Technically speaking, Jones knows computer services, payroll

Thursday, April 20, 2006
Frank Jones is president of CPU. (Photo by Fred Lynch)

Frank Jones can tell you the exact moment he knew he wanted to work in the computer industry. He was a senior in high school and a teacher pulled out a mechanical calculator that was about the size of a fax machine.

"This is where the technology's going," the teacher told the class.

Jones was intrigued by the machine that would seem antiquated and outdated by today's standards.

"I had a pretty inquisitive mind," Jones recalls. "I was fascinated with what it could do. It could do all of these things with numbers instead of us having to do them manually."

Jones had an intrinsic understanding that he was looking at the future. He set a course for a career in computers and never wavered. It's a course that has culminated with Jones being president and co-owner of CPU, a Cape Girardeau-based full-service consulting and services firm that also offers payroll services.

And while Jones, 53, knew computers were the wave of the future, he admits his crystal ball didn't show a world where they are so prominent in everyday life -- both professionally and leisurely.

"Nobody could have foreseen that," Jones said. "We tend to have a linear view of technology. Our minds don't perceive how rapidly things are changing. We have a tendency to view things in the short term."

But it was that inkling of a computer world that led Jones to enroll in computer science courses at Southeast Missouri State University. He wanted experience so he bugged the computer department for a job in the computer center.

They turned him down at first. But he went back repeatedly. His second semester, he asked for a job 10 times.

"They kept saying there were no openings, but I was determined," he said.

Finally, they hired him, where he worked in operations and programming.

When he graduated, his first job out of school was for Tucker Truck Lines, where he wrote and implemented freight accounting software. In 1977, Jones helped found CPU as a services bureau specializing in data processing services for clients of a local CPA firm.

CPU was formed by Jones, Jim Vandeven and Schott & Co., starting with four employees. For the Schott & Co. CPA firm, CPU performed data processing services such as time and billing, general ledger and financial reports. The next year, CPU added payroll services and various processing services for nursing homes.

In 1979, CPU added computerized tax return processing. Jones noted that, in the famous blizzard of 1979, there were no missed payrolls as a result, including for clients in Arizona. That year, CPU grew to six employees.

In 1980, CPU sold its first mini-computer for $25,000. It had 32k of memory, an infinitesimal amount by today's standards. In 1983, Vandeven and Jones bought out Schott's shares, making it a totally independent company.

The company shifted focus over the years along with the technological advances, Jones said. Today, it provides a full-range of professional services to more than 250 client firms in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. The payroll service currently processes payroll for about 6,000 employees in 16 states and printed about 11,000 W-2s for 2005.

"I hate to say paradigm shift, because it's such a cliché," Jones said. "But we've gone through a number of shifts. We've had to change with the times."

Jones said the company has seen sound profits, experiencing steady and consistent growth for 27 years. From 2000 to 2005, CPU saw a 57 percent increase in gross revenue. That's impressive, especially considering that CPU achieved that success in a highly volatile industry where most businesses of this type fail within the first few years of operation.

Being in a business of such drastic changes has kept Jones and CPU on its toes.

"It's kept us sharp," he said. "It's a real challenge. But our focus has always been customer service. It's like any other business in that way. If you do that, you're going to be OK."

Meet Frank Jones

Age: 53

Position: President and co-owner of CPU, Inc., a full-service computer consulting and services firm. CPU also provides professional payroll services.

Education and experience: Graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1973 with a degree in computer science. While at Southeast, Jones worked at the university's computer center, doing programming. Later, he worked at Tucker Truck Lines writing and implementing software.

Personal: Wife, Gail, and four children, Ryan, 29, Natalie, 27, Meghan, 20 and Madeline, 12.

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