Mr. Phinis Jones
As we come to the close of another year, Destiny – Pride is honored to have as the Spotlight for the month of December 2012, Mr. Phinis Jones, businessman and President of Capitol Services Management, Inc., a construction / real estate company located here in the District of Columbia. Mr. Jones has been doing business in the Baltimore, Maryland / Washington, DC area for numerous years while at the same time opening up employment opportunities to the residents living in those communities. We will engage him in a discussion about the business world, which will hopefully open up the possibilities that exist in the business realm for those of you who may be interested.(Click on photos to enlarge them)
Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones: Good morning, Rufus. How are you?
Destiny – Pride: I am well. Thank you so much for agreeing to be our December 2012 Spotlight. The world of business truly opens up vast opportunities for individuals who have the wherewithal to do the work needed to succeed in it. We will talk with you about that, but before we do so, give us a brief description of who you were way before you became the businessman “entrepreneur.” So, where were you born, to whom, and what was your childhood like?
Mr. Jones: Well good. I’ll try to answer those questions. I grew up in Macon, Mississippi. I left Mississippi in 1968. Let me just back up and say to whom I was born. My mother is Arlene Jones; my father is George Jones – both deceased now. But I grew up in Mississippi and I left in 1968; so I’ve lived in Southeast Washington for 44 years.
Shortly after moving to Washington, I took a job with Sears and Roebuck on Alabama Avenue. There’s a Safeway there now. I moved from there to Montgomery Ward, where I was a manager. I then ran in the first [City] Council election in Ward 8. I finished third in a field of nine. Rev. Coates won the election. Wilhelmina Rolark finished second. I finished third. I was very proud of that because I had only been in Washington for five years.
Shortly after the election was over, Rev. Coates pulled a short straw, which means he got two years. I teamed up with Wilhelmina Rolark – I was her campaign manager – and we defeated Rev. Coates. Then I went to the Council with Wilhelmina and stayed five years.
After working for Ms. Rolark for five years, I decided to leave the Council and go into business. I’m happy that I did because she was extremely supportive of the business. I started a business, In 1985 it was incorporated. I teamed up with Bob Johnson. Wilhelmina sponsored legislation to bring cable to Washington. People wouldn’t believe that a city of this size did not have cable in the mid ‘80s. Wilhelmina shepherded through legislation and was responsible for awarding the contract. This is history because generally the Executive Branch awards contracts, but this time the major franchise for cable was awarded by the City Council. Wilhelmina held it and said that there was nothing to prevent the Council from doing it, and so she awarded that contract; we won it. I was a Board member of District Cablevision at the time, which is now Comcast. This company – Capitol Service – was organized and setup to do the Cable Guide. In many cities, there’s a separate Cable Guide, but when I looked at it, the Washington Post was going to run the Guide, and an independent Guide couldn’t compete with the Post. So we took off on another era and what we decided to do was to look at training, employment and job placement of the residents in Ward 8.
Destiny – Pride: Let me stop you there, because we’re going to get into all of that. I’m trying to find out about your earlier years. Are there any brothers or sisters and did any of them follow in your footsteps?
Mr. Jones: The first question is, yes, there are six of us – four girls and two boys. I have two sisters who live here in Washington now and my oldest sister lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have a sister and a brother that are deceased. Actually when I moved to Washington, I moved to live with my brother; he lived here. He passed in the later years. None of my three siblings that are living now is in business. They all work for other companies.
Destiny – Pride: What order of the siblings are you?
Mr. Jones: I am the fourth child.
Destiny – Pride: Fourth child. In the middle.
Mr. Jones: In the middle.
Destiny – Pride: What is your marital status? Do you have children?
Mr. Jones: I am divorced. I have three children.
Destiny – Pride: Are there any higher educational achievements that you would like to mention?
Mr. Jones: Yes. One of the reasons I came to Washington is because I really had to go to work, so I wanted to be in an urban city where I could work and go to school at night. Prior to working for Wilhelmina, I attended what was called the “Federal City College” – a land grand, which is now UDC. As a matter of fact, I attended Federal City College where the homeless shelter is now located on 2nd and D Streets. Later I did further studies in Business at the University of Maryland.
Destiny – Pride: What faith are you and how does that factor into your life as a businessman?
Mr. Jones: I’m United Methodist. Congress Heights United Methodist Church is my church where I worship. I have strong, strong faith in God and try to treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s the way my mother taught us all: “You’ll be okay if you treat people the way you want to be treated.” That is the mantra that I try to live by.
Destiny – Pride: Who in your life has had a major influence on you to make you the person you are today?
Mr. Jones: There were three people. One was my grandfather – my mother’s father – who I was named for; his name is “Phinis.” I grew up watching him. He didn’t have money, but he had integrity. He treated people, as I said, the way he wanted people to treat him and he taught us that as well. The second person was my elementary school principal – Nathaniel Walker – who took a lot of interest in me in elementary school, and made certain that I was on the right path very early.
Then, in later years, there’s a gentleman that lives in Washington now, in Southeast in Hillcrest. When I came to Washington, he was the only African American manager at the Sears on Alabama Avenue. He took an interest in me. As a matter of fact, I started working in the garage and he brought me in the store and mentored me. I became an assistant manager working with him and he made sure that I got my own department. But he was also very interested in real estate and his belief was that the best way to economic wealth was through real estate. I got my real estate license. In talking with him, he encouraged me to get a real estate license. I sold real estate for a while, but that’s when I started to buy real estate, in the mid to late ‘70s. As a matter of fact this property that we’re sitting in, I brought it in ’73, I believe. You could get anything in Southeast for $50,000 then. I remember buying this property; my sister lives in another one I bought under the same contract. I bought about three properties from a gentleman who lived in Northern Virginia, and I think I paid $150,000 for the three of them. This is a commercial property which has served me well for my business.
Destiny – Pride: What is the gentleman’s name?
Mr. Jones: His name is Frank King, and he lives in Hillcrest on 31st Street now.
Destiny – Pride: Is he still active?
Mr. Jones: He’s retired, but he’s an avid reader. I talk to him frequently. He had a lot of real estate in Southeast; he has sold them now and has retired.
Destiny – Pride: What was it that got you interested in becoming an entrepreneur? I think you previously talked about it partially, but you might want to expand upon that.
Mr. Jones: I thought that, one, it was the path to economic wealth, working for yourself. If you want to be independently wealthy, I believed then as I believe now that you can’t do it working for someone else. You have to be out on your own so you can make those decisions. I always knew that I didn’t mind the hard work, and the long hours that it took. I was working long hours for other people, and so I decided that I could do it for myself.
Destiny – Pride: Did you ever feel discouraged with some of the challenges that you might have been facing?
Mr. Jones: Absolutely!! Absolutely!! One of the most discouraging things: You hear all of this talk about loans for small businesses, that the SBA [Small Business Administration] will help small businesses, but it is a very challenging process. I guess I was most discouraged by that because just reading the papers and reading different articles that when you go out and start a business you can get help, but it doesn’t work that way. I started this business with my savings and on credit cards. As you do that, you run the risk of missing payments and that kind of thing, so you will have blemishes on your personal credit. So then when the business is ready to apply for a loan, nobody will make you a loan when it’s a startup. When you’re ready to apply for a loan, they’ll say, “Oh, you’ve got personal credit problems,” so you still can’t get the loan. So you’re in a catch-22. That’s the discouraging portion.
Destiny – Pride: Give us a brief synopsis of Capitol Services Management, Inc. – the type of business it is, how it operates, and where you see it in the distant future.
Mr. Jones: Capitol Services is a general contracting firm. Well, I should back up, because it really didn’t start there. Capitol Services started as a training and job placement organization. We were considered as one of the “Big Three,” during the late ‘70s and ‘80s doing job placement. It was OIC, the Urban League and Capitol Services. Capitol Services was located East of the River and, of course, the Urban League and OIC were uptown. We trained people and did job placement.
The way we got into construction was one of my clients that we placed people with called me for some painters. I didn’t have any painters who had graduated and were ready to go to work, and he said, “Why don’t I just award Capitol Services the contract and you take your trainees and do the painting?” I had won a couple of small contracts prior to then, but that was the first of the largest contracts – a quarter of a million dollars. I used the trainees, when they got some experience, and painted. That’s how we got into construction. We do a great deal of construction across the city. We do some general contract work, but primarily we do trade work. If you see a Hamel Builders sign or a Forrester Construction sign, we are on that job, typically. We are doing either painting or drywall or plumbing; we do a lot of plumbing across the city.
Destiny – Pride: There have been a lot of challenges here in the city now. We see protests because sometimes the District residents are not being utilized and we understand the high unemployment rates, especially over in Ward 8. We see it dropping for the city as a whole, but it’s still about the same for African Americans. Could you give us a profile of the individuals that are in your training program and that you are placing?
Mr. Jones: Yes. We have a class at Hope Village. Hope Village is a halfway house. It’s a fairly large halfway house. We’ve been in Hope Village with a training program for about 16 years. As a matter of fact, when I left Wilhelmina’s office, I started working with ex-offenders – they call them “returned citizens” now. But we set up a program at Hope Village whether we had funding for it or whether Capitol Services funded it. It’s never closed for 16 years, where we train individuals; we do their GED; we do resume writing; we do job placement for them.
The largest line of our placement is returning citizens from Hope Village. There is an untapped market they have. Listen, most of the guys haven’t made the decision to do the right thing yet, but there is a significant number of them who have made the decision to do the right thing, and we work with those and we place those individuals. I hire them here every chance I get. I have a maintenance contract that probably 8 returning citizens are working on. My main person who works here in this office served 25 years, and he’s the greatest employee that I’ve ever had; he just needed his chance. That’s where most of the training that I do come from.
Destiny – Pride: What types of pressure did you experience in your pursuit to own your own business, especially as an African American man? You did talk about the credit part, but what were some of the other challenges?
Mr. Jones: A breakthrough in the business world is to just have major contractors and developers to have faith that you can do the work and do it right. There is a myth that we can’t do it. The biggest challenge is to have that breakthrough and get to where people have the confidence where they’ll call you. Now it’s a situation where major contractors, if they get a job, they will say to their lower stat people, “Reach out to Capitol Services; if they tell you they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it right.” We achieved that reputation by not walking off of a job. Even when the payment is late, you sit down and you negotiate it and work it out without walking off the job. I encourage small businesses that when you get a contract, you may bid it wrong sometimes; but you have to finish the work – you can’t walk of the job. You’ll get a good reputation. Our logo and slogan on our letterhead is “Building our reputation on the quality of our service,” and we believe that.
Destiny – Pride: Explain to visitors what you mean when you say that small businesses may sometimes bid wrong.
Mr. Jones: A small business will go out and look at a job. Let’s say it’s painting. You say, “Mr. Mayfield, I can do this for $15,000.” You write the contract for $15,000. You start your job. You realize when you start the job that the material and labor cost you $16,000; there’s no profit in this job. By and large, small businesses will say, “I’m not making any money off this job; I’m going to leave,” and they walk off the job, leaving you hanging. That’s bad publicity. What you have to do is finish the job. You go back. You tell the owner, “I made a mistake; I didn’t bid it right, but I want to finish the job for you. Can you at least cover the cost?” I’m not going to make any money. But it’s an open book process. I have to show Mr. Mayfield at that point that I’m not making any money. And generally, people will do the right thing. They’ll say, “Okay, I’ll put two or three more hundred in to cover your costs.” But the reputation of the word-of-mouth that you get from Mr. Mayfield as a result of your finishing his job, versus walking off the job, is tremendous. So I encourage businesses never to walk off a job – finish it!
Destiny – Pride: Did the election of President Obama as the United States’ first African American President have any impact on you as a businessman? If so, how? I think the question really reflects for example, when black mayors began to take the hill in a lot of cities – Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey – a lot of businesses opened up to lobbyists, auditors, because they wanted to have qualified blacks dealing with black Administrations. Although we have always had a black Administration, how were you impacted, for example as far as the white major contractors?
Mr. Jones: What has happened for my company – and I think it’s a direct contributing factor to the national Administration – is that I am now doing business “outside” of Washington. In 2013 I will do more business in North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia than I will do probably in Washington. I think that’s the difference because we haven’t had access to those markets. We have a black mayor in Richmond [Mayor Dwight C. Jones]. I don’t know what the political structure is there, but I’m doing a job in Winston-Salem [NC]. So it’s the fairness – the inclusion – in other cities. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of business in Pensacola, Florida. They just passed a “minority inclusion” law. What we call the local minority law here, they just passed it in the south. So it’s growing, it’s catching on, and I think that is contributed to the national atmosphere. I think in that regard, it’ll be very helpful. It has been helpful.
Destiny – Pride: So would you have to begin a infrastructural building in those cities, trying to pull employees from them, or would you be taking employees?
Mr. Jones: No. You take a senior manager to those areas, but you hire local people from the community. Mr. Mayfield, that is the challenge that we have now. The challenge that I have with my children is whether or not they are interested in the business. On March 31st, I will be 65.
Destiny – Pride: Well let me let the visitors know that the Lord truly has blessed you and your business and truly has blessed you in your looks. No one would know that you were 65; maybe they would even “card” you if you had to go into a liquor establishment.
Mr. Jones: That sounds wonderful. But I’ll be 65, and I say to my children, “I really wish you would come in and takeover an established business that has contracts, that has business. None of my kids are interested in business. So what happens to me when I’m gone? That’s why, African Americans, we have to start all over each generation because whatever we’re doing, our children are not interested in it. This would be a wonderful business for one of my children to come in now, work with me for a couple of years and keep it going.
Destiny – Pride: I want you to expound upon that because of the fact that’s a major problem that’s not just in your family. A lot of our kids are not taking the baton. So, number one, how do we get them to understand that life is a continuum and didn’t just begin when they came into the picture? As you are saying, we are exiting out. You’ve been very successful so far. How do you get them to take the baton and what are the consequences if we keep moving towards this?
Mr. Jones: Let me start from my history. My grandmother, who couldn’t read and write, left my father a hundred acres of land. I grew up on our own land in Mississippi. By the time I was in the 11th grade, my father had sold all of it. Of course, I wasn’t around to say don’t sell. But how amazing it would have been had he held on to a hundred acres of land with timber on it, and I would have had that to start this business with. It was all gone, so I had to start all over.
Now I’ve started all over; got a business 20-some years old. Got a history; got a good track record; in good standing; in at least four other jurisdictions I’m doing business. If this business dies, then the next generation has to start all over again. It’s this revolving door, and as African Americans, we’ve got to understand that the continuum is extremely important. This business now has a line of credit, so my son wouldn’t have to go through what I went through, if he would come in and step in and just run the business.
When I left Mississippi, I looked at a young Caucasian boy my age and my size. He actually was born the same month. He started with a base of probably 500 acres of land because his parents left it to him. My father had sold his 100 acres and I had to start over. He is so much further down the road than I am because they kept it in the family.
I have a family I work with that happen to be a Jewish family; had three children. They have a business. They decided that one child is going to go to business school and is going to come run the business. They make decisions for their children. The other one, “you’re going to be a doctor,” and the other one, “you’re going to be an accountant.” When they make the decision, that’s it!
We don’t make those kinds of decisions. We pay the college tuition for our children. They go get a good education and then go off and do whatever they want to do. We need to begin to tell our young folk, “We’re starting this business; we’re going to pay for you to go to college, to business school, and you’re going to take over this business.” When all of that fails, we have to identify someone else early on. We say, “If you don’t want the business, we’re going to groom this person to take over the business.” There has to be a succession plan.
Destiny – Pride: And that is the criminality when you can’t.
Mr. Jones: Absolutely!
Destiny – Pride: In your opinion, how do you think President Obama’s re-election will impact you and your business, if at all? There was a study in the Washington Post just recently that cited that 51 percent of white America have negative views of us since President Obama was first elected, and that’s up from 48 percent. Now you hear the venomous tone of his being re-elected – petitions of the southern states talking about seceding from the Union as if this is worse person in the world and that America is going to hell in a hand basket! How do you think that that might now impact you, especially now that your work is moving into the south, because the south was so entrenched in its opposition of Barack the first time and it has really turned nasty this second time?
Mr. Jones: Well, there are two points of view. One is that I voted, worked for and donated money to the President. The reality of it is, from where I sit, his tax plan adversely affects me because I’m in the group that he’s going to tax. I had a friend of mine say to me, “How can you support him?” I said “because it’s bigger than me,” and you have to look at the picture where it’s larger than you. I didn’t look at it for myself. Had I looked at it for myself, I would have voted for Romney because I’m looking for a tax cut. But I think that when I understand that I am only successful as other African Americans are around me. My business is only that successful. So you have to bring other people along with you, and I think that’s the opportunity with this President: to bring the African American community along.
Destiny – Pride: How have you involved the residents of the communities into which you bring your business, and describe the affects of that involvement? I think you talked partially about it where you draw down from Hope Village. Are there any other parameters?
Mr. Jones: Yes. We look to the local churches; people in my church in particular because it’s just next door. If we have a vacancy, we reach out to the ANC Commissioner who has been very supportive of me.
Destiny – Pride: Which one is that?
Mr. Jones: Mary Cuthbert.
Destiny – Pride: Okay. I know her well – with her restaurant down there?
Mr. Jones: Yes. Mary Cuthbert supports me extremely well. We haven’t always had a good relationship, but in the business I’m in, you have to reach out and include other people and I’ll called her and ask if anybody has asked her for a job. If I do baskets for the needy for Thanksgiving, which I do every year, I reach out to those communities and let them – who on the ground – identify people. It’s a question of bringing the community along with us, so we look at it from that point of view.
The other thing is where we are sitting today in this building is not an elaborate building. It’s not on K Street. I encourage businesses to stay in the community. Buy you a townhouse and make the mortgage payments versus paying somebody else rent down on K Street or Pennsylvania Avenue, because you will own it. At the end of the day you will own it. At the end of the day when you rent in those high-rent districts, and all you’ve got is a handful of receipts. You miss two months and you’re gone. So we have to begin to, as black people did on U Street years ago, buy the real estate, own your real estate and run your business out of the property that you own.
Destiny – Pride: What would you consider in your young life to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
Mr. Jones: I think that the decision to hook up with Wilhelmina Rolark is clearly the best decision that I’ve made because everything else grew out of that after I was a young adult. Everything grew out of that decision. She was a true mentor.
Destiny – Pride: I usually do not throw myself into the conversation, but let me just add that I concur that Wilhelmina was one extraordinary person through the movement. She represented all of us pro bono when we used to get locked up. One time they had given me about seven different charges and Wilhelmina was defending me. She got all seven charges thrown out, or I was acquitted of them. One white police officer said to me when something had happened and we were in the lobby: “You might have gotten away this time, but we’re going to get you!” I made this promise to Wilhelmina. I told her, “My moma could run against you, but I would have to let her know why I must support Wilhelmina this time around.” I said to Marian [Barry], when he told me he was going to run against her, “Marian, that is wrong! Because of all that Wilhelmina had done for us – that is wrong!”
Mr. Jones: She was a good person. Now, Mr. Mayfield, if you look back on it, she served 16 years on the Council and there was never a blemish of impropriety. She did her work, and she instilled good ethics in me and Bill Lightfoot – I hired Bill Lightfoot on her staff. Every morning she’d have a staff meeting and she would tell us, “Don’t embarrass me,” and we knew what that meant. But she was just a good person and just did so much for so many people!
Destiny – Pride: I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. What about your major disappointment?
Mr. Jones: I guess my major disappointment was that there were a few years when I didn’t push it as hard as I should have. You get discouraged and you kind of slow up. That is probably my major disappointment. There was a period of time, even after I started the business, a couple of years where I decided to not push as hard as I should have pushed.
Destiny – Pride: What hobbies or activities help you to relax?
Mr. Jones: Work!
Destiny – Pride: Come on, man!
Mr. Jones: I work about 7 days a week. I really enjoy what I do! That’s the other thing that I tell people, if you find something that you enjoy doing, then it doesn’t feel like work. I tell my staff that it’s the saddest time of my week on Friday around 4:00, when I know that I’m going to be out of the office for two days. I enjoy working!
But I do other stuff. I golf a little bit, and I’m trying to do more of that. I’m beginning to do more and more travel. I love to travel to other cities, and that kind of thing.
Destiny – Pride: What last thoughts or words of wisdom would like to leave with our visitors?
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Mr. Jones: The last thoughts and words of wisdom I’d like to leave with the visitors is to consider businesses – business. I think that young people ought to consider the business world, particularly African Americans. I believe that it is the way to help others and also to build wealth and help us move forward economically.
Destiny – Pride: Mr. Jones, again, Destiny – Pride thanks you for being our December 2012 Spotlight and sharing with our visitors your life’s journey. We know that the business world can be grueling and sometimes a cut-throat operation, but we also know that it can be an extremely rewarding venture and we hope that that is what it has been and will continue to be for you. The best to you now, and in the years to come!
Mr. Jones: It has been rewarding for me and I want to thank Destiny – Pride for spotlighting me during the month of December, and good luck to you!
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