The view from the chair

On chairing the Leading Together campaign

Chancellor Wrighton and Andrew C. Taylor near Brookings Hall.
Seven years ago, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton (left) asked Andrew C. Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings and a life trustee of the university, to chair the public phase of Leading Together.

In 2012, Washington University launched Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University to raise $2.2 billion. When searching for the person to chair the public phase of the largest campaign in the university’s history, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton looked to Andrew C. Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings. Taylor’s business acumen and generous support of the university made him the ideal choice, and he accepted the chancellor’s invitation. Looking back, Taylor says chairing the campaign was not what he expected, but it was a fascinating adventure.

A reluctant yes …

Early on I said, “I’m not very good at bureaucratic meetings.” We have a privately held family business with 100,000 employees, but I think we’re pretty nimble, and I don’t want necessarily to be part of the meetings and all. What I asked the university is to tell me how I could be used.

Travel across the country …

The campaign turned out to be truly interesting, and for reasons I hadn’t anticipated at the time. For instance, I made 14 or 15 trips around the country with Mark Wrighton and Dave Blasingame, ­attending all these kickoff events and meeting fascinating people. I love business stories and stories about interesting people. That said, I met the owner of a European football club. I met the founder of ­TripAdvisor as well as a renowned allergist in Florida, to name a few. And each one had a compelling story. … Also, I would like to offer a huge congratulations to Dave Blasingame and his team, because this experience was the ­absolute antithesis of a ­bureaucratic meeting that goes on too long. Everything was so well-planned; it was a well-run operation.

A WashU legacy …

My father went to Washington ­University for a time. He didn’t graduate because he had to go to war. Later, he got involved with the university by serving on its board. Since he thought of himself as an entrepreneurial small- business guy, I think he was honored to be asked to serve on the board of a school he went to, especially one as ­prestigious as Washington University. And when he got older, he said, “Andy, I think I’d like you to become involved with ­Washington University.”

Raising the stakes …

I said, “This campaign is really ­positive. I mean, we’ve reached our goal of $2.2 ­billion 18 months before the end.” And on some trips, Mark would say, “Well, it certainly would be nice to get to three.” And so in board meetings, I’d say, “You know, our chancellor has his personal goal, the Mark Wrighton goal, of $3 billion.” At the time, I thought I was just kidding, but look what happened. I’m astounded. The campaign raised more than $3 billion.

On starting the Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research …

Our family has experienced mental illness through a couple of generations. And trying to make a difference in this area is important to us. To some people, mental illness does have a stigma attached to it, so we decided to put our name on the institute. At every one of my talks at campaign kickoff dinners around the country, I would mention it. I’d say, “You may have heard about the Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research.” And then I’d say, “We did this because our family’s been touched by this illness.” And probably a half dozen times afterward, people would come up to me and tell me their own family stories.

Keep learning …

So when you turn 70, you get kind of philosophical. And for me, there are two things I still need to do: I need to keep learning, and I need to be relevant. Call it making a difference. And I got both of these with the campaign. I learned a lot from all the interesting people I met, hearing so many compelling stories. And looking back, I do feel as if we’ve made a difference.

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