Stephen E. Herbits (born March 13, 1942) is an American businessman, former consultant to several Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries of Defense, personal friend and advisor to the Bronfman family, former Executive Vice President of the Seagram Company, former advisor to the President’s Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets, and former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress. He was the youngest person (27) to be appointed commissioner on the Gates Commission (All-Volunteer Armed Force) alongside Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Roy Wilkins and other notable figures. Herbits’ career has specialized in “fixing” institutions – governmental, business and not-for-profit—with strategic planning and management consulting.
Early political career (1967–1977)
After college and prior to starting law school, Stephen Herbits worked as research assistant for Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate (1966). In 1967, Herbits was hired as a Congressional staffer in Washington. It was there that Herbits developed his work on addressing the inequities of the military draft. His work on Capitol Hill led to the publication of “How to End the Draft – The Case for an All-Volunteer Army”. The book received national as well as international attention and subsequently, Herbits was appointed to the President’s Commission on An All-Volunteer Armed Force (Gates Commission). Herbits was the youngest Commissioner to receive the appointment, being only 27 years of age. He served alongside noted economists Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan. During Herbits’ second year of law school he was called by the Assistant Secretary of Defense of Manpower and Reserve Affairs to help utilize research related to ending the Volunteer Army. Subsequently, hired as the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense of Manpower and Reserve Affairs in the Department of Defense, he helped implement the transition to an All-Volunteer Armed Force at the senior level. He also conducted the study which gave the acting Secretary of Defense the information used to reverse Army decisions in opposition to the All-Volunteer Force.
In 1974, following his work as Special Assistant at the Department of Defense, Herbits was hired by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford. Following this position in the White House, he moved to Geneva as Counsel to the US Delegation to the Multilateral Trade Negotiations (GATT) in the Office of the Special Representative for Trade Negotiations. In 1976 he moved back to the Pentagon as the Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretaries of Defense. During this time period (1976) Herbits was considered the top civilian aide at the Department of Defense.
On several occasions in 1969, 1972, 1973-4 and 1977, Herbits did project work with one of the earliest political consulting firms in the country — Bailey, Deardourff.
Corporate career (1977–1997)
In 1977, Herbits was hired by the spirits and wine company, Seagram Company Ltd. He was tasked with developing and implementing strategies for various subsidiaries. Between 1977 and 1983, Herbits held many positions in the company, including Vice President of Seagram Overseas Sales Company in Tokyo, Vice President of Seagram Europe, President of Browne Vintners and President of Seagram Wine Company in the United States.
In 1983, Herbits was promoted to Vice President of Corporate Development and then promoted again in 1986 as a Corporate Officer of Seagram with the added role of External Affairs. During this period, Herbits, in the additional role of chef de cabinet to Seagram Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr. helped prepare for and travelled to meetings with world leaders. “He [Herbits] sat at the intersection of Mr. Bronfman’s corporate, World Jewish Congress and other philanthropic roles.” Herbits’ final promotion led him to serve as Executive Vice President of Corporate Policy and External Affairs from 1989 to his retirement from Seagram in 1997. Herbits formed The Herbits Group as a business consulting entity after his retirement from Seagram. In that capacity, he has worked for several domestic and international companies, the RAND Corporation, and the Department of Defense.
In 1985, while Herbits was Vice President of Corporate Development at Seagram, a hefty tax was raised on liquor. Seagram officials anticipated the potential negative effect the tax would have on Seagram’s product sales. In response, Herbits led a campaign known as “Equivalence” (also known as the “Equivalence Campaign”) to educate consumers that a 12oz can of beer, 5oz glass of wine and a 1 ¼ oz shot of spirits all contain the same amount of alcohol. This campaign received national and international media attention and was considered very successful by industry experts.
Political career (1981–present)
While employed by the Seagram Company Ltd., Herbits was called back to public service several times. In 1981 he served as an unpaid consultant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and then again in 1989 to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. He led defense transitions, including personnel searches for senior positions.
In January 2001, Herbits temporarily went back to Washington to help conduct the Defense Department transition for Rumsfeld’s second tour as Secretary. Among other duties, Herbits developed job requirements and objectives for key Department of Defense Presidential Appointments, helped recruit key personnel, created a system of civilian review and succession planning for senior military officers, and oversaw the transition of the immediate office of the Secretary. He held this position until its completion in May 2001.
Rumsfeld brought Stephen Herbits back to the Department of Defense immediately following the attacks of September 11th, 2001 to work on, among other tasks, special projects regarding internal mission development and organizational change as a result of the attacks.
After leaving the Department, Herbits became a vocal proponent of Hillary Clinton and donated to her campaign. He was selected to serve on Clinton’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Task Force, a steering committee that recruited many of the most powerful LGBT citizens in the nation.
World Jewish Congress
Following his departure from the Defense Department in 2004, Herbits was brought into the World Jewish Congress by then President of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman Sr. because of public allegations that there were financial irregularities within the organization. Herbits was charged with the responsibility of “fixing [the] entity”, as he had done for Bronfman in other areas in the past. Shortly after Herbits arrived, the New York State Attorney General’s office opened up its own investigation into the financial irregularities. Herbits spent three years as the Secretary General of the WJC, its most senior staff position, working on the investigation, rebuilding the governance structure and financial controls of the organization, and strengthening the mission programs and operations of the World Jewish Congress. He eventually negotiated a satisfactory Assurance of Discontinuance with the New York State Attorney's office. Following the retirement of Edgar Bronfman, Sr. after 25 years as President, Herbits agreed to stay on for several months to assist in the transition of the incoming president as Secretary General of the WJC.
Herbits volunteered for Gay Men's Health Crisis (known as GMHC) during its early years in the 1980s, the foremost AIDS service organization in America. He then served as treasurer and was subsequently asked to take over as President of the Board of AIDS Action Council, the policy and lobbying organization representing the AIDS service organizations across the U.S. Herbits also served in a number of different capacities for several national, New York City and Miami AIDS organizations, such as the National Task Force on AIDS (1986).
Stephen Herbits was one of the original supporters of GLAAD in 1986-1987 and worked with organizations such as Save DADE (1999–2002) and a founding Board member and treasurer of Youth Expressions, Inc. (2000–2006). He has provided substantial pro bono planning and strategic advice to a wide range of LGBT organizations.
- Steve Rothaus (February 19, 2003). "Speaking Out Against Military's Anti-Gay Ban". The Miami Herald. pp. 4A, 5A.
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- Bob Woodward. The Commanders. London: Simon & Schuster, 1991. 72.
- Bob Woodward. State of Denial. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. 20.
- Joyce Howard Price. "Gay Pentagon Aide’s Naming Irks Right." The Washington Times. April 13, 2001. 2.
- Edgar Bronfman. The Making of a Jew. New York, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996. Page 74.
- Nicholas Faith. The Bronfmans. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. 208.
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- Hostein, Lisa; Berkman, Jacob (May 11, 2007). "Bronfman’s resignation shakes up World Jewish Congress". JWeekly. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
- Jenni Frazer. "Winds of Change" Jewish Chronicle. February 17, 2006. 33-34.
- Johnston et al., The Catastrophe Ahead. New York, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990. 1.
- Koymasky et al., Famous GLTB Biographies. Stephen Herbits. 2010. Accessed December 29, 2010. 1-2.