14 – Dividing IRC: Consulting and Research Interests

In the 1950s, then-president Carroll E. French believed it would be good business to split the organization into a nonprofit that would retain the IRC name designator and a similar name for a company with the word “service” added to it.

At the time I joined IRC, the profit-making work and the nonprofit work were done by a single staff, assigned project by project to either arm of the organization. In the early 1950s, our new president allowed our research interests to diminish. Therefore, the research side of the operation became less well developed than it had been in the two decades after Rockefeller founded the company. Nonetheless, it was interesting that IRC staff pointed with pride to the “shelves of black books” that represented the research done in the organization’s early years, when its budget was directly supplemented by funds from Rockefeller to develop these major studies. These reports targeted groundbreaking material, especially on pensions and unemployment insurance systems in nations that already had them. They were important because the United States had not as yet developed such systems that covered and protected workers for the loss of income for various reasons including age, health, unemployment, and so forth.

Bryce Stewart had been IRC’s director of research for many years, and it was largely his interest and skills in research and in studies of employment-related matters that shaped the areas of study for which IRC was known in its early years. Unfortunately, I never met Stewart, but it is clear that he was a singular researcher who, by proposing and conducting studies in important areas, advanced the fame of the organization that Rockefeller founded. His work added much creative thinking in the study and development of systems to protect workers who naturally experienced the loss of pay because of retirement, unemployment/economics, and health issues.

Obviously, by the early 1930s unemployment and retirement issues took the forefront as important matters for the nation as it entered the period of the Great Depression. With the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his strong Democratic Party support in Congress, issues of employment and retirement security became paramount. IRC staff was seconded by the then new administration to aid in the development of concepts and proposed legislation in these areas, but with special emphasis on the contribution they could make to issues related to retirement and the Social Security Act.

When Rockefeller set up the original company in 1926, it was possible to be a nonprofit and do work that was adjunct to the nonprofit mission as well as to a “profit-making activity.” During its early years, the company was known as Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. (IRC). Later, in the 1950s, then-president Carroll E. French believed it would be good business to split the organization into a nonprofit that would retain the IRC name designator and a similar name for a company with the word “service” added to it. This company, Industrial Relations Counselors Services, Inc. (IRCS) was to be the one offering services for a fee. This second company, IRCS, was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of IRC, which was the nonprofit.

Staff more experienced in business were busy in what became the practical side of IRC’s areas of professional practice, conducting research within leading companies in all major industries in the country. We studied their employee relations and how effective management responsibilities in this area were or were not discharged. These studies were exhaustive reviews of practices and experience based on personal interviews with all levels of management and frequently first-level supervisors and workers as well. The studies were further supplemented by detailed reviews of data gleaned from company records on employment, compensation, grievances, and safety and health, all patterned as a result of the early work done at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. The studies led to specific recommendations for management action in such areas as personnel and industrial relations practices and policies, matters concerning worker health and safety, supervisory training and development, communications and policy development, as well as compensation and benefits.

The exhaustive data collected helped the staff develop incisive and detailed reports for management, with precise action steps for management consideration and action. The purpose was to help general managers and HR/ER staff to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their own management and to motivate them to make positive changes. Corporate management and even members of the boards of many companies also were briefed on these studies and management responses to them. Years later these reports were all bound in leather and were displayed in our conference room behind locked glass doors to be a constant reminder of the ripe history of our organization. They were evidence of more than 80 years of progress in the research and consulting work of our organization and visibly and dramatically reinforced our continuity of service to our clients and their employees.