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Kim Chaudoin |
For most of Danny Taylor’s 65 years, he has made it his mission to live by Proverbs 4:3 — “As you think, you will become.” From that mission came his personal mantra, “Couldn’t be better,” that has become a familiar response when someone asks Taylor how he is doing.
That mindset has carried Taylor far in life from his humble beginnings in Kentucky to his most recent role as Lipscomb’s Chief Financial Officer and has prepared him well to head contently into the next chapter of life – retirement.
For nearly 20 years, Taylor has worked tirelessly to manage and grow Lipscomb University fiscally which has resulted in a tremendous amount of physical growth for the institution during that time. And on May 31, Taylor officially retired from his post at Lipscomb.
To fully understand Taylor’s approach to his work and his successes, one needs to understand the beginning of his story. His parents, Lawrence and Joyce, and their families grew up in the rural Appalachian mountain region of Kentucky near the tiny town of Whitesburg in Letcher County, which are among some of the most underserved communities in the nation.
Even in an area known for its high school drop-out rates and impoverished surroundings, Taylor’s grandparents believed in the value of education and saw it as the key to making better lives for themselves.
Taylor’s paternal grandfather, Hiram Taylor, prepared with a high school education, owned a store and was principal of the one-room school in his small town. Hiram was determined for his seven children to get a college education. He first sent them to either Alice Lloyd College or Lee’s Junior College for two years and then on to either the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“He decided that education was the way to get them out of the mountains,” says Taylor.
His other grandfather, Hassel Benjamin Holbrook, worked in the Kentucky coal mines, but also believed strongly in the value of education. Taylor’s mother taught for 35 years and most of his aunts and uncles on both sides of the family were career educators, some of whom returned to teach at schools in the mountains of Kentucky.
Taylor’s parents both graduated from the University of Kentucky and settled in a community just outside of Lexington, Kentucky, where Taylor grew up. He did what just about all Kentuckians do growing up — play basketball — in his free time. To earn money for college tuition for Taylor and his older brother, Larry, their father raised tobacco and the boys helped him work the fields. Taylor’s brother was so shaped by his days doing farm work that he pursued a career with Philip Morris, for which he was in senior management and which led him to live in a number of countries throughout the world.
As he neared the end of his high school education at Lexington Lafayette High School, Taylor’s thoughts turned to college and what career he wanted to pursue. His brother was off at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, but he dreamed of attending the University of Kentucky like his parents.
“I wanted to go to UK but I wanted to live on campus,” Taylor recalls. “With us living just a few miles from the campus, my parents couldn’t get their minds wrapped around why I needed to live on campus. But I thought it was important for me to have the experience of living on campus in college. So, I decided to go to Western where my brother was in school and I lived on campus.”
With education “in his blood,” Taylor wanted to pursue a career in teaching and to coach baseball. But a conversation with his father changed that plan.
“I had a conversation with my dad who advised that as good of a profession as teaching is the pay is not much to be able to support a family some day,” he says. “He told me that he wanted to make sure that I made the right decision.”
Taylor pondered his father’s advice. He had made a good ACT score in math and thought he might be good at a profession related to numbers.
“From that conversation with my father I made the decision to go into accounting,” Taylor admits. “I didn’t really know what accounting was but I made that decision. After talking to my advisor who told me that accountants aren’t usually good at writing or speaking, he recommended that I pursue a second major along with accounting. So I also majored in speech communication.”
After graduation, Taylor embarked on his accounting career with various public and industry accounting jobs, which grew his knowledge and expertise in the field. But in 1987 Taylor became aware of an opening at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, for a vice president for finance and CFO. When he landed that job, it changed the course of his career.
“When that opportunity became available at Cumberland it was a rite of passage for me as it got me into what my family believed in strongly,” Taylor says with pride.
Taylor remained at Cumberland until November 2000 when former Lipscomb president Steve Flatt encouraged Taylor to come to Lipscomb in the role of senior vice president of financial affairs and CFO. It was his dream job.
“I always believed that the ultimate goal was to work in Christian education, so having the opportunity to work at Lipscomb was the epitome of where I wanted to be,” recalls Taylor. “When I came to work at Lipscomb I wasn’t sure that I was worthy to work here. It’s not a perfect place but it is the perfect place for me. I loved every moment and never desired to go anywhere else. I can count on one hand the days that I did not want to come into work over the past 20 years. I have loved my time at Lipscomb and all the relationships that I have built.”
One of Taylor’s earliest challenges at Lipscomb was the lawsuit regarding the university’s use of tax-exempt Industrial Review Bonds for campus construction. The case finally ended in 2003 after a 12-year court battle when the United States Supreme Court refused to review the case and let the decision of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That case consumed countless hours, but had a positive impact on faith-based colleges and universities across the country as the court ruled that the government cannot discriminate against a religious school in deciding whether to grant tax-free municipal bond financing for campus projects that advance the school's educational goals.
In Taylor’s nearly two decades as CFO, Lipscomb has grown fiscally and physically in many ways. Nearly $250 million in buildings and equipment have been invested in the institution during this time for an added audited net worth of roughly $80 million.
These projects have included the construction of Bison Hall, The Village, three parking garages (including one scheduled for completion in August), Allen Arena, the McCadams Athletic Center, the Griffith Family Soccer Field and Complex, the Ezell Center, the Shinn Event Center, Fields Engineering Center, the Osman Family Fountain in Bison Square, the McMeen Music Center, SPARK facilities in Cool Springs and downtown Nashville, and the Lipscomb Academy Brewer Campus Addition and Solly School. Significant renovation projects have included the McFarland Science Center addition, the renovation of the former Burton Administration Building into the home of the College of Pharmacy, Bennett Campus Center, Swang Business Administration Center, Elam Hall, Johnson Hall, Fanning Hall and High Rise Residence Hall.
Perhaps one of the most visible reflections of Taylor’s work has been in the transformation of the north side of campus that included land acquisition and expansion. Today the campus now extends to Grandview Avenue and lining Belmont Boulevard is what is known today as “Med Row” with the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Center, The James D Hughes Center and the Nursing and Health Sciences Center.
“I’m at heart a finance person,” says Taylor. “The first thing I always want to do is to make sure that our finances were in good shape. I would say that I also gained a great amount of knowledge over the years about construction with the many projects we had going on campus.”
In addition, Taylor worked tirelessly to manage the university’s funds and to plan for the future. He led the institution through two successful bond Issues, one in 2016 and one in 2019. Under his leadership the university was able to obtain a Triple B stable investment bond grade for the first time in institution history, reduced its draw on university operations from the endowment and balanced the institution’s budget every single year, even during the 2008-2009 recession.
“Danny has been extraordinarily steadfast in his service to Lipscomb,” says Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry. “He has been tenacious in protecting the university and to sustain the university that we all love. He is loyal to the mission and to our employees. I depended upon Danny as a full partner in walking this journey out. He has served well.”
But the project that is particularly near to Taylor’s heart because of his love of music is integrating Nashville’s historic Sound Emporium Studios into the institution when the studio was gifted to Lipscomb by George Shinn in 2018.
In addition to his interest in finance, Taylor has a passion for music, his “second life.”
From a very early age, Taylor learned to play music and was in his school band in junior high and high school. He played the guitar and piano, neither of which he says he played well. Today, he is known for his vintage record collection and for playing the harmonica.
“The harmonica is something I can just put in my pocket and have ready to play anytime I find a few minutes. It’s a perfect fit for me.”
In recent years, Taylor has been part of a band of his Lipscomb colleagues called Low Expectations, which he says was another dream come true. “That was really special for me to be a part of,” he admits.
So back to Taylor’s mantra — “Couldn’t be better.” As a young man, Taylor spent time trying to understand what it meant to try to be happy and how to live a happy life. He researched various philosophers and discovered Proverbs 4:3. It kept running through his mind. He read philosophies of how positive attitudes could change people’s lives.
“If you believe good things are going to happen,” says Taylor, “you put yourself in a greater position for good things to happen. So ‘couldn’t be better’ means that my mind believes that today’s challenges and heartache will be over soon, and then tomorrow, or soon, I will be back to thinking good things because my mind believes in good things. It has been conditioned to believe that life is good, people are good and that good things are going to happen.
“‘Couldn’t be better' means exactly that — today I might have some challenges but it’s going to be better. My mind knows it. But even when it’s not the best day I have hope and faith that I will be back to my happiness and contentment. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I say ‘couldn’t be better’ I know I will get back to feeling good about myself. I believe life is different for someone who believes life is good. It’s a lifetime of feeling good — not a moment. It’s a job that you have to put into place for all of the times that you need to be conditioned in that way.”
That mindset was critical when Taylor received a phone call one day in September 1997 informing him that both of his parents had been killed in an automobile accident while they were on the way to visit his aunt near Hazard, Kentucky. It is a mindset that has gotten him through stressful days and has guided him through the weighty job of managing the finances of an institution of higher education.
Throughout his career, Taylor credits his wife, Becky, with being his partner every step along the way.
“She has loved Lipscomb through me and has been involved in so much there, and I want to thank her for her support over time,” he says. “She understands what it means to be the CFO at Lipscomb and sometimes the late hours that go along with it. I cannot thank her enough for her support.”
He says he looks forward to travelling and spending more time with Becky, who retired from Cracker Barrel Inc. several years ago after working for many years in various IT roles at the organization’s corporate office.
“She is already retired and has been waiting for me to retire,” says Taylor with a smile.
The couple looks forward to spending time with sons, Mark, Adam, Brad and Phillip as well as their eight grandchildren ages 2-10. “Becky and I are so excited about spending time with them,” he says.
Taylor also plans to travel, go fishing, spend time boating, riding his electric bike and organizing and carefully selling his vintage record collection. But no matter what he finds to do, Taylor says he “couldn’t be better.”
For Taylor’s two decades at Lipscomb he was part of the senior leadership team and served with a number of other leaders on campus.
“Danny Taylor has overseen the financial sustainability of Lipscomb University for the last 20 years through unprecedented enrollment and physical asset growth and two successful bond issues all while also delivering a balanced budget every year that funded the major objectives of the institution. No small professional feat,” says Susan Galbreath, senior vice president for strategy.
“I always appreciated Danny’s collegial attitude and his ‘couldn’t be better’ guaranteed reply whenever you asked him how he was doing,” she continued. “His reply was a good reminder to me that there are blessings everywhere if you just look for them. And, you could always count on Danny to be at the ready with a harmonica for any entertainment needs”
Darrell Duncan, associate vice president of finance, was at Taylor’s side for every one of his 20 years at Lipscomb.
“Danny has been an absolute blessing to me both professionally and personally. His positive attitude despite his circumstances is contagious, his special candid advice has helped me be a better and stronger person,” Duncan admits.
“In addition to being a wonderful mentor to me in word and deed, Danny is also fun to be around. He always has a harmonica on him just in case a song is about to break out. Danny would joke with me and his staff whenever we said something that surprised him and would hold his fingers on his wrist and say, ‘Let me check my pulse!’ I will miss all his phrases like this; his wisdom; and his friendship. I am just glad Danny shared some of his life with Lipscomb and me. What a blessing! He will be missed more than words can adequately express."
"As an accountant and CFO, Danny is world-class,” says Walt Leaver, vice president for university relations. “As a man and brother in Christ, Danny is a humble, caring, down-to-earth servant-leader. He has the credentials to be arrogant, but there's not an arrogant bone in his body. It has truly been a privilege to work with Danny for two decades, and he will always be a great friend. I love Danny Taylor!"
“Danny Taylor (D.T.) is a prince of a man, a genuinely loyal friend and absolutely one of my favorite people. He is also one of the singularly most competent CFO's in the nation. Lipscomb's remarkable growth, diversification of academic offerings, and ongoing community engagement were fueled in large part by the financial acumen of Danny Taylor through his collaborative and ongoing work with Dr. Lowry and the board of trustees,” says Scott McDowell, president of Lubbock Christian University who served on the Lipscomb executive leadership team with Taylor for a number of years.
“D.T. is one of those ‘3 in the morning’ kind of friends, meaning that if I was broken down on the side of the road at 3 in the morning I know I could call Danny and he would show up and help no matter what and with no questions asked--he's just that reliable. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Danny because he is always going to be completely prepared, unequivocally truthful, and creative in finding solutions. He also has a way of finding the joy in a situation and making even challenging work fun.”
Joe Ivey, clinical professor in Lipscomb’s College of Business, was senior vice president for advancement during Taylor’s tenure at Lipscomb and served with him on the institution’s executive leadership team.
“I believe folks need to recognize how much of Lipscomb's success in the last 20 years is due to Danny's superb financial management. Even when faced with challenging growth initiatives that would strain the finances of any university, his response was to find a way to make things happen,” says Ivey. “When he had to make tough decisions, we had confidence that he had considered all points of view and would do what he believed to be in the best interest of Lipscomb. And he would communicate the decision with his trademark gracious positive attitude that caused us to accept it, maybe even like it, even when we did not agree.”