Glen Taylor: Soul of a billionaire

  • Article by: TERRY FIEDLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 1998 - 3:51 PM

Well-connected, well-liked and well off, Glen Taylor strives to balance the forces of ego, intellect and power that have made him, by some measures, Minnesota's richest man.

Glen Taylor
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Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Though he has many fond childhood memories, Glen Taylor also remembers the harsh realities.

He recalls one supper when he was in his teens. For the third consecutive night, his mother had made noodles, just noodles. Times were tough, and she had nothing else to offer.

Her five boys knew the circumstances, Taylor says, but they were in a mood to tease their mother about the food, and they made her cry.

Sitting in his office in North Mankato, Minn., Taylor, the billionaire owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, is suddenly quiet. Tears roll down his face.

He is still angry, some 40 years after that night, that he and his brothers were so insensitive that they caused their mother to cry.

The scene in Taylor's office is extraordinary, but so are Taylor's sensibilities. Amid the mega-deals and self-aggrandizing of business in the '90s, Taylor talks of suppressing his ego and keeping his priority on people and relationships rather than money.

In fact, he says the most important decision of the past few years had to do with the custody of his youngest daughter - not the rich contract of the Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett.

"I think it's important to talk to your inner thing," Taylor said. "The purpose is to go over the decisions that will affect my life and others. I pray that I don't make my decisions based on ego."

Glen Taylor's decisions promise to shape Minnesota's economy for years to come. At 57, he is the youngest and, by some measures, the richest billionaire in Minnesota. His interest in professional
sports - a side business, really - has kept one team in Minnesota, and he may be the only person who can keep the Twins in town.

That's because Taylor is more than just rich. A former state Senate minority leader, Taylor also is politically astute and connected. Longtime political analyst D.J. Leary says the only figure who comes close to Taylor's combination of clout and business acumen in the past 50 years is former governor and H.B. Fuller President Elmer Andersen.

Taylor is no carpetbagger. The kid who played basketball in a barn loft in southern Minnesota now owns the National Basketball Association team that just completed its best regular season and is
in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The graduate of Mankato State University (MSU) may be the state's most influential citizen.

"He is a dreamer," said Richard (Pinky) McNamara, a long-time friend and limited partner in the Timberwolves. "You try to execute it later, but first you have to have the ability to dream it."

Jon Miner, whose printing companies have competed with Taylor's for 17 years, has studied the man carefully.

"Glen keeps preparing himself," Miner said. "He's got a clean mouth. He's a good leader, and he's a real person."

Made in Mankato

Like the Minnesota River, Taylor's wealth flows from the Mankato area. His companies have 3,300 full- and part-time employees there, most of them in North Mankato, a city of 11,000.

Taylor lives in Mankato, where he often can be found working on his flower garden and lawn. Taylor also owns a farm 6 miles away, where he keeps horses.

The second of seven children, Taylor grew up on a 160-acre dairy farm near Comfrey, the town 60 miles west of Mankato that was devastated by a tornado this spring.

All five Taylor brothers shared a bedroom and a passion for sports. Many nights the brothers flipped on the lights in the barn loft, where they had arranged a basketball court.

Larry Taylor, an executive at Taylor Corp., recalled that ball handling was a little tricky because the loft's floorboards were uneven.

The family struggled financially, but "we didn't really feel poor,"  Glen Taylor said. "You don't know that as a kid, but we really didn't have any cash. When machinery broke down, we didn't have money for parts, so we did our best to fix it."

Even into high school, though, "I thought I might like to farm.

But I didn't know the economics of it. Teachers basically steered me away from it."

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Glen Taylor