Jack Milton (L) and Bill Jordan (R) met with Tom Palazzi of Palazzi Corporation at the 1963 Construction Equipment Exposition in Chicago. Palazzi Corporation built much of I-89, I-93 and I-91 in northern New England.
Jack Milton passed away in Concord, Mass., on Feb. 28, 2015, after a brief illness.
Jack was born in 1928 in Bloomington, Ill., to Milt and Bernadine Milton. His father was a regional manager of Caterpillar and as such, he moved his family around a lot, so Jack and his sister, Jo, went to school in several areas. When Jack was in high school, his father left Caterpillar and became a partner in an International Harvester equipment dealership in the central and eastern New York area, and Jack started working for him in his free time.
Upon graduation, Jack entered Syracuse University where he met his wife-to-be, Laura Hanhausen, on their very first day, Freshman year. Jack graduated with a degree in Business Administration, but joked that what kept him in school and not back at the equipment dealership was his wife Laura working in concert with his father to keep him focused on his studies.
Jack’s service in the Army put his knowledge of equipment to use as he was assigned to procurement department, based out of the Washington, D.C., facility, focused on goods destined for the Korean War.
By the time Jack had finished his military service, his father had sold his interest in the International Harvester dealership for the chance to become part owner of a Caterpillar dealership, Perkins Milton, based in the Boston area, and Jack became a salesperson; his territory was the North Shore. He enjoyed his work and took particular pride in always doing for his customers what he said he would. With the early death of his father at 51, Jack’s family sold their interest in the dealership, but the strong impression he had made was not wasted — less than a few years went by before Jack received a call from Caterpillar about the opportunity to acquire a small dealership responsible for covering the Vermont and New Hampshire territory. There were 30 employees, little inventory, and one service truck, but Jack Milton had what he wanted, a stake alongside partner Bill Jordan in his own Cat dealership: Jordan Milton Machinery.
While the state highway project fueled early growth, its completion forced Jack and his company to be creative and persistent. Through innovative practices such as monthly rentals, the company gained a foothold. From the start, Jack kept it simple and straightforward — his management philosophy was to clearly communicate his vision, give employees the freedom and the tools to make decisions and do their job, and then stay out of the way. Employees said that Jack always stuck to these principles, and what allowed him to do so was that he never needed to be the one in the limelight.
As the company began to grow in the 1970s, Jack would stay connected by means of two untraditional activities — card games with employees in the cafeteria at lunchtime, and a daily walk of the service bays in the shop. The walks allowed him to stay in tune with the mechanics, understand what they were working on, what issues they were dealing with, and see how the company was serving the customer.
In 1982, the company purchased the Maine Caterpillar dealership, and in 1991, it merged with the Massachusetts, Rhode Island and eastern New York Caterpillar territories. In 2004 the upstate New York dealership was acquired and the company would be renamed Milton CAT. The company’s territorial border now stretched as far west as Buffalo, N.Y., and by this time the company’s products could be found everywhere work was occurring. From the logging camps of Maine, to the farms and underground salt mines of New York State, from solid waste landfills, paving projects and job sites of the largest regional contractors, to the back yard project performed by a one man operation. On the power systems side, Milton CAT engines power the region’s hospitals and back-up its data centers, propel passenger, pleasure craft and workboats, and power commuter and school buses, commuter rail trains, and on-highway trucks.
Milton CAT now has more than 1,000 employees, many with 20, 30 or even 40 years of service at the company. Its territory covers six states with 15 locations and it has been widely recognized by Caterpillar as being one of its top performing dealerships worldwide.
But this was not Jack’s plan.
Like many of his generation, he did not have a grandiose vision. He simply set out to do something he liked, and that he knew how to do, in order to provide for his family and to satisfy his need to be productive. He stuck to his principles, keeping things straightforward and uncluttered, and never losing the connection between his work and real life. He was a good judge of people; in over 50 years, rarely was he ever seen upset or shaken, not even in difficult times. And perhaps his greatest strength, again, like so many of his generational peers, was his ability to cut straight to the core of an issue.
As Jack grew older, he passed the reins of the company to his son Chris, but he still continued to be one of the first to arrive to work every day, right up until a few weeks prior to his death. He would add insight to senior staff meetings, or take over whatever task was needed in order to get things done. And he always would like it when an employee would come into his office with a story about how a customer was using a Cat product in a unique or highly-effective way — especially if they had some pictures. He possessed a great ability to analyze, critique, improve and appreciate and enjoy how the work of the company he founded affected the economy and the life of the region.
Work may have been Jack Milton’s passion, but he never stopped learning how to love other things. He was introduced to sailing while in his forties, and would go on to explore the coast of Maine or the islands of the Caribbean by boat well into his seventies. But nothing rivaled spending time with his family: his wife, his son and daughter and his four grandchildren. Sporting events, theater, family gatherings, or just driving them here or there, it did not matter; he enjoyed whatever time he had with them. As successful as Milton CAT has been over the last 55 years, even more so was the marriage that Jack began with Laura 65 years ago. In a recent ceremony where the Miltons made a contribution to Syracuse University, Laura Milton remarked, “We want to recognize what the university gave to us to progress to where we are today and have the ability to make contributions like these, and, we think it is a great gift to both of us that we met here.”
In addition to his wife, Laura Milton, Jack is survived by his sister, Jo Milton Williams; his daughter, Stacey Milton Leal; his son, Chris Milton; and four grandchildren.