By Maureen N. Maratita
Some businesspeople spend years searching for the right combination of motivation, goals and skills for their career.
But Ramona L. Jones, CEO of Jones & Guerrero Co. Inc., decided at the age of 17 where she wanted to be in the business world.
In a 2011 interview with the Marianas Business Journal, sister publication to Guam Business Magazine, Jones says as a child she frequently accompanied her father to the office and would play quietly by his desk. “Your job is to listen,” he told her.
Her father is the late Kenneth T. Jones Jr., president and chairman of the board of Jones & Guerrero. Her mother is Elaine Cruz Jones, now president and chairwoman. She says they are both among her mentors, a number of whom came from the J&G management team and the community in Guam and Saipan.
So Jones not only listened, but learned.
At around 12 years of age she worked in Town House Department Store at the cash register. She told the Journal, “I moved from there to the warehouse during Dollar Days or out in the delivery vans working under Dave King and Rod Carvejal at Micronesian Brokers Inc.
“And then as I got older before college, I started attending the budget and board meetings at J&G Corporate and made the rounds through purchasing and accounting, where I worked for the first time with Noli [Cadag, now executive vice president].”
The experiences resonated with Jones. “Over the years I found myself … drawn to the excitement of building and growing a business, earning money and leading people. I was ambitious and wanted to be in charge,” she says.
When she made that decision on her future at 17, Jones was already gaining experience as a merchandise buyer for Town House Department Stores, a J&G unit in Hagåtña.
So despite an early interest in science while Jones was at St. John’s School in Guam, she went on to study at the University of San Francisco, graduating with a 1996 bachelor’s of international business and finance — and a certificate from the Great Books Program at the Jesuit St. Ignatius Institute. Through its academic programs, the institute “aims to form leaders to use their imagination, creativity and critical analysis to promote the common good, especially for those most in need.”
Her wide-ranging interests also saw Jones admitted to the honors humanities program at the university, and she would also gain admittance after graduation to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, for a year’s study program in theology and philosophy.
Through the years, Jones rotated at J&G — gaining experience, for example as a commercial and residential real estate developer and manager for Aquarius Development, and at J&G’s corporate office in a variety of roles.
In 2001, Jones moved to Washington, D.C. Appointments included deputy White House liaison at the U.S. Department of State, deputy associate director in the office of the president, and special adviser for economic policy at the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs.
Among other responsibilities during that time, Jones was selected by the White House after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be on a six-member team for the creation and organization of the Department of Homeland Security.
Returning to Guam, she says, “was as easy as getting on a plane and coming home.” She told the paper, “Guam is welcoming; it doesn’t change that quickly, and you just pick up where you left off.” And she says there are other attractions. “A big part of the thrill of doing business in this area is the feeling of community and island spirit that we all share.”
In 2006, Jones was appointed chief operating officer of J&G.
Buzz Shiroma, general manager of Town House Furniture in Maite, says, “Imagine — she’s working in the states, she has a real good-paying job. She left that job to come to Guam, to work with her father. Then her father passed away [in 2008].”
Jones more than fulfills her responsibilities to the group, he says.
“She seized the opportunity and she made herself available,” he says. If you want to be successful in business, you’ve got to be available to it. You see the opportunity … reach for it and get it done.”
Jones says her favorite credo is “Knock it out.” She says, “What that means to me is: Get started immediately and work hard from the first moment until it is done — like a bat hitting a ball. … There are so many little things that need to get done to complete the big goals. Rather than getting bogged down, I just go at it one piece at a time, knocking out one task at a time until it is completed. I believe in the power of momentum.”
Her responsibilities range from leading the group management team, to ensuring J&G operates with efficiency and profitably “across time zones, languages and currencies from Australia to Puerto Rico each year and within each division.” Jones also oversees developing and communicating J&G’s strategy for future growth opportunities.
As she has transitioned into the role of CEO, Jones has also accomplished a number of goals in the fields where she is most active: as a food importer, wholesaler and retailer. “We have moved our logistics center while maintaining operations, and that was a huge organizational undertaking,” she says. In addition, the new Town House Furniture Store in Saipan has settled into profitability. “That required hiring and training a whole new staff,” Jones says. “The store is doing well.” She also undertook some personal initiatives, such as negotiating and leasing property to a major Hollywood firm. “We were also appointed International Distributor of the Year by one of our key brands,” she says.
J&G continues to provide Jones with satisfaction. “I love working with the people that are part of J&G, and I look forward to seeing them and laughing with them at work. I picked business as a career initially because I liked being with them and with my dad.”
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And business challenges continue to inspire her also, she says. “I enjoy a good competition. The wholesale industry is fast and competitive, so I have a lot of fun working in that particular field.”
Jones is married to Juan Carlos Benitez, an attorney and the president of Washington Pacific Economic Group Inc., and they have two children. She says, as a businesswoman, “The problems I face are trying to balance the time demands of my children’s school and extracurricular career with the time demands of my own career.” With packed days, she nevertheless aims to drop her daughter at school and be home in the evenings with her family.
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J&G is well-known for its community support. In the U.S. mainland J&G supports independent research at Duke University and has a J&G Endowment at Duke University Children’s Hospital. That was started, Jones says, due to her younger sister’s diagnosis and treatment for Spina Bifida. Locally J&G supports the Guam Girl Scouts, the Guam Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Guam Cancer Society, the Guam Chamber of Commerce, the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce as well as village organizations, manåmko’ — or senior citizen — programs and school and sports programs.
Aside from financial support, Jones is “a proud board member of Catholic Social Services.” In addition, she says, “I choose one case at a time where I am personally involved as a financial supporter, emotional supporter and mentor. I start when they come to me for help, normally with a particular issue in their personal life or a particular business challenge or opportunity.”
Jones says she hopes J&G makes a difference in a number of ways, including “trying to help those in our community that need an advocate or a helping hand up out of a tough situation.” Employees are given the support to be involved in community organizations, but also to progress at whatever level they are.
Shiroma says of Jones, “She’s a giver. She’s just like her father. [The Jones family] gives back to the community. She understands that at the place that we do business — J&G — the idea is to make money here, but you give back to the people: the people that support you, the people that made us who we are today.”