Legacy of generosity: Philanthropy is a family affair for Cleveland business leader

Ohio Machinery Co. is in the business of helping people build things. The company’s trademark CAT and Peterbilt construction equipment is a common sight at schools, highways, and construction sites.

For president Ken Taylor, improving the community goes beyond the creation of basic infrastructure. Taylor is also adamant about a philanthropic tradition that has been a company mantra almost since the company's inception 78 years ago.

Recognition of this work came earlier this summer when the third-generation Ohio Machinery owner received the Malden Mills Corporate Kindness Award from the Values-in-Action Foundation.

“Supporting the community was in my upbringing,” says Taylor, a resident of Rocky River. “As a business, we’re not just selling products and making money, but we want to have a positive impact as well. It’s a matter of collaborating with people who do good work, which then spreads to the rest of the community.”

Ken Taylor received the Malden Mills Corporate Kindness Award from the Values-in-Action FoundationKen Taylor received the Malden Mills Corporate Kindness Award from the Values-in-Action FoundationTaylor’s philanthropy extends to Cleveland Metroparks, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as area sports teams and educational institutions.

While strategic financial gifts are a part of that equation, Ohio Machinery also provides organizations with equipment donations, such as Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits, and academic scholarships.

Additionally, the business donated $1 million to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for a region shackled by high poverty and unemployment rates.

Taylor says he is happy to give back to a community that helped Ohio Machinery expand to 41 locations in 37 cities. With $1.2 billion in sales last year alone, company officials are more than ready to meet the needs of the region’s underserved.

“We’ve always been perceived as an engaged and very positive organization,” Taylor says. “It’s good for business and part of being a contributor in this world. We’re trying to set a good example for our community, and as a leader, it’s the right thing to do.”

A long history of philanthropy

Taylor’s leadership method follows the path of Andover, Massachusetts-based Malden Mills CEO Aaron Feuerstein, who paid his 3,500 textile mill employees full wages and benefits after a devastating fire in 1995.

The Malden Mills Award recognizes industry leaders for promoting kindness and care to their workers.

Ohio Machinery Co. gives machinery for free to Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofitsOhio Machinery Co. gives machinery for free to Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits“Ken Taylor is a unique CEO who leads with heart and runs his enterprise with employees as extended family,” said Stuart Muszynski, president and CEO of the Values-in-Action Foundation, in a June news release.

Ohio Machinery has a history of generosity, dating to its founding in 1945 by Taylor’s grandfather, Thomas Taylor Sr.

Ken Taylor’s grandmother volunteered at the University Hospitals Flower Cart, while his father, Thomas Jr., served on the board of directors at the former St. Luke’s Hospital. Taylor’s mother, Mary Jo, volunteered at Hanna Perkins School.

Ken Taylor’s career began at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., where he worked for three years after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Amherst College. Taylor joined the family business in 1988, starting on the ground floor in finance, machine sales, and other departments before being named president in 1994.

“To understand the family business, you have to work in it from the ground up,” he says. “When I jumped in, I never looked back.”

Immersion in a philanthropic culture extends to employee participation in volunteer work, Taylor says. For every hour a worker volunteers with their favorite nonprofit, Ohio Machinery will give $20 to that organization.

“Five people might collaborate together, so that would mean $1,000 toward an organization,” he says. “If we’re doing great work in the community, that is going to come back to us full circle.”

Taylor, 61, is in the first stages of a decade-long succession plan that will see at least two of his four children assume control of the company—ensuring a future that includes the kindness and charity that Taylor says he hopes highlights much of his leadership.

“There’s [a lot] I’m proud of, and I’m honored [by the Malden Mills award] in providing a positive example,” says Taylor. “We’re doing some good work in our economy and society when the country needs some of that.”

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.