Paul Taylor, ESS Inc.
When Douglas Bosworth met the young Paul Taylor, he just knew that Taylor was going to be successful in business, and in life.
It was the mid-1990s, and Taylor and a business partner had just started a cleaning company, Environmental Services and Solutions Inc., or ESS, in Urbana, Ill. At that time, Taylor was a recent college grad in his early 20s, struggling to keep the fledgling company afloat amidst a financially difficult first few years.
Taylor humbly approached Bosworth, a local mechanical engineer, for advice and financial support to help the company through the rough spot. Bosworth, who responded by purchasing a share of ESS, says he was happy to invest in a company led by such a hard worker with strong ambitions.
"I was very happy to take part in the growth of the company and still am on an advisory committee that meets three to four times a year," Bosworth says.
Fast-forward to 2010: Bosworth, now retired but still a friend and mentor to Taylor, attended an open house in April, celebrating a brand new kitchen at a local homeless shelter — a project for which Taylor volunteered as general contractor, leading a number of ESS employees who volunteered their Saturdays for months to be on his team.
"When people would come up and congratulate him, he'd say, 'Oh, it's not me. It's all these other people who did it.'" Bosworth says. "He wasn't willing to take credit for himself, but his people live and die for him. He's just that type of person."
A keen, conservative business sense combined with a desire to learn from mistakes, to work hard, to be a good leader, to help others better their lives and live a life of integrity have made Paul Taylor the man he is today.
"My picture of success is enjoying what I do every day. And part of that is building other people up. As a company, one of our core values is to improve the lives of our team. I think the only way to do that is to get out and get to know people and work with people, and find out what their struggles are and try to help them solve those struggles," Taylor says.
Knowing all sorts of people in your community, he says, is rewarding on many levels. He's involved in community organizations such as his local Rotary, where he served as president and was honored as district Rotarian of the year, and is a lay leader at his local Methodist church.
"I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. So I feel it's a requirement for me to give back," Taylor says.
Also, in a smaller community, building trust with business acquaintances is crucial to maintaining relationships. Taylor's involvement and hands-on leadership lends credibility to his business in a way he wouldn't otherwise gain.
Going the Extra Mile
His commitment to employees and improving their quality of life speaks volumes about his dedication to them. Full-time employees are offered access to health benefits, and paid vacations, holidays and sick time, and all employees are offered a retirement plan. Other incentives include a safety program rewarding employees with gifts for completing safety activities, and an employee feedback program that rewards workers for sharing ideas to improve operations.
For years, Taylor has held monthly meetings focused on teamwork activities, and the company just started giving away college scholarships to employees and children of employees. Taylor himself is certified to teach Dave Ramsay's Financial Peace University, a program to help people eliminate debt and save for the future. He teaches the class twice a year for employees, free of charge and held at ESS offices, for anyone who wants to learn. He also teaches a class for members of the public.
Taylor says he does it all simply to help his employees and community members make their lives better.
"We're in a business where the pay rates aren't that great and many of the people we're working with are struggling or they're getting started in their career or they're working for us part-time to pay off a bill," he says. "So sometimes we have to see ourselves as a stepping stone and that means we give people the tools they need to get to the next level."
Building up employees to excel in their jobs is important — for them and for ESS. Though the company's retention is excellent, Taylor says he knows that some people will move on. He's just happy to see them taking steps in the right direction.
"I am not a motivational speaker, I'm not a charismatic guy, but I think when you take the right actions, and you act with character and you do the right things, even when it's hard, that's what people want to see," he says.
Taylor believes in taking the right actions to run and grow his thriving company.
Since 1995, ESS has grown to a 245-employee operation serving central Illinois from Urbana with two additional branch locations. That growth has been maintained through cash flow; in 2001, the company's debts had all been paid and Taylor remains committed to operating debt-free. It's a personal choice, he says, and while ESS may not have the growth rates that other BSCs have, he doesn't stress as much about finances.
"I have seen companies that take a lot of debt do well, but, they're taking a lot of risk, and those same companies might do really well and have really great growth rates for a while and when something happens like a turn in the economy, they really suffer," Taylor says. "But without debt, we don't have to rely on a bank to make payroll. I think that gives us some security, and it makes my life much better. It takes away a lot of stress."
ESS is unique in that it doesn't, and has never had, sales staff. Branch managers are in charge of sales as well as running branches. In fact, Taylor himself does sales at the main branch.
"I think that's one thing that our industry struggles with, is the gap between sales and operations," Taylor says. "Sales people tend to over-promise and then the operations people wonder how they're going to get it done."
By tasking operations-savvy managers with sales, the knowledge and experience gap between the two departments is bridged. Taylor says he has weighed the options by seeking advice from friends and colleagues, and from knowledge gained by attending conferences and trade shows, and he just doesn't see the need for a sales department.
"We've grown enough without sales people and what we're doing seems to be working so we're going to stick with it for now," he says.
Despite being a "borderline workaholic" during the start-up phase of ESS, maintaining a work/life balance is extremely important to Taylor. His personal priorities are his faith, his family and his work — in that order.
"We all are spiritual, physical and emotional beings and I think that those three things, we have to keep in balance," he says. "Having a good home life improves my business and having a good work life improves my home life. People ruin their lives because they didn't put the effort into their family, they spent all their lives working and I'm not willing to do that."
He married his wife, Andrea, the same year ESS was founded; the couple now has three daughters, which keeps him plenty busy at home.
Like many of his Generation-X colleagues, Taylor is also competitive when he leaves the office. The long-distance runner has nine half-marathons and five marathons under his belt. In April, he finished the Boston Marathon in 3:26, just minutes over his goal time of 3:15. Training in the Illinois plains didn't prepare him for the hills of Boston, he says with a good-natured laugh.
"I think that sort of physical training is really good for the mind, too. It keeps you fresh and healthy," he says. "I like to run at noon because sometimes, the mornings are just crazy or some difficult thing's going on and then I feel like a new person after a run."
Running is Taylor's time to be alone, refocus, pray and take some time to think about difficult problems that need to be solved.
In every way, Taylor is a very disciplined, persistent, competitive man — one who values the payoffs that come from long-term planning and goal-setting and will therefore sacrifice short-term gain for long-term gain.
For Taylor, being a leader and a businessman is not about becoming rich; it's clear that his goal is to lead by example and do his best to help others live a happy, satisfying life.
"Having the work/life balance and working hard and persevering and having integrity — those are the things that allow you to win," he says.
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