He was remembered as a “prickly” corporate leader, but Edwin L. Jones Jr. built contractor J.A. Jones, founded by his grandfather, into an industry heavyweight before selling it to a German conglomerate that eventually collapsed under debt, forcing the U.S. firm into bankruptcy and a fire sale in 2003. Jones died on Dec. 26, 2010, in Charlotte, N.C., at age 89.
Following a family tradition, Jones assumed the J.A. Jones presidency in 1959 and became chairman in 1971. The firm grew into a construction powerhouse, with projects ranging from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to launch pads at Cape Canaveral. He also engineered lucrative buyouts, such as of builder Charles H. Tompkins Co. Revenue surpassed $1 billion by 1978, when Jones ranked 13th on ENR’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, including $138 million from overseas work.
Eyeing a way to cash out his holdings and link to a firm with strong Middle East ties, Jones agreed to a takeover in 1979 by west German contractor Philip Holzmann. One former company executive says the company’s $75-million takeover bid was a surprise to Jones management, but “Edwin saw it as an attractive offer.” An industry business consultant terms the deal a “landmark” at the time for the firm’s 1,200 shareholders, including 800 employees. The Jones executive says Holzmann initially “supported us well,” but the parent’s later financial problems forced its collapse. That, in turn, drained Jones’ profitability, which led to its Chapter 11 filing and sale.
Further, Jones was a generous philanthropist, particularly toward his engineering school alma mater, Duke University, based in Durham, N.C.