Origins of a New Concept
Prior to creating HRS, Bill Zinke served from 1966 to 1969 as Vice President-Industrial Relations for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), then headquartered in New York City and playing a leadership role in representing business and industry throughout the U.S. His proposal at a meeting of the NAM Industrial Relations Committee in November 1968 that Human Resources replace the tired terms of Personnel/Employee Relations/Industrial Relations was soundly defeated, although based on two important objectives:
- Moving HR to a center-stage and strategic role instead of being an administrative function
- Stimulating a horizontally-integrated management of the HR sub-functions rather than the siloed vertical approach then in effect
He resigned from the NAM in 1969 to create HRS with the goal of providing a broad range of HR management consulting services. The consulting practice of HRS over the years has covered recruitment and selection, talent management, leadership development, top leadership effectiveness, and strategic planning. It was extended to executive search in the mid-1970s for established clients, always on a retainer basis and with a beginning approach that included an organizational study and interviewing the key people with whom the selected person would be working. This was a time when management consulting firms did no executive search and executive search firms did no management consulting, but HRS found it valuable to provide both.
Creation of an Invaluable Resource
In June 1975, HRS created an Advisory Group (AG) of five key people who met for breakfast in a private room at The University Club in New York four times yearly to provide counsel and guidance on pending and prospective projects, to serve as a sounding board on possible new projects, and even to provide clients on occasion (which was not intended or expected). The AG continued to function through 1989, when Bill relocated to Boulder, CO and was an invaluable resource over the years. Members at different times included:
- James B. Kobak, retired Chairman of the accounting firm J.K. Lasser & Co. and leading consultant in the publishing world
- Kathryn D. Wriston, President and a Trustee, John A. Hartford Foundation and director of several companies
- Roy Amara, President, The Institute for the Future
- Marion Kellogg, retired Vice President, General Electric Co. and director of several companies
- William F. May, Chairman and CEO, American Can Company and director of several companies
- Jean Schoonover, President of PR firm Dudley, Anderson, Yutzy
Bill provided the AG with an agenda before each meeting; the discussion and dialogue was always lively and interactive; and we had such a good time that the Club Manager once knocked on the door to request that we “hold down the noise”. Anyone creating a new company should consider developing such a resource.
HR Management Survey—Breaking Down the Barriers
In 1979, HRS organized a survey on “Human Resources Management in U.S. Industry: Current Status and Future Directions” that was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. and sponsored by 20 major companies ranging alphabetically from AT&T to Xerox. A total of 316 interviews were conducted, 233 with HR/Personnel heads and 83 with top/operating management.
The results were ground-breaking. In the “more advanced companies”, representing 27 percent of the total surveyed:
- 40% of top/operating management reported that the company had a group or function designated with the term “Human Resources” versus 39% of HR/Personnel heads.
- In 100% of these companies, the top HR/Personnel heads reported directly to top management; 82% said the top HR/Personnel heads sat on policy committees; 74% said that HR played a major role in corporate planning; and 43% stated that HR planning was integrated with corporate strategic planning.
- These characteristics were considered by top/operating management as most important or desirable for HR professionals:
- Good communicator / listener – 78%
- Imaginative / creative – 64%
- Leadership capabilities – 60%
- Initiative / proactive style – 40%
- Pragmatic / profit-oriented -29%
- Decisive / tough-minded – 24%
- Being a strategic thinker was also mentioned as being important.
A profound change had occurred in the ten-year period of 1969-1979: almost one-third of the companies were using the term of Human Resources; HR was moving to play a center-stage role with a focus on strategic issues; and the desired characteristics of the HR head had undergone a dramatic change.
In late 1980, following dissemination of the Survey results, Bill was asked by the HR head of Exxon to organize a group of HR heads in major companies to meet twice yearly with a focus on strategic HR issues. In a luncheon meeting at Exxon headquarters then in New York with the HR heads of ten major U.S. companies, it was unanimously agreed that such a group would serve a valuable purpose, and so HRS agreed to create the Human Resources Roundtable Group (HRRG). It was decided that there would be two meetings per year with a focus on strategic HR issues, no substitutions if members were unable to attend, and each meeting to be hosted by one of the members.
The HRRG began in 1981 with 30 members, expanding first to Canada, then to Europe and finally to the Asia Pacific. When HRS sold the group and its other HR activities in 2011 to Executive Networks, Inc. (ENI), the HRRG had reached its maximum number of 65 members and was generally regarded as “best in class”.
Expanding to the Global Level
James L. Hayes joined HRS as Chairman in 1984 when he retired as President and CEO of the American Management Association in New York, and he was a wonderful colleague. Through Jim Hayes and his contacts from having given talks around the world on key management topics, HRS arranged trips to the former USSR in 1987 and to China in 1988 that included 12 HR heads of major U.S. companies like Exxon, Pfizer and Honeywell and were built around two-day meetings in Moscow and then in Beijing on the topic of “Productivity Improvement”, primarily with senior government officials and some business managers.
The first meeting in Moscow was co-sponsored by HRS and the USSR Committee on Labour and Social Affairs; the second meeting in Beijing was co-sponsored by HRS and the China Enterprise Management Association (CEMA). Both meetings utilized simultaneous translation, and there was a substantial amount of group interaction. They were followed by country tours with first-class guides that provided excellent insights on the world’s two largest Communist countries and the remarkable differences between them.
Bill and Jim Hayes were particularly impressed by the enormous progress that was being made in China under the leadership of Premier Deng Xiaoping and his commitment to “break the iron rice bowl”.
In July 1992, Bill was invited by CEMA to present a series of seminars in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou on HR management policies and practices in U.S. companies that might be applicable to Chinese enterprises, which reflected a growing focus in China on HR management. With some persuasion, these sessions generated substantial questions and lively discussion.
In May 2006, HRS held two one-day meetings in China on “The Role of Human Resources in Achieving Strategic Objectives for Enterprises in China”, one in Beijing on May 22 and the other in Shanghai on May 26. Each attracted more than 50 participants, with lively group discussion and interaction.
While HRS has had no subsequent activities in China, we continue to believe in the importance of strong economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Other Activities in the HR Field
On request by a HRRG member, HRS created an annual two-day HR High-Potential Meeting starting in 2003 for a maximum of 40 participants selected by HRRG members, not more than two from any single company, to focus primarily in small-group sessions on strategic HR issues selected by participants as having the greatest importance.
HRS organized a second survey in 2011 sponsored by 25 major companies on both sides of the Atlantic, titled Survey on the Strategic Involvement of HR in Fortune 1000 Companies, involving interviews with 150 HR heads plus 66 top executives and board members. This Survey demonstrated that HR had become a strategic partner in almost all of the surveyed companies and that HR had indeed moved to play a center-stage and strategic role.
HRS began to focus on aging issues in the latter 1990s, and Bill co-authored a paper in early 2000 with Dr. Elliott Jaques (a leading psychologist, sociologist, and prolific author known for developing the midlife crisis concept in 1965) titled The Evolution of Adulthood: A New Stage that Dr. Jaques delivered in the National Conference on the Economic and Social Impact of Demographic Change: Meeting the Employment Needs of the 21st Century organized by HRS in Washington D.C. in June 2000. There were more than 70 participants and an excellent group of speakers including then-Senator John B. Breaux (Dem, LA), Ranking Minority Leader, Senate Committee on Aging, and Peter G. Peterson, then-Chairman, The Blackstone Group. Copies of a book based primarily on the Conference presentations were sent to every member of the Senate with a cover letter signed by Senator Breaux. A recession in early 2001 undermined the ability of HRS to achieve its stated objectives.
With a booming economy, HRS planned a second two-day event in June 2007 as the launching platform of the Center for Productive Longevity (CPL), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit created by HRS with the mission of stimulating the substantially-increased engagement of people 50+ in productive activities, paid and volunteer, where they were qualified and ready to continue adding value. The event was titled National Conference on the New Human Resources Frontier: Utilizing Older Workers for Competitive Advantage, again with an excellent group of speakers and more than 70 participants. Another book was privately published based primarily on the edited presentations and contributed material, including a chapter by Dr. Robert Butler. This event was followed by the Great Recession in November 2007, which required CPL to place its ambitious plans on hold.
With continued high unemployment and low economic growth, CPL organized a series of four one-day meetings in 2012 titled Spotlight on Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Baby Boomers 50 and Older, as follows:
- March 27 at the Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, MO
- September 14 at Babson College, Wellesley, MA
- October 11 on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University/Kellogg School of Management
- November 15 at the University of Denver–University College
These events attracted more than 400 participants, with very positive comments on the written evaluations. There were half-day workshops following three of the meetings for interested participants who planned to create a new business.
In furtherance of its mission, CPL held a one-day event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC in November 2013 titled National Conference on the Entrepreneurship Imperative for Engaging People 50 and Older that attracted an excellent group of speakers, including Ralph Sorenson, former President of Babson College and founder of its Center for Entrepreneurship in 1978; Sergio Arzeni, Director, OECD Center for Entrepreneurship in Paris; and Carol Gardner, President, Zelda Wisdom and an extremely successful entrepreneur.
A Legal Move with Positive Results
Through sitting next to a neighbor in the early 1980s on a commuting train from the suburbs into New York City who was Chairman of the Personnel Committee for one of the country’s leading law firms, Bill was invited to join the Committee’s next meeting to discuss how HRS could help to resolve some HR problems at the firm’s associate level. Bill was reluctant to become re-involved in the legal field but discussed this matter with the Advisory Group members, all of whom strongly urged accepting the assignment because they considered the legal arena to be a “green field” for management consultants.
Bill accepted the assignment and effectively resolved the associate problems, which resulted in more consulting work for the firm including the recruitment of lawyers at the partner and senior associate levels. These projects led to having HRS recommended to other large law firms and then to corporate law departments, resulting in the legal arena consuming almost 50% of the firm’s total consulting practice. This demonstrates the value of having an independent Advisory Group.
HRS became involved in consulting projects for major law firms in the latter 1980s, when there were few consultants working in the legal field. Recognizing the challenges facing Managing Partners, who were then dividing their time between practicing law and managing their firms, HRS organized the Managing Partners Roundtable (MPR) in 1987 for twice-yearly meetings to focus on strategic issues relating to law firm management.
The success of the MPR led to the formation of the Executive Directors Roundtable in 1999 and the Law Firm HR Roundtable in 2003, with both groups having about 50 members representing large law firms throughout the U.S. and other countries.
HRS established a unique position by also forming separate groups of Chief Legal Officers for North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific, which held twice-yearly meetings to focus on strategic issues relevant to their areas of interest. This dual focus enabled HRS to hold meetings in different parts of the world that brought together small groups of top partners from leading law firms and senior lawyers from major multinational companies to discuss topics of significant mutual interest.
HRS organized the Law Student Recruitment Group (LSRG) in 1986 to send third-party teams to the so-called “second-tier law schools” not being covered by the top law firms, even though some of their students were first-class. The teams interviewed students in the top 5-10% of the class and presented those to the sponsoring firms who met their carefully-defined criteria. Our proposition to these firms was that they were missing the opportunity to consider a substantial number of law students who met their qualifications, and some of these students are still partners in those firms. HRS terminated the project at the end of 1998 because we had paved the way and other groups had moved into the field. The following quote is from the Office of the Placement Dean in one of the law schools:
“You established a trend-setting program that has made a valuable contribution to the field of legal recruitment. The concept of third-party interviewing has been a boon to law students, particularly for those at law schools such as ours. I commend you for your efforts in establishing a successful program.”
HRS organized five two-day trend-setting events titled Global Conference on Changing Dynamics in International Legal Practice in different parts of the world from 1993 to 1997 to stimulate a recognition of the globalization of legal practice, the importance of developing stronger teamwork relations between inside and outside counsel, and the essential need to develop strategic planning for both groups, as follows: Denver, CO–1993, Brussels–1994, Hong Kong–1995, Mexico City–1996 and Prague–1997. These events each attracted an average of 70 top lawyers from leading law firms and senior lawyers from major multinational companies around the world. Books were published after four of the events.
HRS organized Jurisphere in 1997, which consisted of a global network of 25 law firms (5 in the U.S., 2 in Canada, 7 in Latin America, 6 in Europe, and 5 in the Asia Pacific) that were leaders in their home countries but had no desire to create a network of offices in other parts of the world. There was no direct competition between any of the firms. The concept enabled members to serve their clients more effectively by involving affiliated firms in many other jurisdictions, while continuing to remain engaged, and also to develop more legal work through referrals from the other firms. Meetings were held twice yearly, hosted by members in such divergent places as Washington, DC, Paris and Beijing; young associates were posted to member firms to broaden their training; and there were many other leverage points. Jurisphere was discontinued in 2001 because of a recession that particularly impacted the Latin American firms and because of a merger trend developing among law firms that resulted in the loss of two members.
With the support of a task force consisting of eight Managing Partners of leading law firms and eight Chief Legal Officers of major companies in the U.S. and Europe, HRS published in December 2005 a “White Paper On New Models For Delivering Legal Services”. The paper listed 14 alternatives to hourly billing, an exception at the time and now universally adopted by major law firms as corporate clients have pushed back on escalating legal fees.
In more recent years HRS continued to play a leadership role in the importance of utilizing worker 50 and older in productive activities through the recession in 2001 and subsequently held a second two-day event in Washington, DC in June 2007 titled “Utilizing Older Workers for Competitive Advantage – The New Human Resources Frontier”, again with an excellent group of speakers and more than 70 participants, that attracted substantial media attention.
The HRS legal activities were sold in 2011 to The Roundtable Collaborative LLC.
Since selling his consulting activities in 2011, Bill’s primary focus has been on the growing population segment of people 50 and older constituting one-third of the U.S. population, and the essential importance of utilizing their talents and capabilities in support of the country’s economic growth and social development.