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Inside Track: Bob Taylor helps lost veterans ‘find a new purpose’ in life
Owner of Alliant Enterprises assists veterans reacclimating into society.
As a former member of the U.S. Air Force, Bob Taylor understands what it means to be a military veteran and works to helps others like him.
As a business owner, he is dedicated to hiring veterans.
Taylor also is writing a book called “From Service to Success,” a part memoir that also covers clinical information and features interviews of other veterans.
His goal with the book is to help other veterans realize they’re not alone. Taylor plans to work with companies and organizations to distribute the book to as many veterans as possible.
“A lot of veterans believe that they're kind of alone in their problems,” he said. “But when you hear the statistic that half of veterans struggle, they're not alone.”
Taylor said he believes those thoughts stem from experiencing a clear role and purpose in the military to a lack of clarity in a civilian role.
“As part of a crew, there's a huge amount of trust that you share with the people that you work with, and that's hard to duplicate in the civilian world,” he said. “So, when people move into the civilian life, it's hard to regain that sense of purpose and that sense of mission.”
He said those feelings really show themselves when veterans are looking for jobs because few jobs seem as important as their military work.
That’s why Taylor founded the Patriot Promise Foundation and is planning a program that would hire veterans and teach them jobs skills and how to run a company, as well as mindfulness, how to calm their minds and how to find their passions.
It’s about guiding them to “define a new mission and a new purpose,” he said.
“It takes the step of finding a job for veterans a couple of steps further,” Taylor said.
He said veterans have come from roles where they have to be capable, disciplined leaders.
“There is no reason why we can't have those representing some of the best that we have in the industry,” he said.
He plans to raise a couple of million dollars starting next year to launch the first venture in Grand Rapids and hire a couple hundred veterans. From there, he would like to expand the perfected model throughout the country.
Taylor said he’s always loved flying, but it was during his senior year of college he decided to put that passion to service.
His father died the year before, and one day, Taylor was hit by the memory of his father saying he’d wished he’d learned to be a pilot.
That’s when Taylor paid a visit to a recruiter for the U.S. Air Force, and he was at a training school nine months later.
He was stationed in New York when Desert Storm occurred. He then was deployed to Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, from where he flew in 11 combat missions to targets in Kuwait and Iraq.
He spent six years in the Air Force. He was married on July 4 six months after he started, and he had a 3-year-old daughter by the time he was finished.
Once he left, his best friend from college lined him up with an engineering R&D position dealing with electrosurgery medical devices for Richard-Allan Medical Industries. He took over manufacturing operations for one of the business units six months after joining, then took a senior marketing role for the surgical division and then started handling some mergers and acquisitions.
Building upon his college job at General Motors and his other experiences, Taylor said this job helped create the foundation for the rest of his career.
“It was almost like a continuation of my education,” he said.
Then, he and two partners purchased seven product lines from Richard-Allan and started Aspen Surgical Products in Grand Rapids.
In the three years he was there, the company grew from $3.5 million to $12 million in revenue and had more than 50 employees.
Taylor’s career has followed a similar path as that of his father, from service to business owner. After Taylor’s father worked as a U.S. Army mortician during the Korean conflict, he launched an independently run ambulance service in Saginaw, which was unusual at the time.
“So, I think that was a big part of where I got my entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
After selling his share of Aspen, Taylor launched his own venture, Alliant Enterprises, which he still runs over 17 years later.
He started the company focusing on “culture first,” he said.
“My philosophy was that if I could create an awesome company culture and hire very talented people, then I could accomplish pretty much anything,” Taylor said.
Alliant started by taking manufacturing contracts for the federal governments, along with other projects. The company secured some product lines in 2006 for cardiovascular wound drainage and urology, and also began working with distributors.
“That's when we really started to see some growth in the company,” he said.
In 2008, he took on another element of the existing business, which helps other companies sell their products to the federal government. That section of the company started growing at about 1,800% year over year, he said.
“It almost took the oxygen out of the room of the medical device side,” he said.
In 2010, he acquired the company now called Surge Cardiovascular from Cascade Engineering, which he said was a “turnaround opportunity” for Alliant.
He started by working to stabilize the business, and in the past couple of years, the contract medical device manufacturer has introduced about eight new cardiovascular surgical products and still is growing.
“That's one of the rewarding aspects. It's life-saving medical technology, so everything that we do on a manufacturing basis is super critical,” he said.
Alliant started in Kalamazoo, but in 2012, the medical device manufacturer relocated to downtown Grand Rapids. The company set up its own manufacturing space for its MediSurge Products division in Walker in 2016.
Taylor said the government business is approaching $100 million per year in sales to the federal market. He thinks the success he has found comes from continuous improvement and a “crystal clear vision,” and that includes four pillars posted in white letters in the company office: passion toward the customer, dedication to providing great leadership, commitment to holding themselves and others accountable, and devotion to the best quality.
Taylor said his business has a complain rate of 0.14%.
“It's just unheard of, but it's (because of) how we approach customer complaints,” he said.
For every complaint, he said the company takes a hard look at the root cause and then applies the lessons learned in operations throughout the company.
“So, that's resulted in us having just exceptionally good quality,” he said. “When you're dealing with the government, you can't make errors. When we say that we comply with these contracts, there's no question, there are no shortcuts.”
Alliant Healthcare, the piece of his ventures that fulfills government purchase contracts, is a federally designated Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. As such, Taylor said he works to ensure about a quarter of his 45 employees are veterans or spouses of veterans.
“There are veterans that have sacrificed far more than I have, so I want to make sure we recognize that as part of our legacy,” he said.