of Mars, Inc., Jones applied the same strategy he used with hair coloring when he reformulated Pedigree Puppy food with new packaging and a television infomercial. Though puppy food was a small part of Mars’ business, the campaign repositioning the brand led to the Pedigree brand becoming the number one dog food in the country.

In 2009, Jones, who worked on advertising campaigns that won Clio, Effie, and CEBA awards, launched his own consulting business, the Marketing Leadership Group, which specializes in marketing strategy, business planning, and advising to tech startups and entrepreneurial ventures across many industries.

When he accepted the Wilbur Parker Award on campus in October, Jones credited his parents for being role models that inspired him to pursue his career goals. His mother was an elementary school reading specialist, and his father was a decorated World War II veteran who participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

“I’m very proud to be the eleventh honoree of the Wilbur Parker Award,” he says. “I feel very blessed.”