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."

When the family sold the farm in later years, all of the proceeds went to pay the bank.

Student-athlete

Like his mother, Taylor was a good student, the salutatorian of his 42-person class at Comfrey High School, which had about 200 total students in four grades.

Like his father, he was a good athlete. He ran track, played baseball and was the starting quarterback on the football team and a starting guard in basketball. At about 5-11, 165 pounds, his current height and weight, he had to rely on quickness.

Taylor's participation in high school sports ended prematurely.

Taylor's girlfriend, Glenda, who lived on a neighboring farm, became pregnant. Just 16 and juniors in high school, they decided to get married and live with Taylor's parents. Taylor hired himself
out to a neighboring farmer to earn more money, in addition to helping his father at home.

Hearing the news of the couple's marriage, the Comfrey High School principal expelled Taylor.

"He was afraid that I would set a bad example," Taylor said. "As he put it, he `didn't want anyone to think that this was the right thing.' "

Taylor says teachers appealed on his behalf, and after a two-week expulsion, he was allowed to return to school - on the condition that he could no longer participate in extracurricular activities. He missed most of his junior year in basketball and then spring sports, and he would not play any sports in his senior year.

As further punishment, the principal tried to keep Taylor from speaking at commencement, as he was scheduled to do. Teachers intervened again, and he gave the speech.

Getting a start

Three days after he graduated from high school in 1959, Taylor came to Mankato to look for a job to support his family and his schooling. He applied to be a clerk at a hotel and to work at a
drugstore. Then his brother suggested he apply at a print shop run by a man named Bill Carlson. He was hired on the spot.

"I wasn't excited about working at a printing company; I was excited about making a dollar an hour," Taylor said.

Life was hectic as a father, a student and an employee, but by this time Taylor already had learned to be a good "outliner," he says. By quickly sorting out the most important concepts from the
least in lectures, he was able to take notes and complete his homework during class, as he had in the last years of high school.

Taylor, who studied math and physics and expected to teach, took pleasure in solving complex problems. In college, he made sure he got his bills paid within his budget by cashing his check each week and dividing the money into the envelopes that represented the amount needed to meet monthly expenses. If he overspent in one area, he had to borrow from another envelope.

Taylor brought his analytical and organizational skills to what's now known as Carlson Craft, a business that generated annual sales of about $150,000 printing wedding invitations, among other
jobs.

Back then, most printers regarded wedding invitations as a low-volume, time-intensive nuisance. To make things more convenient for themselves, they limited selection. You could get invitations
printed with black ink on ivory or white paper. That was it.

There were also just two main formats of text - one for Protestants and one for Catholics. The printers also took their own sweet time finishing the jobs.

Taylor, who joined the company full time in 1962 after graduating a year early, had no preconceived notions. "A lot of my competitors were in their 50s and saying, `This is the way it should be done.' I was young and listened to other young people."

Mankato State students told him what they wanted and, by 1964, he was beginning to put the ideas into print. In time, Carlson Craft offered different colors of paper and ink, and different wording,
such as lines from poems.

Then Taylor cut the delivery time by scheduling and configuring things so that the invitations could be run as soon as they came in.

"It seems so obvious now. But other people were printers, while we were people getting the bride what she wanted," Taylor said.

But Taylor needed another innovation before he could buy the company in which he had invested so much energy.

Around 1966, Taylor devised a plan to become a millionaire. Wealth of any magnitude came through ownership, he thought, so he had to persuade his boss to sell him a part of the business. Before that, though, he had to find a way to get some money to buy that  stake.

Taylor asked if Carlson would share some of the profits if
Taylor could boost business far above expectations without any
additional costs. Carlson was skeptical but agreed.

Taylor then put his farm-boy handiness to work. Taking old
parts from a car, a heating element from a stove and a tube from a
TV, he rebuilt a stamping press so that it could put a design and a
name on a napkin in one step, rather than two.

Taylor's innovation saved about a penny per napkin. And that
penny a napkin bankrolled a billion-dollar fortune.

Striking a deal

Within eight years, Taylor had saved enough to confidently
strike a deal for majority ownership. Taylor says he agreed to pay
"more than $1 million" for a business with about $5 million in
annual revenue. Bill Carlson agreed to let Taylor pay him, with
interest, over 12 years. Taylor would pay him off in 10.

Taylor made the first of what would be many acquisitions in
August 1975, when he bought McPherson's, a struggling wedding
invitations company in Indiana with less than $1 million in annual
sales.

Taylor kept the McPherson's name and got the seller to provide
financing. In most cases thereafter, he purchased companies with
Taylor Corp. cash.

"I remember my uncle saying that life is good when you have
your house paid for," Taylor said. "You just didn't have debt."

Taylor generally retained management while providing new
investment and new ideas.

Because Taylor Corp. operates under the names of the businesses
it acquires, the company is something of an enigma.

"I can tell you that prior to the sale of the company, I had
never heard of Taylor Corp.," said Steven Singer, whose family sold
Amsterdam Printing in Amsterdam, N.Y., to Taylor in 1996. "I had
heard of some of his individual companies, and I was surprised and
impressed as I found out more and more."

Taylor Corp. also opened its own plants in Texas, California
and New Jersey during the 1970s and, by the 1980s, the company had
plants nationwide.

To get those far-flung facilities off the ground, Taylor
exported Mankato State graduates, many of whom had come through the
ranks as part-time college workers. Many of the company's senior
executives are MSU alumni.

Taylor says that he can relate to Mankato State grads and that
he trusts them. "They went to school at MSU because the cost was
low. Their families didn't come from money. They all had to work
their way through school, and many were getting good grades doing
it."

When it comes to people, Taylor says, he can be an "impulse"
buyer. "I'm a mathematician by education, but I have this other
thing. A gut instinct."

His instincts have built a company with some 70 operating
divisions in 17 states, three Canadian provinces and five other
countries. Taylor Corp. is by far the largest wedding invitation
printer in the country, with 50 percent of the total market and an
estimated 90 percent of the formal invitation market, which carries
the highest margins, according to Harris DeWese of Compass Capital
Advisors.

Taylor Corp. also dominates the national printing market for
company stationery, W-2 forms and business cards. It's the leading
printer of customized Post-it Notes in the country. Taylor Corp. not
only directly supplies IBM's stationery and American Express'
business cards, it's the behind-the-scenes provider of printing
services offered by Office Depot and Staples.

Taylor Corp. is the 12th-largest U.S. printing company,
according to American Printer magazine. Though dwarfed by giants
such as R.R. Donnelley in Chicago, which prints magazines and
catalogs, Taylor Corp. has higher profit margins, Taylor says.

Paper power

How rich is Glen Taylor today? When Forbes magazine researchers
estimated Taylor's worth for an October issue, they didn't bother
calculating the value of his majority share of the Timberwolves, or
of his stake in his bank company, or of his miscellaneous holdings
such as 6,000 acres of farmland in southern Minnesota and northern
Iowa. They're pocket change compared to the value of Taylor's 89
percent ownership of Taylor Corp.

Its 12,000 full- and part-time employees - 5,000 of them in
Minnesota - generate annual sales of about $900 million, according
to estimates. Taylor won't confirm the sales other than to say, "you
wouldn't be embarrassed by that figure."

Based on other recent company sales and other factors, Forbes
estimated the worth of Taylor's share in the company at $1 billion.
Taylor emphasizes that the value is hypothetical, that his
company is not for sale. In any case, the magazine ranked Taylor as
the fourth-richest Minnesotan, behind Cargill Inc. heir Jim Cargill,
net worth $1.5 billion; and 80-something entrepreneurs Curt Carlson,
$1.4 billion; and Carl Pohlad, $1.3 billion.

Since that time, Wall Street's love of printing companies has
grown stronger - and Taylor's company has become even more valuable.

Using the estimates of DeWese, who consults on printing company
deals nationally with Compass Capital Advisors in Radnor, Pa., and a
revenue figure of $900 million, Taylor Corp. could be worth $2
billion, after subtracting its relatively modest corporate debt.
That would value Taylor's ownership interest at $1.78 billion,
making him the richest Minnesotan.

Not union made

Taylor says the mission of the company remains the same - to
promote "security and opportunity" for employees, something he
thinks is best done in a non-union environment.

Joyce Hurley, president of Local 1-B of the Graphics
Communications International Union, calls Taylor "an astute
businessman" who is "ruthless to a degree." She notes that his
investment in Golden Valley-based Heinrich Envelope Corp. in 1976
kept the company afloat. But she takes Taylor to task for what she
regards as brass-knuckle tactics.

Heinrich workers got a take-it or leave-it offer in 1988 that
included no overtime pay, reduction of vacation days and medical
co-payments workers hadn't had previously, she says. For four years,
employees worked under "implemented conditions" of the contract,
while Taylor hired more employees who supported his position.

Finally, in 1992, the union was decertified.

Hurley also points to the $620,000 settlement early in 1996 of
two sexual-discrimination suits brought by 40 past and present
employees against Heinrich, in which the company also agreed to pay
the women's legal fees of nearly $900,000.

"Glen lets the managers of his plants be autonomous, and he can
become blind to what they are trying to do sometimes," Hurley
said.

Political life

Over the years Taylor has taken on challenges outside of the
business world.

He had never been to a caucus meeting when he was recruited to
run for state senator. He took the seat in 1981 and served as Senate
minority leader from 1984 through 1986.

"The Jaycees encouraged me to run. It was a very non-political
thing, but I ran as a Republican," he said. "My goals weren't
thought out, other than to provide some service and challenge myself
to learn new things."

The experience was formative. "I was a farm boy, and it
broadened me. I got a bigger picture of society. You saw citizens
who, through no fault of their own, are having problems. It was also
confidence building, being in a bigger arena."

Taylor was well-regarded in both parties. "Glen was there when
you had a Democratic governor and two houses controlled by
Democrats," political analyst D.J. Leary said. "To get things
done, you had to find a way to work with them. In the Legislature,
there are work horses and show horses. Glen Taylor was a work
horse."

Among his interests were education and child care. Taylor Corp.
was one of the first companies in the state to open a company
subsidized and operated day-care center.

Taylor's political interest turned out to be good for
business. Externally, he got to know members of both parties and
senior executives of companies such as 3M Co. Internally, other
managers who once waited for Taylor to return from his 3 1/2 days a
week in the Senate to get his decisions "in the end made their own,
and everybody got stronger," said Al Fallenstein, executive vice
president of Taylor Corp.

Yet Taylor paid a huge price for the time away from his
family.

He was building toward a run for governor in 1990, but "my
marriage was falling apart," Taylor said. "My wife [Glenda] said she
would support my decision [to run], but I decided not to do that."

Glenda Taylor, through her daughter Jean, declined to
comment.

Taylor says it was "too late" when he started to pay attention
to the relationship. He calls the neglect of his marriage - the
couple had been separated since the mid-'80s, Taylor says - "the
worst misstep" of his life. "The one downfall about the Senate is
that it keeps you away from your family. Two people can grow
apart."

Relations were strained with the couple's four children. The
matter was especially taxing because Taylor's political position -
and, it turned out, his wealth - made the breakup so public.

Until that time, people at the Capitol thought Taylor wasn't
anything more than the owner of a small printing company near
Mankato. His colleagues were educated by reports of Taylor's
personally negotiated divorce settlement in October 1990, which
included $10 million in payments and transfer of some real estate
and portions of business holdings to Glenda Taylor.

On the basis of comments by Glenda Taylor's lawyer at the time,
it was easy to extrapolate that Glen Taylor was worth hundreds of
millions of dollars.

Changing course

Taylor left politics the same year he divorced. "I got back to
my family and back to work," he said.

There were other matters to settle, including a decision he
says was the most important of the last few years. He had a daughter
out of wedlock during his separation, and he prayed for guidance
about "his little girl, whether it was healthy to help her, other
than financially, if I'm not committed to marriage."

After praying, "I decided I wanted to be involved." He calls
his daughter, Kendahl, "an inspiration. She is a wonderful girl."

He now shares custody of the 10-year-old daughter with her
mother, who prefers that neither her daughter's last name nor her
name be used.

Taylor and his youngest daughter often attend Timberwolves
games, as do other family members. Three sons-in-law are team
executives; Glenda Taylor is a limited partner in the team.

"We're friends," Taylor said of his ex-wife. "She's a super
lady. So much of the family is involved, I asked her if she'd like
to be."

He adds, with a laugh, "I knew how much money she had."

Money and ego

Taylor makes multimillion-dollar decisions as frequently as
other people make lunch appointments. As a result, when he sold his
North Mankato-based bank holding company in March, personally
pocketing as much as $50 million, the news barely made a ripple.

But two spending decisions announced within a week of each
other in October not only made front-page news, they provided much
to consider for a man who ponders the issues of ego and higher
good.

First, Taylor signed 21-year-old basketball prodigy Kevin
Garnett to a six-year, $126 million contract extension starting in
the 1998-99 season - the richest long-term contract ever in team
sports and considerably more than he and his limited partners paid
for the whole Timberwolves franchise in March 1995.

Then Taylor announced a cash gift of $8 million to his alma
mater, Mankato State.

At the time, jokes floated that Garnett's agent was disappointed
at the announcement of the Mankato State gift - it proved that

Taylor still had some money left.

Of Garnett's contract, Taylor said: "That's the market price;
that's what it takes to play. We want to give them the chance to be
NBA champs one day. You get a Kevin Garnett, and he inspires
everyone."

Although Taylor can't be sure if the team will be profitable
in future years because of the "contracts we've signed," he says the
franchise will be profitable on an operating basis this season.

Attendance, corporate sponsorships and suite sales are all up, as is
the value of the team, according to Financial World magazine. It
estimated late last year that the Wolves were worth $123 million,
compared with the $88.5 million that Taylor and his partners paid.

Despite that, Taylor struggles with Garnett's pay. "I have
difficulty justifying it," he said. "It's beyond all of our minds to
know how much it is or what it is for."

In comparison, his gift to Mankato State will have concrete
results - it provides about two-thirds of the money needed to build
the Taylor Center, a combined welcome center, admissions office and
5,000-seat arena. The gift is believed to be the largest ever to the
state's 36-school system of universities, community colleges and
technical colleges.

Taylor gave the money in the names of all Mankato State grads
at the company, but it was also a very personal decision.

Taylor, who was married with a child when he began college,
said: "To make it, I needed a job, a loan and a scholarship."

He got the scholarship and the flexibility to complete school
amid the demands on him. And when Taylor asked some of the faculty
if he should pursue an opportunity in printing after graduation or
get a job teaching math, they gave him the advice he would later
take to the bank.

Looking ahead

These days Taylor is best known as the owner of the Wolves. "In
10 years in the Senate I did a lot of public speaking, but ownership
of the Wolves is so much more public. On any plane out of
Minneapolis, people recognize me, and that still surprises me."

Taylor is intrigued at the prospect of somehow combining both
the Timberwolves and the Minnesota Twins into a year-round sports
entertainment company that could share expenses and offer fans,
advertisers and corporate sponsors more encompassing packages.

He says he has talked with Twins owner Carl Pohlad about various
possibilities, but nothing has developed.

Things can change quickly, though, as he knows from his
experience with the Timberwolves. Several weeks before Marv
Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner sold the team, various business and
political figures had asked Taylor if he could help them find a way
to keep the team in Minnesota, while addressing their difficult
financial situation.

A few weeks later, and a day after he read that a deal to sell
the Wolves to an insurance executive was dead, Taylor got a call
from Wolfenson, asking him if he would be interested in buying the
team.

"Certain opportunities come to you, and you have to be prepared
to act," Taylor said.

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