Herman Miller recently lost a great friend, and in many ways, a founding father, Carl Frost. “Jack,” as many friends called him, died at the age of 94.
An Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, Carl’s relationship with Herman Miller began in 1949 when he startled DJ and Hugh De Pree with his blunt questions about equity and leadership. DJ and Hugh persuaded Carl to consult with Herman Miller and to begin the Scanlon Plan, named after labor organizer Joe Scanlon, whom Carl had met in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Carl introduced the Scanlon Plan to Herman Miller in 1950. His ideas complemented DJ’s philosophy and together they began the tradition of employee participation and profit-sharing that continues today.
In his book Business as Unusual, Hugh calls Carl “a giant, a changemaker, a questioner, a teacher, a person who made a difference.” Max dedicated his book Leadership Jazz to Frost, calling him “a quiet giant who has helped so many compose voice and touch.” DJ said that Carl “taught us all we know about the humanities of a corporation—a priceless ingredient.”
Frost was always an advocate for employees, constantly asking Herman Miller’s leaders tough questions about their attitudes toward employees. It’s not surprising that Carl was loved by people in all positions. In 1952, the employees of Herman Miller—all 120 of them—pitched in to buy him a new Buick. They were worried about him driving an old car on the commute from East Lansing to Zeeland.
Carl wrote two books, The Scanlon Plan and Changing Forever: The Well-Kept Secret of America’s Leading Companies. Both are full of stories and descriptions of Herman Miller. We were, along with Donelly and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, long-time clients of Frost. Even in retirement, Carl continued to be connected to Herman Miller and many people in our community.
Along with the great designers in our past, Carl Frost was a perfect example of the enormous and wonderful influence Herman Miller’s creative network of talent has had—and continues to have—on our community. The presence of values like Engagement, Performance, and Transparency in the “Things that Matter” is largely because of Carl’s relationship with past leaders at Herman Miller, especially the De Prees. We continue to learn from Carl Frost, whose favorite question was, “What day is it today?” By which he meant, what realities are we facing right now that must be dealt with.
By Clark Malcolm