Before he became a political leader, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg was a prominent businessman as the CEO of the New Jersey-based payroll service Automatic Data Processing, Inc (ADP). NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider had a chance to sit down with the man who succeeded Lautenberg in that position — his longtime friend Josh Weston, who also serves as the chairman of the NJTV Board of Trustees.
Weston shared how he was recruited by Lautenberg to join ADP back in 1967 when Weston was at J. Crew. He happened to pick up the phone one day when “some guy” by the name of Frank Lautenberg called to introduce himself and his company.
“He said, ‘We do your payroll.’ I didn’t know that. So I said, ‘I hope you do it well, have a good day.'”
Lautenberg would continue to call and gradually what began as a business relationship would lead to an enduring friendship between the two men.
“He also ended up moving to Montclair where I live so we got to see each other socially and each step reinforced the next step,” Weston said.
The longtime senator had a reputation for being aggressive and outspoken. Those traits can be traced to his early experience in sales.
“First of all. I knew he was a go-getter salesman. I also knew later where he got that. He was a Prudential insurance salesman before he came to ADP, and he really was ADP’s first salesman,” said Weston. ” He was the engine that built all of ADP’s growth.”
The catalyst for Lautenberg’s political career, according to Weston, began with the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and Lautenberg was the New Jersey chairman of a charity called United Jewish Appeal (UJA).
“[UJA] also had a national chairman on top of the 50-state chairman. They suddenly needed a lot more money to help buy guns and stuff and knowing who Frank was, they asked him to run all of UJA. He spoke to us about it and then he did it,” recalled Weston. “As national chairman of UJA, he was invited to the State Department, the White House, he met Israel’s Prime Minister, met senators all over the place.”
When Lautenberg told Weston he was thinking of running for the Senate against the Republican congresswoman Millicent Fenwick, he was aware that, unlike Fenwick, name recognition would be a significant challenge for him.
“He said according to a poll he took, his name recognition was 4 percent. Then I asked him what percent of people know Millicent Fenwick … it must have been over 90 percent,” said Weston. “I said, ‘Frank, do whatever you want. If you lose, you still got a job here, and if you win, we’ll do something.'”
Lautenberg would go on to become a fixture on the New Jersey political landscape for more than three decades. So what will Weston miss most about Lautenberg?
“Just having a fiery senator from New Jersey who didn’t put up with b.s. in the Senate and said what he thought,” said Weston. “Once Frank got an eye on something, he really pursued it. He got a lot of things done.”