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Charles L. Jones

BA 1981, Industrial Design and Human Factors Engineering 

Chief Design and Research Development Officer, Newell Rubbermaid, Atlanta, GA

Chuck Jones, like many of us, grew up using products like Sharpie pens, Rubbermaid housewares, and Vise-Grip tools, and he considers it a privilege to be able to create products for these iconic brands today. As the Chief Design and Technology Officer for Newell Rubbermaid, Jones is responsible for engineering, research and development, design, and innovation across all Newell brands and product categories globally. Named a “Master of Design” by Fast Company magazine, he was clearly a sharp and dedicated observer of brands and their design from the beginning of his career at Purdue. “I still have my original set of Rotring rapidograph pens and Prismacolor markers from taking mechanical drawing and rapid visualization classes at Purdue,” he notes—and those studies paid off.

Jones has written numerous academic publications in the field of cognitive psychology and human engineering, and has been the subject of over 100 magazine and syndicated newspaper articles including Businessweek, International Design Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Abitare. He frequently speaks at universities and business schools across the country about brand, design, innovation, and product development. 

“My biggest 'wow' moment was receiving the National Design Award at a White House ceremony a few years ago,” he recalls. “I realized then that the work I was doing with the teams I was fortunate enough to lead was making a difference in people's lives. I understood that the journey I had started all those years ago at Purdue had prepared me incredibly well for a career in design and human factors engineering." 

Purdue Influences

In my case, there were two: professors Ernest McCormick and Tom David. As with all great teachers, both saw something in me that I did not see in myself and went above and beyond with their time, talent, and energy. They were encouraging when I needed encouragement, tough when I needed toughness, and above all else, honest with their feedback about my work. It is amazing to me how much I continue to rely on what they taught me—in the classroom and outside—to this day.

Purdue Memories

I always enjoyed participating in the Purdue Grand Prix. The process of testing, preparing for, and competing in the race was a lot of fun, but I also learned so much about the simple fact that effort equals results. In fact, for fun and training, I still jump into a racing kart every now and then just to keep my driving skills sharp. 

Purdue Now

What makes Purdue meaningful for me now is the blend of tradition and reinvention. Purdue possesses solid fundamentals that have stood the test of time and I hope the university never wavers from this. That said, Purdue has changed so much since my time on campus relative to how courses are delivered, how technology is integrated into the classroom, and how students are prepared to make contributions well beyond their time on campus. The fact that Purdue threads that needle so well over the years is impressive.

Greatest Achievement

Elevating the art and science of design in large corporations and demonstrating how it can impact customers, brands, and the bottom line. When I reflect on the accomplishments of my teams at Xerox and Whirlpool (and the accomplishments in progress at Newell Rubbermaid!), I feel I have made a lasting impact on the DNA of those companies. Corporations are very tricky organisms, and to make any kind of lasting impact is really difficult to do; it is about creating remarkable teams and taking ownership for the culture that is created. I sincerely hope that will be my legacy for years to come.

Living Person I Admire

Our oldest son, Charlie, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, and I find inspiration in the fact that he puts in so much exceptional effort to attend a mainstream classroom. Outside of school he puts in over 20 hours a week in specialized therapy and works through every summer with advanced coursework in math and reading. He is now 9 and is doing incredibly well in and out of school. His work ethic is second to none and his grace of doing all of this without complaint is amazing—he simply puts his head down and gets on with it. Every day.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

I have always followed the adage “a bad day at the race track is better than a good day at work” (or pretty much anywhere else for that matter!). Nothing puts a smile on my face more than competing in a car race. I started off in go-karts when I was 8 and I have done it for so long now that there’s no going back! 

What I’m Reading

My Years with General Motors by Alfred Sloan. I am amazed at what Sloan accomplished at GM from the 1920s to the 1950s. I consider him the father of what we refer to today as brand architecture: Chevrolet at the bottom, Cadillac at the top, and a series of brand/design/feature/function step ups in between. As long as GM followed this formula with discipline, it worked and worked well. After Sloan's retirement, this brand architecture was followed less and less in the 60s and 70s, and the erosion of differentiation where it mattered to the customer was sacrificed in the name of squeezing profit from each car. I am learning that the power of simple ideas, executed consistently over time, can be incredibly powerful.

Profession I’d Like to Try

I would have loved to pursue a career as a professional race car driver. The closest I get today is racing vintage Indianapolis cars, which is a great outlet for that passion, so I suppose in some ways I am living that dream! Other than that, fighter pilot or knight in medieval times rank right up there.