Glen Taylor

I Saw Him Standing There

Mankatoan mentoring a 15,000-employee worldwide printing company that has enhanced the economic palette of southern Minnesota.

Photo by Jeff Silker

A Menard’s employee seven years ago sold Glen Taylor a lawn mower.

An elderly man saw Glen Taylor purchasing flowers at Hilltop Florist.

A married couple saw him eating lunch at The Peddler.

A hunter saw him bringing a deer into Vernon Center Market.

It seems that Greater Mankato has more “Glen” sightings than Memphis has Elvis. And nearly everyone has a favorite “Glen” yarn or gossip, however trivial—and this editor has heard dozens. Taylor is our southern Minnesota conversation piece, a permanent fixture on our cultural coffee table along with lefse and Scandinavian cookies.


Why?

For one, he has been for 30 years the dynamic piston of North Mankato-based Taylor Corporation, which has evolved into a 95-company, 15,000-employee, worldwide, printing-related megacorp. Even today he’s partially responsible for the well being of more than 4,000 southern Minnesotans working at 20 companies. For another, southern Minnesota doesn’t have that many astoundingly successful entrepreneurs owning a majority stake in the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, the attention he receives often gets in the way.

In a 1996 Connect Business Magazine interview, Taylor said that people meeting him for the first time often show fear or nerves or both—a few shake visibly. This bothers Taylor greatly—really. He’s the type of person who enjoys personal relationships and goes out of his way to make people feel comfortable. After all, this is a man who wants employees calling him “Glen” instead of “Mr. Taylor.”

Perhaps because so many people talk as if he is beyond mortal, every now and then you can catch Taylor in private conversation referring to himself in the third person as “Glen Taylor” instead of “I.” This editor did. It’s as if after all these years he still has trouble reconciling that Glen in the public eye with the real one.

Face to face though, Taylor isn’t that Glen, but a transparent, giving, and welcoming out-state Minnesotan with his heart not far from his hometown of Comfrey, Minn. It would be better if all the sightings, yarns and gossip could yield to the reality of a rather common man.

In a 1989 Star Tribune interview, you said that Taylor Corporation very rarely had to borrow money. You said then, “We’re pretty conservative. Our only borrowing has been industrial revenue bonds for buildings. Our growth has been held to what our cash flow can support.” Is this still true?

It’s still basically true, but because we are larger now we have made an exception involving acquisitions. We probably have the cash to purchase a new business ourselves. But instead, we might put in 40 percent equity and have the acquisition company borrow 60 percent over a number of years. The acquisition then is responsible for paying back that 60 percent debt. We have found this approach has worked out better for us—as opposed to our putting in 100 percent equity and giving the company no responsibility to pay for itself. It isn’t a necessity to do it this way, but rather we have found this approach to be a good management tool.

Basically though, our financial philosophy is very much the same as in 1989. Our level of borrowing is very low. If any loans aren’t paid back by any of our acquired companies, Taylor Corporation could easily pay them back.

The purpose of our company is to provide opportunity and security for our employees. Our low level of borrowing has much to do with the company’s security. I have seen so many companies wanting to grow very fast that borrow way too much money. You see that today on some highly leveraged deals. You have to strike a balance between the stockholders and employees. Though the borrowing may appear to help the stockholders, it could be devastating to the employees if the company doesn’t financially make it and they all lose their jobs. We have always tried to keep that balance.

Is Taylor Corporation still involved in banking? If not, why?

We are no longer involved in banking. In the past we had opportunities to purchase a number of banks. Being in banking was a good lesson for us, and a good business. In charge of ours I had Dick Voelz, a good friend and former president of Valley Bank. Dick came upon a rare illness that over time made it impossible for him to continue doing his job. At the same time he had the medical problem, another good friend of mine that had also purchased independent banks, Dennis Frandsen, asked about buying them. He was a Minnesotan and also had outstate banks. I thought selling to him was the right thing.

What percentage of Taylor Corporation revenues is in the printing industry?

We don’t precisely keep track of our businesses that way. However, I would say a fairly accurate figure is two-thirds of our sales are directly printing related. The other one-third comes from our marketing expertise or other products we sell alongside our printing. For example, in our “school” business, we may sell graduation announcements, which are printing related. But we also sell frames for pictures and other graduation items. We also sell printed gift cards. And we are one of the larger imprinters of pens and pencils. Though some of our products are printed, they aren’t necessarily paper products.

Your number of employees and divisions?

Brad Schreier is our new chief executive officer and Jean Taylor our new president. They have changed the company’s structure by linking together “groups” or “divisions” of companies, with each group having about seven companies. So we still have about [the same number of] individual companies, but the structure now isn’t as simple as when I was CEO, when I almost always had a president from each business reporting directly to me. Our employee count has been steady for a number of years, right around 15,000.

Clyde Mills used to be your plant manager at McPherson’s—your first plant acquisition outside Minnesota, in Indiana in 1975. You personally hired him in 1978 and he worked for you eleven years. He told me recently that he joined Taylor Corporation primarily because it seemed then a fair and ethically minded company. What makes a printing company, or any company, fair and ethically minded?

First of all, Clyde Mills’ son Darryl is now the General Manager of that company. For Clyde, I think that comment means that he knew that I trusted him to run his own plant. He was a very experienced manager. I think he defines fair-minded as meaning we give our managers a lot of freedom to interpret how to manage the employees in their own communities. It isn’t that Glen Taylor has one strict set of rules of what is fair and consistent throughout the company. It’s more that I trust a leader from that area who knows what needs to be done with that employee group. That manager knows what would be fair for that area.

McPherson’s is in a very small town in southern Indiana. I believe Clyde’s and my interpretation is that I trusted Clyde to make decisions that would be fair to that employee group. I gave him some flexibility within agreed-upon parameters. The results were very good in that plant, a very profitable plant. The employees liked Clyde and the company. But there isn’t one set of rules that has worked at every one of our companies. What Clyde interpreted as fair wouldn’t necessarily be the same as what another general manager interpreted.

It’s like you, Daniel, if you were a plant manager, saying what you think is right and wrong in the workplace. You and I might do things a little differently at our different plants. But there is no reason to think that we both wouldn’t be doing it fairly and right. Because we each best know our particular people and environment.

Clyde Mills also told me that he helped “Taylorize” that plant, meaning it was molded to fit the Taylor Corp. model for success. He said that “Taylorizing” mainly involved improving the company’s work ethic. Can you give specific examples of ways you do this?

That’s an easy question to answer. Basically, after a new acquisition, we have high expectations of our new employee group. We say to them, “I believe in you. I believe that you are hard working. I value your ideas, so please submit them. I value your teamwork. We will do everything we can to make the team work better.”

To “Taylorize” means…

You’ve heard the term.

Yes, right. Let me give you the opposite example. Management groups in some companies look down on their employees and have very low expectations of them. They do not believe their employees are good workers earning their pay. The employees feel that disrespect and return fairly low results.

We start out by saying we value your decisions and ideas. It starts out with high expectations. I have high expectations of everyone around me. Sometimes I feel let down when a person doesn’t work out. We part ways because they don’t want to meet those high expectations.

In 1987, Corporate Report magazine named you its “Executive of the Year.” You said then you were “most proud” as a state senator of having sponsored and carried a bill to establish engineering schools at UMD, St. Cloud, and MSU. Do you still consider that your greatest achievement in your years as a state senator?

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I would change that a little bit. I might say instead that I was most proud of representing outstate Minnesota—and my work with education was just one part of that. Instead of referring to one project now, I would say there were numerous projects in which I defended and represented the Mankato area and outstate in education and business development. I have a feeling now that fellow senators from both parties gave me their greatest respect because they saw my leadership not focusing on any individual subject or cause—or even my own district. I stood up for things that I thought were right for our state. Growing up in rural Minnesota—and by that I mean everything that isn’t Minneapolis and St. Paul—I wanted to make sure that people in rural areas were represented in St. Paul. I felt that sometimes they weren’t, primarily because of the distance.

In that same Corporate Report article, Brad Schreier, now Taylor Corporation chief executive officer, said, “[Glen Taylor] picked people (as executives) who were younger and willing to make some sacrifices, from small towns, and with not a lot of formal education. He looked for a strong work ethic.” Why hire people using that template?

When looking back at the group of executives I hired initially, many of them were the first generation of their families to attend college. I didn’t think about it at that time. But many were. Their parents had high expectations of them.

They were like you.

Certainly I recognize them as people like myself. Their parents had high expectations of them, and wanted them to receive a higher education. In general, these were hard-working people trying to get ahead. They realized that getting ahead meant some sacrifice and time commitment on their part. It meant sacrifice because they weren’t guaranteed immediately that they would be financially rewarded for hard work. They would have to invest themselves into a company having to grow for them to receive all the rewards they wanted. It worked out terrifically for everyone. But they took risk in doing it.

Do you still use that template?

It’s different today. Our company now has a successful history. We no longer have to say that working for Taylor Corporation is a big risk because we are seen as a mature company with significant assets.

Also, it has been more difficult finding those types of people. Younger people today want to be rewarded much more quickly for work. They don’t want to always have to wait to be rewarded. I’m not saying we don’t find people like that, we do; but just not as many. We have been trying to find ways to recruit, reward and retain long term that same type of good, hard-working, intelligent person. We are doing it differently than in the past. You have to give potential employees now a formal presentation and package, one they can read. In the past we hired just on my handshake.

What would be the pros and cons of moving your headquarters to the Twin Cities?

The pros? Companies move to larger cities because of being able to draw upon a large, skilled workforce. That’s one potential benefit. Though it’s more difficult to find certain skilled employees in Mankato, the reason we choose to stay is that once we find them, they are more committed to staying. We have the feeling they stay with us a longer period of time. Today, we are finding people willing to move to Mankato. With some, working for us means coming home. They grew up in southern Minnesota and want to live in Mankato or a neighboring community. With others, working for us means leaving the big city to raise their children in a better environment. We are able to recruit very good people from all over the country. I believe they like working here because they still have the opportunity to work for a large company that gives them the tools…

…opportunity and security.

Yes. On the other hand, we miss out on hiring some potential employees. They want to live the suburban lifestyle, but yet they are fine people with specialized and other skills. Because of their position, some of our employees need to fly often. We have made accommodations to attract and retain some of those people. We have a Twin Cities office.

In your 1989 Star Tribune interview, you said, “My strengths are in attracting, keeping and motivating people.” What are your weaknesses?

Having so many, I don’t know where to start. (Laughter.) I think that sometimes a person’s strength is also their weakness. I’m attracted to good people. I probably stay longer than I should with some people that just aren’t working out. I have made mistakes in this area. I have trusted a person or wanted them to improve. I let the side of me that cares about people—I have stayed with some people too long. Doing this hasn’t necessarily been good for our company or for the person. This is a weakness I have. It’s a tough one to have, because when it does pay off staying with someone, it is so rewarding.

On to the Minnesota Timberwolves: You have said publicly that the makeup of your team’s roster the last two seasons was a “failed experiment.” Most people would consider having a consistently winning team and being only one game away from the NBA Finals, which you were two seasons ago, a major success. Are you setting your standards too high?

I’m setting my standards high. I don’t believe too high. We went out and attracted some veteran players to our team. We didn’t do that for just one season. Our goal was to have three good seasons. Instead, we had one good and one fair.

Some people would say that ‘fair’ is being generous to last year.

Compared to other teams, we were right in the middle. But with our talent, we were so far below what I’d expected. Taking everything into consideration, I call it a failure. The second year I expected us to be one of the top four teams. We weren’t there. Without being critical of any one individual—collectively, team-wise, coaching, staff, myself included—the season’s outcome wasn’t anywhere near expectations. When things work out, everyone is willing to take credit. When it doesn’t, I think a person should be realistic and just say it up front. The season didn’t meet our expectations. We are displeased and embarrassed. We are going to make changes.

In at least one past interview, you said that Taylor Corporation really began growing when you became less hands-on and let people under you do their jobs. Has it been more difficult to be hands-off with the Minnesota Timberwolves than with Taylor Corporation?

No. With the Timberwolves, I have people that know the business better than me. They have been in the business their whole lives. I’m coming into professional basketball later in my life. I have known it my entire life as a fan, but not as a business. Yet I have been fairly involved with nearly all the people in the business and basketball sides, encouraging them to take risks and have high expectations. I am close to the team in that regard. But I’ve always allowed the people I’ve put in place to produce their own plans—and then I approve them. Then I sit back and say, “Together we’ll both take credit or criticism for the results.”

To help move the Timberwolves to the next level, what do you think new coach Dwane Casey brings to the table?

When interviewing for coaches, we were looking for a skill set that included being able to communicate well with players. Also, looking at our league, I thought we needed more of a teacher. Our players are younger. The NBA has changed. We used to have more players that spent four years at a university. In most cases there they had very good coaches—teachers. We’re seeing now that many of our younger players in the league are athletic, but often don’t have the skill set needed to win.

Also, over the last two years we have been better offensively than defensively. It’s important that we get back our former defensive integrity. We have good offensive players, but we need them to play better defense. Either we have to change the scheme or teach them better. We expect them to play better team defense.

When interviewing, we thought Coach Casey met our criteria better than anyone. The difference between he and just about everyone else interviewed, was that he hadn’t been an NBA head coach. It would be correct saying that I’m taking a risk hiring him. But I’ve always been a risk taker in looking for the right person. Coach Casey shared with us his philosophy, what he wanted to do, his intensity, and his expectations. We are betting that he can carry through on that.

Taylor Corporation has given quite a bit to the Mankato area by providing employment for more than 4,000 people. Does it irk you a bit when people imply that you should always be giving “something back” to your community—as if those 4,000 jobs meant nothing?

No, it doesn’t bother me. I know that we at Taylor Corporation work hard and pay our share of taxes. We also provide jobs. But Taylor Corporation is also involved in the community, working with the “Y,” our education systems, youth, or disadvantaged people. I think it’s part of leadership to go above and beyond. I would like to see more companies and their leaders do that. Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I see U.S. companies not giving back to their communities. A “community” could be a disadvantaged group of people or it could be a city, such as Mankato. I have always encouraged our staff to take a portion of our profits and look for ways to give back and help in ways having nothing to do with our business.

In 1962, Bill Carlson paid you $4,200 a year to stay on and be his full-time manager at what would become Carlson Craft. In what ways are you the same Glen as then? In what ways are you different?

In many ways I’m still the same Glen that Mr. Carlson hired. I love working with people. That hasn’t changed. I thoroughly enjoy helping and teaching. I had my teaching degree then and I still like teaching today. I am challenged by any challenge. I don’t have to know the answer to a challenge in order to begin solving it. Mr. Carlson certainly gave me lots of opportunities with challenges, and he had high expectations.

The difference between me of today and of 1962 is that I certainly was more idealistic then. I thought I could shape other people’s lives and get them to do things just because I thought those things were right. Experience has shown me that a lot of really good people just don’t see things the same way as me. It doesn’t make them better or worse, just different. For instance, it took me a while to understand why everybody didn’t want to work as hard as I did. Or why everybody didn’t want to tackle difficult problems. I now realize that those differences are what make this world great. People have different personalities and gifts. Experience has told me to accept those people with their God-given gifts—rather than trying to make them into what I would like to see in them.

Former Timberwolves player Fred Hoiberg recently had a heart operation—and doctors told him he easily could have died suddenly while playing basketball last season. Your friend and former business partner Al Fallenstein died suddenly in an automobile accident. One day you too will pass on—perhaps suddenly. How would you like people to remember you?

Probably as a person making a difference—or a friend making a difference by intermingling with another person’s life to somehow accomplish something good together. “Something good” could be described in lots of ways, such as making life easier, or more enjoyable, challenging or interesting. People have changed my life and I have changed others. That is what keeps you going.

I like it when people call me “Glen” rather than “Mr. Taylor.”

People often ask why I haven’t retired. Yes, it’s true I’m pulling away from work and have turned over responsibility to others, which was the right and best thing to do. But I haven’t retired because working with and helping people is what’s important in my life. Though not so much directing, I’m spending a lot more time now than in the past mentoring people. It’s not that I’m directing them or telling them what to do. What I do now mostly involves listening and offering suggestions. That’s a rewarding experience.

Getting To Know You: Glen Taylor

Born: April 10, 1941

Education: Comfrey High School 1959; Mankato State University BS 1962

Government involvement: Minnesota Senate 1981-90 and Senate Minority Leader 1984-86.

National Basketball Association involvement: Reached an agreement to purchase the Minnesota Timberwolves on August 5, 1994.

Present or former community, state and international involvement: Mankato YMCA president; MSU Foundation board member; Chamber of Commerce director; Mankato Jaycees president; United Way campaign chairman; Minnesota Business Partnership director; Greater Minnesota Corporation director; International Thermographers Association president; appointed by Governor Arne Carlson to the Commission on Reform and Efficiency, committee chair.

Out In The Field

“I find one of Glen Taylor’s finest attributes to be his interest in people. I learned this in 1979 while performing a routine task of counting shop rags to verify against the quantity invoiced. Glen was visiting McPherson’s and as I was going about my duty he approached and immediately began expressing his gratitude for the job I was doing. He helped me realize that every job is of value to the company. The words he shared made me feel good about my contribution rather than embarrassed about performing that particular task. He gave an 18-year-old kid new understanding of the importance of his job; he validated my worth to the company. Twenty-six years later I am pleased to say that this first encounter with Glen greatly influenced my interest to stay on with Taylor Corporation. Today, as I provide leadership to others, I do so remembering the value of that encounter. Glen Taylor is a successful entrepreneur, but more importantly, he is a great investor in people.” —General Manager Darryl Mills of McPherson’s in Sunman, Indiana, which in 1975 was the first Taylor Corporation acquisition outside Minnesota. (From a July 2005 telephone interview.)

© 2005 Connect Business Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Daniel Vance

Daniel Vance

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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