Lord Taylor of Hadfield
Saturday 25 February 1995
Lord Taylor of Hadfield was an inspirational innovator who was the driving force behind the creation of an international billion-pound business. He was the founder, in 1921, and, at the age of 90, life president of the Taylor Woodrow Group of construction, house-building, property and trading companies.
Many of Frank Taylor's great strengths - his tireless drive, his appreciation of the value of cashflow - came from his early years working in his parents' small fruit shop in the Derbyshire village of Hadfield. He had helped in the shop almost as soon as he could walk and, following the death of his younger brother, was left in charge of the business while his father took his mother away to recuperate. He was 11 years old.
Within five years, at the modest age of 16, Taylor had set about building his first pair of houses in Blackpool. Not only did he see the opportunity to create homes during a severe shortage, but he learnt how to build them, persuaded his bank manager to loan him some £400 to start the enterprise and then sold the pair at 347 and 349 Central Drive, Blackpool, for a 100 per cent profit.
Taylor was a motivator who had the ability to inspire people with almost unequivocal loyalty. In the early 1930s he persuaded his entire team to uproot and move south from Blackpool to Hayes in Middlesex. He bought a site which other builders had passed by because of the drainage difficulties. He solved those difficulties and went on to build 1,200 homes.
By 1935, Taylor Woodrow had become a public company and Taylor had begun to expand the company's skills into general contracting activities in Britain and to explore the opportunities in housing development in the United States. In 1953, following a lightning visit to Canada, he acquired almost overnight a controlling interest in the Monarch group of companies. This fascination with North America was to be an abiding one and included the construction of the award-winning 3,500-home Meadows development in Florida - where he was staying when he died.
The relentless need to expand and to push back boundaries was part and parcel of Taylor's personality. Be it building airfields and sea defences or helping to construct the Mulberry Harbours during the Second World War, becoming involved in the first nuclear power stations and major airport tunnels, or indeed expanding construction activities into the Middle East, Far East, Caribbean and Africa, he retained almost missionary verve.
In confronting these new challenges, Taylor still maintained his basic values of hard graft and doing "a fair day's work for a fair day's wage". Whilst he had the ability to think on the grandest of scales, he kept a remarkable eye for small detail. On site inspections around the world, he would often scale a ladder to check that the roof of a house had been built to the correct specification - or he would turn up at 6.30 in the morning, before the superintendent arrived, to check work standards for himself.
He believed in teamwork, having no staff, only team members. Although knighted in 1974 and invested for his services to the UK as Lord Taylor of Hadfield in 1982, he shunned personal acclaim; preferring to recognise his success as the product of a team effort - a team that now numbers around 8,500.
Frank Taylor was one of the last of the old school of entrepreneurs, whose passion was focused not just on the business but on the people within that business. One of his tenets of management was to allow people to take responsibility young and give them the licence to make mistakes - but only once. He did not suffer fools but he did take risks with people. He only retired from the board of Taylor Woodrow in 1992, after 69 years of service.
Although a man of staunch right-wing political principles, Taylor also had a strong desire to allow members of his team at all levels to enjoy the company's success through the wide distribution of shares. While the company developed organically from housebuilding into construction, property and trading, Taylor remained a house- builder at heart. Supported by his wife, Christine, who became a main board director particularly responsible for housing in Britain, he wanted everyone to know what Taylor Woodrow stood for - good quality at a fair price.
From the time I joined the Monarch Development Corporation in the late 1950s up to the time in 1992 when I was appointed chairman of the group, I was always very aware of the way in which Frank Taylor, or "FT" as he was known in the company, worked to build and motivate teams throughout the world. He was an individual of extraordinary commercial ability and commitment.
Francis Taylor, businessman: born 7 January 1905; founder, Taylor Woodrow Group 1921, managing director 1935-79, chairman 1937-74, life president 1979-95; Kt 1974; created 1982 Baron Taylor of Hadfield; married 1929 (two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1956 Christine Hughes (one daughter); died Sarasota, Florida 15 February 1995.
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