Milton Rock, the “Godfather of Compensation Consultants,” Transformed Human Resources Management and Philadelphia

February 12, 2018

He passed away last month at age 96

By Barbara Spector and April Hall

Known for his groundbreaking role in modern human resources management, Milton L. Rock was remembered as not only a titan of industry, but also a dedicated Philadelphian who supported his community as a booster and philanthropist.

Rock died last month at the age of 96.

Called “the godfather of compensation consultants” in a recent Wall Street Journal article on executive pay, Rock was a managing partner of Hay Associates, a compensation and human resources consulting firm that was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985. (Today, it is part of Korn Ferry Hay Group.)  

It was at Hay that he professionalized human resources, moving it beyond the “personnel department” — which tended to focus on planning company picnics rather than on cultivating and incentivizing talent — says his son, Robert Rock.

Rock authored and edited a number of management books — many along with his son — including Handbook of Wage and Salary Administration, The Mergers & Acquisitions Handbook and Corporate Restructuring. He served as president of the Association of Management Consultants. He provided counsel to top executives at some of the world’s largest companies, including the chairmen of Standard Oil of Indiana, AT&T, General Mills, Metropolitan Life Insurance, Chase Manhattan Bank and Fiat.

“But Milt was much more than a people and business leader, he was a leader of our profession,” says Lance A. Berger, a management consultant and former partner at The Hay Group.

“Nowhere is this better seen than in his seminal publication, The Handbook of Wage and Salary Administration, in 1972,” Berger notes. . “This handbook was the first of its type to fully define the compensation profession by putting all of its components in one practical volume. Milt's book provided a high-quality, comprehensive, practical and innovative desktop reference written by some of the most advanced and recognized people in the field— the greatest generation.”

After the sale of Hay, Rock formed MLR Holdings LLC. MLR owns and operates media and information businesses. Among its first holdings were Directors & Boards and Mergers & Acquisitions, both of which Hay had acquired from their founder, Stanley Foster Reed. In 1989, recognizing the need for an educational and informational resource for family companies, Rock founded Family Business Magazine.

“To Milt’s credit and creative foresight, he knew that corporate boards were in need of professionalization, and he saw Directors & Boards as a vehicle to bring professional development on corporate governance to boards of Corporate America,” says James Kristie, who served as D&B’s editor from 1981 until early 2017.

Rock became a member of the board of governors of Temple University Hospital in 1974. He served as its chairman from 1985 to 1992 and afterward became a member of the board of directors of Temple University Health System. In 1979, he joined the board of trustees of Temple University (his alma mater) and remained an honorary life trustee.

He received many awards from Temple, including the Order of the Owl, which recognizes “the accomplishment of an alumnus who has spent a lifetime working for the common good in many fields.” His 1986 gift to Temple helped establish Rock Hall, a performing auditorium for the university’s Boyer College of Music. In 1991, Temple Hospital’s patient tower was named the Shirley and Milton L. Rock Pavilion.

A lifelong patron and lover of the arts, Rock was a longtime trustee of the Pennsylvania Ballet and served as its chair in the 1990s. His gift helped purchase the ballet’s building at Broad and Washington streets in Philadelphia. That building today houses the Rock School for Dance Education.

He was a member of the Curtis Institute of Music’s board and chaired the board from 1989 to 2002. He continued as an honorary chair of the Bok Foundation board and the Curtis board. He endowed Curtis’s Rock Chair in Composition, held by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, and a student composition fellowship. The fellowship includes a commissioning opportunity to write a dance work to be performed by students of the Rock School. Curtis’s library, the Rock Resource Center, is named in his honor.

Rock also served on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1981-1994) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1987-1996) and was a member of President Gerald Ford’s National Commission on Manpower Policy (1974-1977).

In a letter to his college-student sonin 1972, , Rock wrote: “I have always thought of myself not as a businessman but more of a professional in management, and because of this concept I have structured my interests in life to look at business as a discipline. I see the professional in management principles requiring the highest insight, wisdom covering not only business practice but political action, behavioral science and probably most important, persuasive personality.”

Rock was married to the former Shirley Ruth Cylinder, whom he met at Temple, until her death in 1988. He is survived by his wife, Constance Benoliel Rock; his daughter, Susan Rock (partner Michael Phillips); his son, Robert H. Rock (wife Caro); grandchildren Liza Herzog (husband Paul Curci), William Rock (wife Carla); and Thomas Rock (wife Kristen); and eight great-grandchildren.