An inquiring mind

ADP’s Josh Weston finds fulfillment on paths less taken.

 

 

Doing the expected thing?

 

That’s not how Josh Weston – the former CEO of ADP, one of New Jersey’s most active philanthropists, and a Board member at both NJPAC and Jersey City’s Liberty Science Center – gets things done.

 

One early example: Weston could have gone straight into business when he graduated college, back in 1950. But walking through the halls at City College of New York his senior year, the young man from Brooklyn noticed a sign on the wall: Apply for a Fulbright.

 

“What’s a Fulbright?” he asked the dean of students; he’d never heard of the federally-funded international scholarship program, then only a few years old.

 

“The dean said: ‘Don’t waste your time trying to go to England or France, your chances are one in a thousand.’ So I asked him what he suggested, and he said: ‘Well, no one knows where New Zealand is.’

 

“So I went to look up New Zealand!” Weston recalls, almost 70 years later. “In the library, because we didn’t have Google then. It turns out they were the second country in the world to have single-payer health. I thought: I’m going to study this, someday knowing how that works will be useful in America!”

 

He chuckles; single-payer may have taken a bit longer to reach the States than he anticipated.

 

Weston applied, won a Fulbright, and, though he’d never been farther from home than Niagara Falls, at 22 he packed up to get a master’s in economics at the University of New Zealand in Wellington, 9,000 miles away. Today, what he remembers most is the journey there and back again: the disappointingly rocky beaches of Hawaii, meeting the islanders of Fiji, and traveling by boat, as there was then only one flight weekly into Wellington, a clipper plane that landed on the water.

 

“And,” he remembers, “I asked the Fulbright people: Look, could I come back going the other way? They said yes – and I got to hit another 15 countries on the trip home.”

 

Figuring out how to take a side trip around the globe on a trip home from school? That’s a signature Weston move: He always takes time to think outside the box and explore all the possibilities.

 

Among other things, it helped him rise through the ranks at ADP, a company he joined in 1970 after years at the mail-order firm J. Crew. His success at ADP was stratospheric; he became the company’s chairman and CEO by 1982, and he held that title for 15 years. The firm – which offers human resources services to thousands of companies – was a relatively small concern, worth perhaps $20 million, he estimates, when he first came on board. By the time he left, it had revenues in the billions.

 

How’d he do it?

 

“Curiosity helped, I think curiosity is important,” says Weston, now retired but still ADP’s honorary chairman; he keeps an office at the company’s airy, futuristic headquarters on ADP Way in Roseland.

 

“When I’m talking at business schools, I tell them this: 39 plus one equals more than 40 plus zero.

 

“And they look at me like I’m crazy and I say: Alright, I got your attention. Here’s why: A 40-plus-zero person goes to work eight hours a day, five days a week, doing the same thing. Right next to him is a 39-plus-one person, who takes one of those 40 hours and thinks: What am I doing here? Why? How can I do it better? It’s applying curiosity to the workplace.”

 

At ADP, Weston’s curiosity led him to become known for both innovation – he spearheaded the use of computers there in the 1970s – and for an exceptionally personal touch, which included calling hospitalized employees himself to check on how they were doing.

 

He also thought outside the box when it came to ADP’s social responsibility, throwing his company’s support behind NJPAC from the minute then-Governor Tom Kean unveiled a model of his vision for the Arts Center for Weston and other CEOs at a Drumthwacket pow-wow.

 

Although he did not simply fund the idea; he got involved in what NJPAC would look like, right from that very first meeting.

 

“(Kean) had this model of a mini Lincoln Center he wanted to build and he said: ‘Guys, what do you think of this?’ I said: ‘Hey, Tom. Build one building, and build it right,’” Weston recalls of that first meeting with Kean.

 

Under Weston’s leadership, ADP invested millions into NJPAC over the years, starting well before the building opened – and Weston put even more of his own personal wealth into the Arts Center during that time. For one thing, as a lifelong fan of the NJSO, he felt it deserved an acoustically superb concert hall with flawless sightlines.

 

But more than that, he sees giving back as his responsibility – both as ADP’s leader, and as a citizen of New Jersey.

 

“I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument,” he says.

 

“But I believe that the arts are important for the State, for the quality of life in this State. ADP started from almost zero in New Jersey. I think that when a company does well, it does well not just because its CEO does a good job. The whole environment the company grows up in helps. So when you’re a successful company, you have an obligation to give back.

 

“It helps the business, too – if there’s a good quality of life where you’re doing business, it helps you recruit employees, retain employees.”

 

In addition to support for the arts, Weston’s other passion is STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which has fueled his support for Liberty Science Center.

 

“And the main thing is, NJPAC and Liberty, they’re both educational institutions, they’re not just for entertainment,” he says.

 

He and his wife Judy have advocated for both institutions by not only giving money, but structuring their gifts as challenge grants – that is, offering funds that are released only when the institution can raise an equal amount from other donors. The idea is to use one donation to leverage others – and ultimately, broaden support for the institution.

 

And the Westons stick close to their investments. Josh Weston can often be found in the audience at NJPAC presentations, from the New Jersey Speakers Series to NJSO performances and Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s lectures on astronomy. (“He’s a gem!” Weston says.)

 

He also drops by to observe NJPAC’s arts education programs in action; this summer, he ducked into rehearsals where Savion Glover was developing a new musical with teenage Newark dancers and actors.

 

“We try to have a significant involvement, you know – we just don’t show up with a check in an envelope, we like to know what’s going on,” Weston says.

 

And of course, he has served on the Board of Directors at NJPAC for 18 years – where, he says, he pushes for the expansion of the Arts Center’s educational programs.

 

He also has a unique role in the Board room, a result of his longtime involvement with NJPAC.

 

“At every Board meeting, (President and CEO) John Schreiber and (Board Chair) John Strangfeld – they expect me to break the ice with the first tough question. And I do. I’m chief questioner.”

 

Oct. 9, 2018

 

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