Michael Jones' run as Illinois Lottery Director is over.
Late Wednesday Jones sent a brief memo to his Lottery colleagues that said his job there "is done." Jones went on to write that he had informed Gov. Bruce Rauner's chief of staff "a while ago" that he was planning to leave his post. Jones said his immediate plan is to go "surfing at my home break, Seapark, next week."
In a statement to the Chicago Business Journal this afternoon, Gov. Bruce Rauner said he "appreciated Michael Jones stepping up to the difficult task of managing the state lottery." Rauner added: "His (Jones) experience and knowledge have been an important asset to the agency."
Jones' last day at the Lottery will be Friday.
Jones' departure ends a grueling three-and-a-half year saga for the Lottery director.
For most of that time Jones pushed mightily to implement a reform agenda largely focused on rebranding the Illinois Lottery and reformulating its advertising strategy to grow the player base and the revenue the Lottery generated for the state.
Jones' arrival in the fall of 2011 as the Lottery's director actually marked his second tenure in the post. He previously had a very high-profile run of similar duration in the early 1980's under former Gov. Jim Thompson. At that time, Jones used his marketing skills and his youthful charisma to help raise the Lottery's profile.
He would spend the intervening years between his two tenures running a lottery research firm and establishing himself as an expert on lottery operations and marketing, among other things.
But Jones' second run as Lottery head would prove controversial almost from the moment he took on the job. He immediately fired Energy BBDO Chicago as the Lottery's ad agency of record. Energy BBDO got that assignment largely because it was part of the Northstar Lottery Group, a consortium of companies that former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn tapped in late 2010 to become the first-ever private manager of the Illinois Lottery.
Jones' quick move to ax Energy BBDO immediately created a rift between him and the Northstar management team — a rift that would essentially only grow worse until Quinn — fighting for his political life — finally fire d Northstar in August of last year for not reaching its promised Lottery revenue goals.
But even though he was at odds with Northstar almost from the moment he became Lottery Director in 2011, Jones conducted an agency review to replace Energy BBDO and wound up working with Downtown Partners Chicago, then headed by gifted advertising guru Jim Schmidt, who would tragically die from cancer in late 2013.
Jones, the Downtown Partners team and multicultural agency Commonground Chicago began introducing a new approach to Lottery advertising designed to elevate the Lottery's brand image. But Northstar's inability to grow the infrastructure of Lottery vendors and other operational problems limited the dramatically-changed marketing's effectiveness.
Eventually, relations between Northstar and Jones grew so ugly that the Lottery Director was banned from all marketing meetings and from talking to any of the Lottery's ad agencies about marketing matters — an edict Northstar could make under the terms of its contract with the state.
It was only after Quinn moved to fire Northstar that Jones once again began to take charge of the Lottery advertising. He also fought for more special cause instant lottery games and more advertising to support them in order to boost and broaden the appeal of the Lottery brand.
But even as Lottery revenue numbers were starting to show healthy growth in the fourth quarter of 2014, the state was undergoing a government regime change that swept in Bruce Rauner to replace Quinn.
Though Jones is not talking in the immediate wake of his departure announcement, it appears he realized he had done all that he could to get the Lottery brand to a new place and that he had collected enough battle scars in the process.
As Jones noted in his memo yesterday to colleagues: "I was asked to become Illinois Lottery Director again in 2011 to 'straighten' out the Lottery's new private manager model. As many of you know 'straightening' it out proved to be a much more difficult task, in an artificially difficult environment, than I could ever have imagined."
Jones also noted in his farewell note that he is leaving confident that he and his staff had "proved that broadening the Illinois Lottery's player base through innovative marketing could dramatically increase profits to good causes, and that enforcing the terms of a contract with a private consortium, fairly but firmly, was the correct thing for a state agency to do."
But it appeared time for Jones to get back to the private sector and for a new Governor to decide where things will go from this point.
Rauner, no doubt, will find a new leader to replace Jones as Northstar's role with the Lottery winds down and ends later this year.
The only question now is whether the new Lottery Director will be the same kind of fighter and the same kind of talented marketing and branding-oriented executive that Jones proved to be.
Rauner's task won't be easy.