Commentary- Black History: A conversation with Lafayette Jones

Commentary- Black History: A conversation with Lafayette Jones
February 22
04:33 2018

By Algenon Cash

For Lafayette Jones, whether its personal, business or community, relationships have been the primary driver for success.  Born in Buffalo, New York, Jones’ relationships have carried him all over the country; Washington, D.C., Texas, Georgia and right here to North Carolina. 

I’ve known Mr. Jones for over a decade, but I didn’t truly get to know him until we became neighbors.  We recently moved into the same building in Downtown Winston-Salem, both of us gave up big homes in the suburbs in exchange for urban living.  Mr. Jones loves oysters, so a promise to have this conversation at a local oyster bar may have been all it took for me to win this unique opportunity to learn more about one of Winston-Salem’s best kept secrets.

When asked, “How’s your day going?” Jones responds with a big smile: “I just came in from selling.”  The serial entrepreneur just launched a new line of beauty products made from hemp.  “Smart business people find gaps and look to provide solutions,” said Jones, “the real way to salvation is to make or own something.”

If anyone has the marketing prowess to build sales for his newly launched product line, then it is certainly Lafayette Jones.  He founded and served as executive director of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, a trade association of black hair care companies, then later served as vice president and general manager of Supreme Beauty Products.

Jones pauses to say, “Most minority-owned businesses start through relationships. In the ’60s, we had guts and desire,” and Jones reinforces that those elements are, “far more important than simply having a MBA.”  Jones further stated, “It’s important to support minority businesses.”

Jones obtained his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University in 1965, and then continued his post graduate studies at Howard University Law School.  His first exposure to marketing was as the director of client promotions at the Washington, D.C. radio station WOL.

From 1974 to 1979, Jones would do stints at major companies – Lever Brothers, Pillsbury Company, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Kraft, Johnson Products Company, and Hunt-Wesson, where he created the Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popcorn and Hunt’s Manwich strategies. It was during these years when Jones would gain widespread experience in corporate branding and communications.

“I always focused on developing client relationships, never worked at an agency,” Jones stated.

In the early ’90s, Jones would meet Sandra Miller, who launched Segmented Marketing Services Inc. (SMSi). The firm provides companies with access to key segments in America – urban and ethnic markets.  SMSi offers a complete portfolio of retail merchandising services, including free product sampling, field execution, custom-published supplements, and in-store marketing targeted at women and men, families, teens and urban consumers.

Miller has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a former marketing manager for Quaker Oats.

Jones would achieve more success at SMSi, eventually serving as president and CEO of SMSi-Urban Call Marketing Inc. and publisher of the company’s Urban Call Magazine.  “We are about delivering solutions to the minority community,” stated Jones. 

But he also met the future Mrs. Jones when he joined the company.  Sandra Miller Jones and Lafayette Jones have been married for 35 years; they are close friends, husband and wife, but also “business partners.”  However Jones interjected, “We like to keep peace in the house, so we keep separate financial statements.”

“She owns a company and I have a separate company,” said Jones. “Sometimes we collaborate and other times we do our own thing.”  Jones believes, “For a relationship to endure, it’s important to understand each other, what your strengths are and when you need to go a separate way.”

It was relationships that would elevate Lafayette Jones’ profile in Winston-Salem.  He encountered a young Michael Suggs when attempting to win a contract with R.J. Reynolds.  Suggs at the time was responsible for strategic branding at the tobacco company and was curious why minority-owned firms did not have an appropriate share of business.  Jones and Suggs would go on to become close friends, with Jones even attending Suggs’ wedding.

Jones also met Pastor Seth Lartey, former head of the Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion church in downtown Winston-Salem.  Prior to meeting, Jones was never keen on attending church, but his friendship with Lartey would later help him discover a relationship with God.  Lartey and Jones have been prayer partners for 27 years now.

Lartey had a vision to transform the blighted neighborhood surrounding the church, so he recruited the only person he knew with the necessary business acumen – Lafayette Jones. 

Jones brought in Suggs to assist and together, along with the church, and support from the city, formed the Goler Community Development Corporation.  “We learned to be land developers,” Jones glowingly states.  Goler CDC is responsible for redeveloping 15 acres of prime real estate in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

Jones’ relationship with former City Councilwoman Joycelyn Johnson would help the CDC secure land and his relationship with Mayor Allen Joines would bring in capital to fund the CDC during the early years.  But he is also proud the CDC didn’t take money from “everybody” to maintain independence – “some deals you don’t need to make,” said Jones.

Jones has racked up a long list of achievements, so most would think he is ready to retire, but when asked he quickly replied, “I’m not ready to call it quits. Black consumers love products, but we are trying to attract solutions to our community that makes a difference.” 

Naturally I was curious if race was ever a barrier for him.  “You can’t keep me out,” said Jones. “Circumstances never paralyzed me, and in fact many white folks helped me.”  Jones further shared, “Black and white people have far more in common as Southerners than people think.”

Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Co., an investment banking firm. Reach him at

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