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12 People You Need to Know in 2017: John Taylor

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When the call came, John Taylor knew he had to take the offer. It was the kind of smart risk he always had advised his students to take.

So, just days before the start of Drury University’s 2016-17 school year, Taylor left his 15-year employer to take over as chief operating officer for Askinosie Chocolate LLC.

“I struggled a lot with that decision,” he admits.

But Taylor couldn’t ignore all the times he’d told his students to challenge themselves.

“If I say no, I have relinquished the authority to say that to any student again,” he says.

Taylor couldn’t pass up the chance to work with the small-batch manufacturer known for partnering with cocoa-bean farmers and sharing profits with them. It’s the kind of business model that’s garnered Askinosie continued recognition, such as placement on Forbes’ 2016 list of America’s 25 Best Small Companies.

“I was also very, very much attracted to have this kind of a job where there is a big responsibility,” Taylor says. “It’s your job to make sure it’s successful as a business, a human organization that has to remain financially responsible as well as socially responsible. There are a lot of moving parts.”

He does not move through life with an agenda.

“I’ve never really had a master plan behind anything. You work as hard as you can, and you put yourself in a position where you can take advantage of an opportunity,” he says. 

Taylor majored in German. After studying abroad, he leaned toward the foreign service with a post in Germany, which took him to graduate school at Georgetown University. Eventually Taylor and his new wife reconsidered constantly moving all over the world.

Taylor called his Drury German professor asking if he knew of any teaching jobs. A month later, Drury called Taylor about an unexpected opening in the German department. He took it.

In 2003, when Drury’s Enactus team went to Germany for international competition, Taylor was invited to lend his German-language expertise. After the trip, he became the group’s adviser, earned his MBA and eventually dropped German classes to teach in the business school.

In 2009, Shawn Askinosie approached Drury’s Enactus about working with a high school group to observe Askinosie’s business and travel to Africa to meet farmers. Thus began the Askinosie-Taylor connection.

The COO job takes as much concentration as teaching, but it moves at a faster pace.

“It’s super fun,” he says. “I go home and I’m just as tired and just as drained as I may have been at Drury, but I’m every bit as satisfied.”

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