Even though it has been quite a few years now, I remember distinctly in college reading and discussing Tom Peters’ international bestseller “In Search of Excellence”. Peters and his co-author Robert Waterman were McKinsey consultants, and they based the book on their study of 43 of the best run companies in America. Ever since the book was published in 1982, Peters has been a loud and vocal voice for putting “People First” in the organization. As a moral compass for business, Peters quotes Richard Branson who said, “Business has to give people enriching, rewarding lives . . . or it’s simply not worth doing.” Peters believes that, “Organizations should first and foremost offer matchless opportunities for individual growth.” Interestingly, I recently read where Peters said, “I have shouted people first for 30-plus years, but the company that truly puts people first remains among the minority.”
William A. “Lex” Taylor III, CEO and chairman of Louisville-based The Taylor Group Inc., understands the importance of people in an organization. Taylor starting working in the family business, Taylor Machine Works, at the age of 15 and “learned all aspects of the heavy lift equipment industry before entering into the company’s management trainee program.” After earning his bachelor of science degree in general business from Mississippi State University in 1977, he worked as a systems coordinator and as the assistant to the president of manufacturing. In 1982, he was elected president, and in 2008, he was named Chairman of the Board.
Taylor shared that his father was one of the most significant influences on his leadership style. He said, “My father was a natural born leader.He had a unique way to lead; he saw the best in people and expected the best. He had faith in his people that they would complete a task.” Taylor went on to say that his father was not a micro-manager and did not look over people’s shoulders.“He gave them the opportunity to complete the assigned task, and he always strived to look for the positive in any situation,” Taylor said.
I noted that Taylor’s core leadership tenets all revolved around people. He believes in expecting the most of his team, but he does not give them tasks that he would not do himself. Like his father, he believes in empowering his team by giving them the end goal and letting them take the journey themselves. However, he does believe in accountability and expects his people to explain their outcomes. Taylor is a cheerleader for his employees and believes in “giving them support, advice, and encouragement to help them on the journey ahead.” Taylor also is transparent with his employees and strives to have full disclosure by “giving them the details and letting them know the consequences and rewards.” The Taylor Group’s commitment to employees is reflected in part of its mission statement – “We believe in providing our employees with a challenging and rewarding environment in which to grow and prosper.”
For future leaders, Taylor encourages them to, “Don’t hesitate to come in early to work or stay late — get the job done for your superiors. You will want this one day when you are a leader and have people working for you.” He also wisely encourages young leaders to “not assume anything.”He shared one of my favorite quotes by Ronald Reagan — “Trust but verify.”
As Peters noted, Taylor and his team’s approach to putting “People First” puts them in the minority of companies, but it has paid huge dividends. The company has grown from a small machine shop in 1927 to a world-wide organization that provides state-of-the-art engineering and manufacturing resources. The Taylor Group is truly a Mississippi success story, and I hope serves as a model for other ambitious entrepreneurs.
Up Close With William A. “Lex” Taylor III
Title: CEO and chairman, The Taylor Group Inc.
Current Book: “The House of Morgan” by Ron Chernow
First Job: ”In high school, I swept the receiving bay at the plant. “
Proudest Moment as a Leader: ”External to company — Representing our company as chairman of the AEM (Association of Equipment Manufacturers). Internal to company — The strategic decision to strive for excellence in every aspect of our company. “
Hobbies/Interests: ”Watching my children grow and be involved with their activities.”
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.