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Henry Taub, ADP Founder, Greatest Generation Member

by George on February 7, 2011

In the computer room in ADP Clifton it is Year End circa 1971.

Amidst the cacophony and frenetically paced war room a council was convening near the mainframe’s console.  A problem was being probed and the floor generals were plotting actions to solve it – speaking loudly to be heard over the din of 15 other people attending tape drives and card readers, the recoil of belt-fed impact printers, and the ubiquitous sound of the console barking information to its operators through its typewriter-style console.

As the war council worked its problem there was no task being left undone.  Even the floor was being tended to – a man with a broom was sweeping the floor to clear away the fallen paper clips, rubber bands ruined data cards, along with all the dirt and dust that fifteen people and a high-strung data center could inflict on the raised floor.

Amazingly, among the pandemonium around them, the floor generals quickly fixated on the cleaning effort – reviewing it with incredulity.  Of all the things this man could have been doing they stared in shocked disbelief as the man maneuvered his broom to shepherd the dirt – quietly oblivious to the other industrial distractions in the room.

Ladies and Gentleman – meet Henry Taub.

What makes this story a part of ADP lore is the timing.  At the time Henry picked up the broom he was the CEO of a fast-growing company and a very wealthy man.  When Henry walked into the computer room, he saw everyone doing something and the group was working hard – and he wanted to do something more than just stand there watching.

It is a true story and it is illustrative about the nature of both Henry and Joe Taub.  Their work ethic, modesty and selflessness is well-known and well-regarded.  While powerful men might turn a shovel or two of dirt to initiate the start of a building, you could probably count on the Taub brothers to create a working foundation by the end of the ceremony unless you remember to take their shovels away.

Barbara Teixera and I recently met with Henry Taub at his office in Teaneck to learn more about him and relay the experience to our readers as part of our celebration on ADP’s explosive first 50 years.  Henry was reluctant to talk about himself given his modesty, but eventually acceded to Barbara’s argument that as a founding father of a rather large family, people really wanted to know more about him – personally.

As Henry began to speak, I noted a number of similarities between him and his brother Joe.  One obvious thing is that when either of them is looking at you, you have their complete attention.  They listen intently.  Their eyes are focused on you and they do not drift.   They both smile easily and are less aloof than you might expect men of such resource and accomplishment.  What is different is the cadence and delivery of their speech.

Joe is more animated with a style of speech rife with semicolons and gesture.  He covers a lot of ground very quickly, thoughtfully.  Henry is more reserved and seems to always begin his answers with a slight pause.  Once Henry started talking, it came in paragraph style – an opening, a body of text, and a closing.  He was less animated than Joe, yet equally as engaging.

First, if anything, Henry is an enigma.  He’s a brilliant man who was passed ahead twice in grammar school and, by the time he was twenty-one, not only had he graduated college, he already had several years of public accounting experience behind him.  However, as a kid from Paterson coming of age during the Depression, Henry was no dilettante.

When he began talking about his life it was articulated with keen insight of the times he lived in and with reverence of his neighborhood and his family.  He referred to his parents as part of that “sacrificial generation” – a generation of immigrants who took great risks to provide their children with a better life.

Henry and Joe’s mother and father had made the long trip from Poland to the United States before the boys were born.  The Taub brothers grew up on Carroll Street in Paterson, an ethnically, racially diverse mill town comprised of factories, warehouses, and shops.  Tenement housing was a prevalent and convenient form of housing in mill towns and a tenement apartment in Paterson served as the backdrop for the Taub brother’s childhood and adolescence.

Theirs was a loving home which neither Henry nor Joe found onerous – nor one in which they ever felt deprived.

Still, growing up in Paterson was an inauspicious start and a foundry to either develop a hardened shell and diminished expectations of life, or one to forge values, a sense of purpose, and a will to succeed.  Henry reflected on both the struggle and virtue that was Paterson:

“I was born in ’27.  So my earliest recollections are of a difficult Depression period.  And, of course, Paterson was a largely immigrant community and it was really very tough for everyone.  There was a universal value that permeated through most of the families – it was that their children should have the benefit of education that was not available to [those] parents.  They literally sacrificed themselves so that the children might have the benefits of what they hoped America might be for them – you know, ‘the streets are paved with gold’?  But it wasn’t paved with gold for our parents – or your parents.  They showed that they could fulfill their dreams and aspirations through their children and education seemed to be the ladder with which you could pull yourself out.  There was an almost desperate striving for education of children from where we came.”

“The part of Paterson I knew was where even where children grew up in a depression, they never felt deprived.  Family units stayed intact – more so than they do today.   We were sheltered by caring parents who would do anything to raise their kids properly.   And who valued education and hard work.  They really believed you could pull your way through the system if you worked hard and were educated.  That was the value and that was the background.”

He described the people of Paterson, in economic terms, as predominately working class, blue collar.  “If you describe them in terms of human potential – it was a very exciting group of people.  The political arguments, the social arguments, the ferment – the desire for education of their children, and the friendships that you made – it was a great place.”

Henry’s sense of industry and ambition had him working at the age of twelve selling newspapers and he later found work as a caddy and grocery clerk.   By age fourteen Henry, along with his good friend Josh [Sy] Katz, were working at Associated Transport, a local Paterson trucking company.  It is there they had the dubious honor of soliciting cooperation from tired, cranky truck drivers to get and deliver load and bill sheets.

The job at Associated Transport occurred at a time the Second World War was at full tempo.  Between the draft and enlistments most working age, able-bodied men were serving in the military.  At Associated Transport this created a scenario where a couple of 14-15 year old kids, Henry Taub and Josh Katz, were essentially running the office.  They created the workflow and managed it.  The workloads were unpredictable; they didn’t know if the drivers were coming back with one load or a hundred.

What was interesting about this story was how analogous it seems to the earlier generations at ADP.  The bills came in and went to a rate clerk who rated them and then went on to a mechanical device that extended it.  From there it went to Henry and Josh [and some others] who sat at billing machines and typed the bills.  Of course, you could not begin the process until the drivers came in – and you couldn’t leave until all the bills were ready so you could do the shipments at night.

So, nearly 10 years before ADP’s birth, Henry Taub could be found chasing down drivers to get input he could push through a workflow that would enable him to get a product out on time.

Henry certainly appreciated the irony of it all – and also saw it as a great education of another sort.  “Working with work, organizing flows of work, and dealing people as complicated as truck drivers – getting them to cooperate was an education all in itself.”  He also recognized that respecting people was key and that people were different – and that eliciting cooperation was a necessary skill.  “You don’t always have the privilege of working with the same people you want to invite for dinner.  But they are people, and there is a key to people.  One of the things we learned in our home was to respect everybody.”

Indeed, Henry recognized the truck drivers as being in the same predicament he was in – what they all were in.  His empathy and capability to respect and relate to others not only helped him with his job at Associated Transport, it became a key to his personal and business successes.

By age 16 Henry was working at a public accounting firm.

Henry told us from age 12 on up that his time was very structured.  It was school, work, homework – a seemingly endless cycle of ideas and personal industry.  He credits this structure with making it possible for him to stay focused and accomplish his formal education so quickly – though this accomplishment is as inexplicable to Henry as it is to us as he so adroitly pointed out, “If you ask me how I did it – I don’t know how I did it.” [Smiles].

A moment later Henry continued, “It’s youth and dedication.  You don’t do these things unless you want to do it.  I never felt like it was onerous.  I just knew that it was necessary.”

The tight time structure and Henry’s own personal discipline led him to manage his own time effectively – a deciding factor in personal success.  “If you can manage your own time effectively, you may be able to manage a group’s time effectively.  Right?   How can you be a good manager if you can’t manage yourself?”

By age 21 Henry’s personal discipline, persistence, and use of time was now married to 5 years of public accounting experience, and would be parlayed into the start of an endeavor called Automatic Payrolls.

The irony of calling this nascent endeavor “automatic” is that there was nothing automatic about it.  It was a very manual process.  But Henry, as a forward thinker, borrowed the word “automatic” from the garment/textile industry.  While this word was almost a slur when automation entered the mills, displaced workers and thereby ignited several strikes, it became synonymous with “new” and “productive” in the microcosm of the Paterson area.  So, the moniker fit – there was a new game in town and, despite the initial irony, it became automatic – Automatic Data Processing.

The early days of ADP were strenuous, especially for the entrepreneurs Henry, Joe, and Frank.  In fact, it took more 10 years for a long weekend to come along that idled Henry just long enough to make it to a party in Brooklyn.

It was at this party in Brooklyn that Henry met Mickey – who later became his wife.  While we didn’t dwell on the details of their courtship, we could not help a smile after Henry spoke of taking Mickey to Yonkers Raceway to enjoy some horse racing – and, yes it’s true – also to tally some time cards.  While the romantic value of that venue is a bit dubious, one fan noted to Mickey that her presence, “.. really cleaned up the language around here.”

In fact, when we asked Henry what he felt happiest about – it was his family.  The fact that he married well and raised good children has apparently brought him the most satisfaction – you could see it in his face when he talked about his family.  He feels very fortunate and today enjoys the fact he is working directly with his two sons.

Henry and Mickey have been married over 40 years and have six grandchildren under the age of six.

No talk with Henry would be complete without the topic of ADP.  Clearly, the company is a manifestation of his best efforts and those of his brother Joe and their friend Frank – the pioneers that launched the company into such a high orbit.  He regards ADP like a parent would a child.  He is proud of its accomplishments and has high hopes for its future.

While there are accolades of financial or otherwise statistical significance [and downright acclaim] for ADP, Henry had this to say,

“I am particularly pleased that we have only had four CEO’s in 50 years – and good ones.  They each brought a unique competence to the organization that permitted us to grow, not only in numbers, but to make the transition from different milestone events, including technologies which sometimes companies are not able to make.”

“I also feel pretty good about having started these two major areas of our business, the payroll business and the Wall Street business which, even today, is about 80% of what we do.”

Henry Taub was clearly blessed with above-average intelligence, but his achievements in this lifetime were not a certainty because of that solitary factor.   What enabled him to succeed was the nurturing nature of both his family and neighborhood.  Despite the abject poverty surrounding him, the ‘sacrificial generation’ of his parents instilled a sense of destiny that, with personal industry, focus, and education, he could rise above this inauspicious start in life.

Contrasted with the myopia and self-indulgence – if not downright greed – of contemporary American corporate culture, Henry Taub stands out as a yet another gilded gift of that ‘Greatest Generation‘ author Tom Brokaw wrote about.  Henry’s self-effacing style, humility, and philanthropy were key factors in his success – and emblematic of a generation whose upbringing was immersed in the privations of the Great Depression.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Geoff Rush February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm

This is the best profile I’ve read in a long time.


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