Photo by J.R. Smith
(Note: Read our 2005 Glen Taylor interview here.)
Step into Glen Taylor’s corporate world and it’s nothing quite like you’d expect. Taylor Corporation is a huge, multi-national business and yet noticeably absent from its main lobby are what you’d expect from huge, multi-national corporations: trappings like fine Italian sculpture, rich oak furniture, luxurious leather chairs that swallow you when you sit in them and armed guards. None of that here. Instead, this lobby has simple accoutrements. Taylor Corp’s building is just two stories high. There’s only one receptionist. No valet parking. Instead of a multi-national corporation, this headquarters building has the down-to-earth feel of a downtown Mankato real estate office.
And that’s when Glen Taylor strides into the room, spreads a grin and shakes your hand, and makes you feel relaxed. His personality seems to match his headquarters building perfectly. That smile is infectious and he greets you like you’re a long-time friend. Absent is pretense and very apparent is a sincerity that radiates.
Many people perceive international corporate executives as overpaid sticks-in-the-mud who manipulate people for personal financial gain. But after talking with Glen Taylor for just five minutes, you just can’t imagine him treating people like that. His enthusiasm is infectious. He breaks all the stereotypes.
Connect: Thirty years ago, if someone had told you that you’d be sitting here today as President of Taylor Corporation and with over 8,000 employees under your wing, would you have believed them?
Taylor: No, I wouldn’t have visualized where I’m at today. Thirty years ago I would have known it would be in leadership, but I would have thought it would be in education. I assumed from my college days that I was going to be a teacher. If I didn’t end up being a teacher, I’d be a principal or a superintendent or in charge of something like that. So I had not visualized anything in business.
Connect: When you walk into work now, do you sometimes have trouble believing your success?
Taylor: It doesn’t hit you like that at work because it’s been so gradual. The company has grown every year since I’ve been here. I think when it hits me is when I’m away from work on a vacation. I may be reading something or looking at something and all of a sudden I’ll stop where I’m at and kind of see myself at that point I almost have to step outside of the setting and look at myself from the third party. There are two feelings. One feeling is pride, and good, and all that type of stuff. The other feeling is one of, I don’t want to use the word scared, but one of responsibility in the sense that I know that I’m responsible for a lot of people’s jobs and this and that. So you look at it and say, ‘Now you have this larger company, you have this, you want to make sure that you make the right decisions.’ I don’t think that I have any of those (thoughts) when I’m at work though. Then it’s just an ongoing process. And since it’s all been little steps, it just seems kind of natural.
Connect: When you started out in business, did you have a mentor or do you consider yourself a self-made man?
Taylor: I don’t have a mentor, per se, I think it’s better to say there’s a hundred mentors. Certainly Mr. Carlson, who was my first employer that I worked for as a student, mentored me in the sense of how he treated people, how he got along with people. But even before that, I worked for my dad and worked for other farmers. I think that I looked at them and saw that as a teenage boy some neighbor farmers treated you with more respect and more dignity as a worker than other ones did. I think in that sense every job I’ve had, and I started working in the seventh grade, in that sense every job every employer is a mentor. Then I would say that certainly each teacher almost each teacher was a mentor. The other mentors that I’ve taken a lot from are probably the successful people that I’ve read about. I can’t think of very many things that I have done that have been original. Most things that I’ve done have been things that I’ve read about or heard from other people that seem to be very smart or good things to do. And why not do those types of things? I haven’t funneled myself after any one individual because I think that I have to be myself, but yet I adopt the characteristics of others that have been proven through their growth.
Connect: What books do you read?
Taylor: Well, I read business magazines that have to do with other companies or individuals, those I have a large variety of.
Connect: You have to read them to stay competitive?
Taylor: Well, I do because I just like that. I get my hands on that type of thing. Certainly I read the papers, I read about three papers a day stuff like that to get little news articles. If there is a good novel, or if not a novel a biography on an individual, I’ll read that. Not as many of those types of things. Also, if I have an opportunity to listen to a good speaker or an individual that I think is very motivating, I’ll go and see them or listen to their tapes. So I think it’s just the variety. I spend a great deal of time every week reading about, I don’t want to say just companies that are successful, because I read about companies that are failures too. I think that you’ve got equal amounts to learn from why companies fail or why individuals have difficulty. I think that each of us is vulnerable to that at times and so you learn through others.
Connect: It seems like, instead of waiting for a mentor to come to you, you’ve gone out and created a lot of mentors, and not just from personal experience, but also reading about them.
Taylor: That would be an accurate statement, yes, of me sure.
Connect: When hiring an employee, what traits do you look for in the interview?
Taylor: That’s pretty easy for me because I’ve talked about it before. First of all, I say that I have to like them. Now you ask what does that mean? It just means something inside you when you walk across to an individual and you like them. That’s the most important thing. When I’ve given that talk, people would ask me, ‘Why would you do that?’ Well, it always occurs to me that I’m going to be working with this person the rest of my life. I want to work with people I like. But I start out with that broad category so if that person may have some mannerisms, or something, or some characteristics that they’re too quick, they tell an off-color story right away, they probably have eliminated themselves. After that I look for, you know, things that I would call, integrity or honesty if you can develop that out of an interview. But that’s the next most important. And then intelligence, I like being around people who are intelligent. And then the question is what do you mean by intelligence? To me it’s a different type of intelligence that’s called common sense intelligence. And I’m not sure that that’s equated to an I.Q. But it’s a person who uses good common sense, asks good questions, responds to you they just have a good, what I call common sense intelligence. It probably means the same thing as “I like them.” You’re asking, you’re having a conversation, you like the questions they ask, you look at them, you look at their eyes. Just like what we’re doing here. You’re asking questions, I’m getting to know you. By the end of this thing I’ll know if I like you or not like you. You know, I probably found out that I liked you because when I came in here you had a smile on your face, you look like you like your job. It’s those types of things in an interview that I use for hiring people. I don’t mind people with ego, a good ego, like I can do better, I want to do better, I want to take on more. I’m not saying that that has to be all, because there are all kinds of people. But if you’re talking about a person who wants to take a leadership role, then certainly they have to have an ego in the sense that they have to be positive about themselves, confident about themselves. That’s a nice ego to have, someone who’s proud, respectful of themselves, and they’re going to say, ‘Whatever job you give me I’m going to do it well.’ Those types of things. Appearance is important. Now I don’t have in mind what that appearance is, I mean a person could come looking all different ways, dressed in different ways, but whatever way they select, at least have it respectful.
Connect: What five adjectives describe Glen Taylor?
Taylor: I’m competitive. I’m a very competitive person. I could say that one thing. I don’t know that this is an adjective, but I like people. I don’t know how you’re going to say that, but whatever would mean that I enjoy or like people . . .
Taylor: Yeah, but it’s going the other way. I hope that people like me, I want them to like me, but I know that I start out by liking them. I love to be around people. I like to motivate people. I’m probably complex too. (laughter) I think that there’s one part of me that people see that is awful serious, but I think there’s another part of me that enjoys people, enjoys the fun, enjoys teasing them. I’m a big teaser.
Connect: You mean you’re human?
Taylor: Thank you. (laughter) I want you to use that as an adjective. (more laughter) I’ve never used that about myself, but if you . . . (even more laughter). He’s a human being. He’s a human. (laughter) I don’t think I’m doing very well here with these five adjective things.
Connect: Let’s shift gears for a second then. I imagine it has to be tough for you sometimes because of your success. People want to put you on a pedestal and think that you’re way up here when really Glen Taylor, in a way, is just like everyone else.
Taylor: I would say that the consistent thing that I see in my talks, and it’s very hard for me, is that some people shake or are scared when they come to me. But if I hear one thing that gets back to me they generally don’t tell me themselves but they’ll tell somebody else they’ll say, ‘Well, he’s just a regular guy. (laughter) That’s how I see myself because I don’t see myself as anything but that. I see myself as though I understand experience. And as you get older, you get into kind of a role, and you’ve done certain things that make people see you a little different. But I would say that my God-given gifts are probably motivating people, I’m very competitive, I like people. I have an appearance of being very driving, a very goal-oriented type of person. Underneath, I think just like everybody else, if you are all of those things, if you like people, you know that you’re a lot more tender, sensitive, than you show. I think you can’t have those characteristics if you aren’t very sensitive to issues. I’m very sensitive to people’s feelings; I’m very sensitive to family problems; I’m very sensitive to how people are going to react. I don’t think that’s one that you hold up and show people, but I think it’s a very important ingredient in making you, hopefully, a leader.
Connect: Sounds to me like you’d make a tremendous football coach.
Taylor: Oh, yeah. I’d have been a good coach. And my brother who is just like me is a coach and a very good one. I played sports, I was very fortunate to have played sports. And I have a teaching degree. I would say I am a good teacher. I’m a teacher here at work, I’m a teacher with my employees and there’s my Sunday School teaching. I do all those types. I enjoy it, I love it.
Connect: What was your teaching degree in?
Taylor: Math, physics, and all the social sciences. Everything except business.
Connect: Do you like being in the public eye?
Taylor: Yes and no. Certain parts of it I relish. I love the challenge of talking to groups, especially if there’s a question and answer session. I like it when people push you. If I go up to the college or talk to a student group they certainly ask me lots of questions. I love that. I want to know what their questions are; I want to know what I’m going to answer; I want to know what I’m going to say. To me, that’s very challenging.
Certain types of speeches I very much enjoy, and those would be the speeches in which you share experiences. I can do that with the Timberwolves. I don’t like so much to tell them all the stuff I’ve done because that’s just a factual thing. And it’s kind of like you’re being prideful or something. All I can tell them is what I’m going to do what I want to do. Because then they can be judgmental on that. I like to let people know ahead of time so I can answer their questions.
I think, egotistic-wise, and I have that, just the recognition in public is nice. I try to, as people recognize me, I try to recognize them back. To greet them, to talk. Sometimes I have to tell them it’s inconvenient, but I try not to do that. On the other hand I very much enjoy privacy and that’s when I get away from work and I go to my farm, I go to my garden, I go to my lawn, I go to things like that. There’s times that I very much like to do the quiet stuff.
Connect: We’ve heard you raise pigeons.
Taylor: Yeah. I have horses too, and I have all kinds of varieties of chickens. I have a little daughter and we read about pigeons, so I wanted to give them a try. We’re raising them, going through the whole process. They’re called “spinners.” And they only fly right above the farm place and they only come down where we can see them. They’re not like the racing ones. They’re tame ones. So we’re handling them. You can see the life cycle of a pigeon in a very short time. These pigeons mate; they both take care of the young. I use them for kids that come out there. You can show the kids, O.K., here’s the egg. It hatches. It’s the same thing each year. We incubate them in the house just for the kids to see how they do it. How they bond. How you feed them. How you do all those types of things. I watch nature, I watch nature programs, because I think you can learn. To me it’s interesting, I think you can learn about life and appreciate what God has given us through those observations. So the pigeons will do their thing for a few years and then we’ll move on to some other animal. (laughter)
Connect: Being in the limelight, I’d think you’d probably be sick of media people just waiting for you to make a mistake in saying something so they can blow it out of proportion.
Connect: And being a former politician you know this happens.
Taylor: Yeah, you’ve got to be very careful. I’m very open and honest about my answers, which is a tough one when you’re in politics. Because I would like to say, ‘this is the way it really is.’ And tell you why I can’t say yes or no. But in politics they want it yes or no. (laughter) They want it so simple, yet it isn’t so simple. It’s just like, well, it’s like the pro-life issue and pro-choice issue and how I kind of worked through that. You know I didn’t think about it until I got into politics, and people would ask, ‘What are you?’ Well, I know I’m pro-life, but when it comes to voting I’m not sure if it’s that simple that I can always vote just because of what I believe. I have to take into consideration the complexities of people’s backgrounds and other people’s situations. It’s easy to tell you where I’m going to come from because I know what’s inside of me. That was okay in the Senate, everyone accepted that, everybody in this district accepted that. They understood that’s where Glen was. He was there but he was going to listen to all sides of the issues. But if you’re going to run for governor, they want to know yes or no, what is the answer. Well, the answer is, it isn’t that simple. Life is more complicated than that. Everybody doesn’t live in Mankato, everybody isn’t white, and everybody isn’t my age, and everybody wasn’t brought up as I was brought up. When I sat down and talked to people I found out that pro-life and pro-choice people could both deal with me. They could say, ‘Okay I understand. You may not agree with us, but you listened to us.’ You didn’t have to always agree with them. What you had to do was to at least take their concerns into consideration because they knew that your vote was only one vote. You’re not going to vote with everybody on all issues at all times.
Connect: Any tips for someone starting their own business?
Taylor: If you’re starting in business, you don’t have to learn it all yourself. Most everything you are going to need, someone else has learned it for you. So don’t be afraid to ask questions of anyone. If they don’t want to respond to you, all they have to do is say politely, ‘No, I don’t have time or this or that.’ I think you’ll find out that most other people, successful people, are very eager and willing to share what they’ve learned in business. My sense is that, if you find yourself in a place of business, don’t be afraid to ask a banker, don’t be afraid to ask an insurance person, don’t be afraid to ask an engineer, don’t be afraid to ask a marketing person who has been successful, ‘What do they think?’ They may not know the answer but they may know the person that you should talk to. You don’t have a lot of money when you are starting in business, so get as much free advice as you can. What some people say is, ‘Advice is only as good as what you pay for it,’ but I don’t think so. I think you can get some very valuable advice by being very courteous. When you ask for advice and use it, don’t forget the thank yous. The little common sense things after you’ve finished talking. ‘I appreciated the time that you had.’ That may be so valuable because you might have another question a month from now or two months from now. That person will remember that thank you. When you’re in business and learning, ask and read. A lot of the information that you need to know is already in libraries, things that have already been discovered. It’s amazing to me how many people I have talked to that have figured out their whole business plan from library books or magazines. They’ve just gone and got the information that they needed or spoke to some teacher or somebody who has retired from business. People that have retired from business have very little to hide and they are eager to share. The other thing is to use common sense. Usually I found out in business that if you think you are going to get rich cheaply or without much investment, it isn’t going to work. All the schemes to get rich without a lot of effort, without a lot of risk, usually don’t work. If it takes a lot of work, plan on a lot of work. Risk is probably going to be there. Don’t risk so much that you are going to hurt your family, but be willing to risk your time, willing to risk a setback, just to get ahead. You might have to do that.
Don’t assume that there’s only one way to attack a problem. Some people think that there’s a right way and a wrong way. I have never come to that conclusion. I’ve generally found out that there are many wrong ways and there are many right ways. Get one of the right ways. Something that you can do and believe in. Sometimes people adopt a way that is not good for them personally. This person over here is very good at sales because they can establish a great rapport with people quickly. You may say that you’re going to become that type of person. Well, if you can’t, you can’t. So don’t try it. But if you’re persistent and if you’ll make more calls than the other people, then you can be very successful that way. So I found out there are many ways to be successful. Try to take things that adapt to what I call God-given gifts, the gifts that you have already been given. Use your strengths, accelerate your strengths, and then understand your weaknesses that is a strength. And then use other people to support your weakness, either by talking to them, getting their advice, or if you hire people, hire people in your areas of weakness and learn to rely on them.
©1997 Connect Business Magazine