CEO Interview – William Taylor

Interview with Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and author of Mavericks at Work, Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.

What led you to the development of Fast Company magazine in 1994? What were you hoping the magazine would accomplish?
My partner, Alan Webber, and I felt that there was a point of view missing; not about where business was going, but where it could be going. We wanted to showcase business at its best, encouraging both entrepreneurs and executives to aim higher and think bigger. It was an opportunity for us to create a soapbox of sorts, get people to affiliate with the philosophy and start a movement to achieve a smarter approach to business. We chose to feature the top 5-10%—the best of the best—the businesses that were creating economic value by being true to their own unique set of truths. We hoped it would establish a bar for people to shoot for. The high road is the right road—we believe that value-driven businesses are successful businesses.

What is keeping businesses from following this model?
Ultimately, in so many organizations people at the top don’t have a genuine passion for the business. They are encouraged to focus on generating financial performance. They lose sight of the ability to have an impact on individual lives and don’t pay attention to the details necessary to create that relationship with their customers. The businesses that do great things exhibit a genuine passion for the business they are in—and it starts at the top. Passion simplifies.

One of the few business books to discuss the role of passion in running a business is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Do you agree with his point about choosing a vision you are passionate about?
Yes. I don’t see big organizations as reluctant to change but they change in ways that are not prudent to the mission. It is a signature of mediocrity to have chronic inconsistency. Most successful companies believe in a core set of ideas that don’t change but what changes is their execution.

Do you feel, then, that most of what holds us back is within our own control—the ability to define and develop a strategy that we are passionate about?
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Companies limit themselves by doing great things in fields or business models that are bad to be in.

What is the most important piece you ever published in Fast Company?
The most important article in the history of Fast Company was by Tom Peters, and it was called, “The Brand Called You“. That article turned Fast Company from a cult phenomenon into a mass phenomenon—it put us on the map in a way we had never been before.

What is the question you are most commonly asked when you speak to groups?
“I love your ideas and advice, but I am mid-level executive and my management doesn’t get it—how can I have an impact?” I have to be honest; I am still not sure I have a great answer for that one. Value-driven organizations start at the top.

Where did you get the perspective you wrote about in your book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, about “original minds” winning, and the need to innovate to succeed?
I have always been interested in ideas that drive business. I don’t spend my time looking at balance sheets. The most powerful force ever invented to change things for the better is the power of innovation and entrepreneurship. Why get up and go to work if we are not trying to use the power of business to do exciting new things?

Since you left Fast Company in 2003, how do you spend your time?
We sold Fast Company in 2000, and I stayed on until 2003. When I left, I established an office in home and write and give 30-35 talks a year. It is still my goal to try to help shape the conversation about the right ways to do business. I try to inspire and motivate others to think deeper and harder. Most of my time now is spent in researching and writing books.

Can you name a few companies that are getting it right?
I think you are going to be hearing more about these organizations in the future:

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Bloomfield, Michigan
A retailer, Magazine Luiza, serve the poorest of the poor
DaVita, a publicly traded healthcare that performs 1/3 of all dialysis treatment in US, has 30,000 employees and an amazing workplace culture. Their motto is “community first, company second.” And they are very financially successful.

What is next for you?
I am publishing another book, Practically Rad, which will be out in the fall of 2010.

William C. “Bill” Taylor is co-founder and editor of Fast Company Magazine. He is a former editor of the Harvard Business Review. He is an adjunct professor at Babson College and writes a regular column in the Money section of The Guardian newspaper. Taylor received his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Bill blogs at and twitters on

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