Daniel Taylor MBE

Posted on 24 October 2020

Daniel Taylor is the Founder of MDC Group, one of the UK’s most successful Interior Design & Fit-Out companies.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning and welcome to Jazz Shapers.  It’s where the shapers of business join the shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues.  My guest today, I am very pleased to say is Daniel Taylor, Founder of MDC Group, the award-winning office interior design company.  Daniel’s parents, part of the Windrush generation arrived in the UK in the 50s wanting to understand where they came from so Daniel was sent to Jamaica for his early schooling.  Thriving academically and earning his first graduate job as a designer he was determined to excel.  “I always push myself further” he said, “I never accepted my level.”  Daniel’s focus on career development and his rise to the position of European Managing Director led him to promise to his wife that he would slow down but in 1998… you can hear the laughs already… he founded boutique design and build company, MDC Group, a family business challenging the preconceptions of the industry and embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, MDC has an all-women executive team and 75% of the workforce are men.  Clients include the BBC, Boeing, the Conservative Party and Disney.  I have been doing my homework Daniel and it is really lovely to meet you and I love all the stuff that you have created, all the things that I have seen that you’ve created.  Tell me, you look like a happy man to me?

Daniel Taylor

Well…

Elliot Moss

And it that’s true, why?

Daniel Taylor

Well I hate Mondays you know, nobody talks to me on Mondays.  Friday’s I am a superb guy.  But yeah because I look forward to a weekend.  I always look at life in a very positive way you know, I am thankful for some of the blessings that I have and have achieved and where I am going.  A beautiful family helps that, knowing that they are doing well.  When you have a great partner like what I have, she makes me happy.

Elliot Moss

And the business, I mean you’ve been running your own business now for it sounds like over 20…

Daniel Taylor

22 years.

Elliot Moss

22 years.

Daniel Taylor

Yes.

Elliot Moss

Is that, I mean like you know I meet lots of people who run their own business and my mum ran her own business which means I was there with a front row seat of what it is like, the ups and downs.  More ups than downs for you?

Daniel Taylor

Do you know when you run a business like ours and you look at the most disappointing part of the year is when you start the New Year because you start with a clean balance sheet and you’ve got to make it all back again so you have to build the pipeline.  The second bad part of the year is when you have to pay your taxes.

Elliot Moss

Apart from that it’s all good?

Daniel Taylor

Oh it’s all good.

Elliot Moss

And tell me when you decided to do your own thing, what was it that tipped you over?  As we said in the introduction you know, you promised your wife that you were going to slow down and then ‘I know what darling, I am going to get set up my own business’.  What made you do that at that moment if you can remember?

Daniel Taylor

Well I started my own business because I had gone through a really strong growth in my business life with doing a lot of travelling, I mean I travelled to Czechoslovakia when it was Czechoslovakia, not Slovak and Czech Republic, Kuwait, Qatar sorry I should say when… I’ve been to Kuwait as well.  Qatar when it was only one hotel, I think it was the Radisson or whatever it was called, now it is dwarfed by buildings everywhere.  Been in Russia when Moscow when they would look at black people and touch you here type of thing because then you’d see people like me on National Geographic’s and back home I am there fighting the corporate life by making the Friday phone calls to the US, the phone calls to the Far East on the Mondays and so forth and my life was really heavily driven as a corporate animal.  So I kind of missed the growing up of my two elder children so we kind of two tier family so you know, so my eldest boy is turning 30, daughter is turning 29 and in the next tier down is 21 and 18 and I said to the wife ‘right I’ve got a couple of good clients’, a lot of my clients become friends, that’s how I like to work.  If you look at all our big stuff that we’ve done over the years, I become friends, I ingratiate myself into their lives and vice versa for me and I said to my wife’ I’ve got a couple of good clients who are good friends and they said they will support me’ and it so happens that they are number 1 and number 2 in their industries which I didn’t quite pick that one… that part up you know and how aggressive they were as competitors for those industries.  So I was running up and down in my car, my other designer worked from his bedroom and the first year we did somewhere like 1.7 million I think it was, second year we did about just under 3 million and my accountant said, ‘you need to stop, you only have two clients.  If one of them goes you have no businesses and that’s when I made the decision about whether it is going to be a lifestyle business or a legacy business.  That was a critical decision when I did that.

Elliot Moss

Before I talk about the difference between legacy and lifestyle, I just want to take you back one more time.  So your confidence basically tipped you over to say ‘do you know what’, tell me if I am putting words in your mouth because you can say I am wrong, ‘the corporate life is fine but if I am slogging that hard I may as well do it for myself’?

Daniel Taylor

Absolutely.

Elliot Moss

Was that the, the basic thing?

Daniel Taylor

Absolutely.

Elliot Moss

And then the confidence because clients said they would come with you?

Daniel Taylor

Yes.

Elliot Moss

Okay and when your accountant pointed out ‘excuse me Daniel it’s going a bit fast and you are growing and all this’ how did you then ensure that you could match the requirements that a legacy business necessitates first as a lifestyle business because lifestyle business we all know people do that and I have full respect for them, couple of things, they stop, they start but actually it just sort of fits in with a gentle way of living.  You didn’t choose that?

Daniel Taylor

No.  I decided to build assets, build structure and assets, proper structure and assets so our first office was on the Woolworth Road in South East London which when at the time, Woolworth Road McDonalds had a ban of people wearing crash helmets going inside of it, you know, and people were getting shot in front of Marks and Spencer and stuff like that on that road and we converted a Church Hall for our office and I decided to buy the building, refurbish it, then hired staff at different levels.  I always felt myself ‘what if I ever get sick’ so if I got sick I have created an infrastructure which protects me and my family you know and not put it all on the edge, on the line going forward and it was a critical decision and when you look at Bame or Blacks in this country, that’s where the difference becomes either legacy or lifestyle.  People look at the short termism by lifestyle; wearing nice clothes, buying fast car you know, you might buy a house or you know, you don’t think about next week.

Elliot Moss

And why is that Daniel?  Why is it that you (a) you think that and then (b) you have chosen not to be like that?

Daniel Taylor

I had a responsibility to, to my family and to my staff to ensure that I built up a legacy, a structure which protects the future of our business as best as I can.

Elliot Moss

But where did that responsibility come from?  Where does that sense within you come from versus just going ‘Daniel Taylor number one thank you very much’ because you’re not… you are the opposite of that?

Daniel Taylor

Yeah I am an opposite but I am a person who likes to win and also I like to see my wins being something I’ve achieved and that could be completing the first Facebook office which we did or it might be the first cashless estate agents which we did with Daniel Ford for instance or the first cashless bank which we done with Jamaican National Bank which is opening.  It… I get off on that and because of that leadership I show, I try, some of the designers who have worked with me over the years have become rounded, creative and informative people, more than they would ever be if they worked with somebody else.

Elliot Moss

I’ve read somewhere and you can tell me if this is correct or not that you were sent, as I mentioned earlier, to your… sent to Jamaica.  I say ‘sent’, it may have felt that you were sent.  Sent to your grandparent’s farm, you were up at 4.30 every morning apparently to feed the animals, you didn’t see your family or London home for a few years and I’ve got a quote here from The Sunday Times, quite a few years ago “I heard from my mother only by letter.  If I could turn the clock back would I do it again?  No” and yet here we are, here we are, a guy in front of me, super successful, resilient, strong.  I am going to push back on that, would you be this person if it hadn’t had been super hard? Could you have become this person anyway without all the pain?

Daniel Taylor

No, no, no.  That, that was a critical decision.  I owe who I am today by my parents making that critical decision you know, in the 70s that was a big decision to have made.  I mean they gave up a lot to send me there.

Elliot Moss

Were they peers of yours?  Were your parent’s friends doing the same thing?

Daniel Taylor

No.

Elliot Moss

So this was unusual?

Daniel Taylor

Oh absolutely.  It was unusual to send back.  It was more likely to send from there to here but to send back.  My parents did it because they felt that with me they felt if they didn’t do something I could end up going in the dark side, being criminal or, or do something wondrous on the white side you know, and using the colourism’s as being negative and positive.  I got sent over to Jamaica and stayed there a few years and you know, you really appreciate the small things like electricity, water, running water, a toilet indoors.  Our toilet in my grandparent’s place is a five minute walk up a hill you know.  Or things like when we go to the supermarkets and we buy food and meat for arguments sake and imagine that I actually used to feed somebody which I would end up being the food on our plate you know, makes you want to become a vegetarian.  That’s the reason why I don’t, I would say, no.  I always threaten it to my two youngest boys, I am going to ship them back.

Elliot Moss

I can hear you saying it ‘boys if you don’t behave…’

Daniel Taylor

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

‘…you know what’s coming’.

Daniel Taylor

Yeah I will ship you back and you are going to learn the hard way.

Elliot Moss

Well listen I think the hard way seems to have worked for you.  Stay with me for much more from my guest today, it’s Daniel Taylor, he’ll be back in a couple of minutes.  Right now though, we are going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all of the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Victoria Pigott and Dr Rebecca Newton, Organisational Psychologist and CEO of Coach Advisor, discuss the impact of women in positions of leadership and on boards. 

You can enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and hear this very programme again with Daniel by popping Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have a smart speaker you can ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will find many of the recent shows.  But back to today, it’s Daniel Taylor, Founder of MDC Group, the office interior design company.  So you are who you are because of where you’ve been I guess?

Daniel Taylor

Yes.

Elliot Moss

Literally in your case geographically as well as everything else.  Conscious decision to employ a very diverse group of people that work for you and was it conscious because it’s the right thing to do or just as in a moral thing or because from a business point of view it is just the right thing to do and it makes sense?  And there is a distinction.

Daniel Taylor

Yeah there is and with respect to the last 10 years where it has become that much of an issue.  When I was starting out it was an issue, I actually hired for attitude and trained them for skills, it so happened to be white, black, you know if you were a black person in front of me or an Indian person you were good at a job, I got the vibe from you, you got the job.  And my policy was to educate the staff to push them more beyond and give them that element of common sense.  It just so happens that I was a very in fact at one stage I had people from all over the world in our office and I actually used to have client walk arounds and I could say ‘I can show you that I cover the planet on continents inside this office’ and I also used to make jokes.  I won a job a few years back for the NHS.  I did a 999 call centre, two of which I won silver awards for and filmed by the BBC and when I did the pre-qualification documents it said, one of the questions was ‘what was your diversity policy?’  So I actually got everybody out front of the office and photographed it and put the photograph as the statement and they came back and the guy said, ‘that’s an interesting way’ and I said, ‘well how do I write a policy about me?  How I feel’ you know, diversity should come as a natural thing where you should be doing the right thing.  Colour, we all are equal you know and you should not judge people because of what their gender or their colour, we are all equal and for me, especially over the last 5, 6 years I have become more militant within my own business to drive it and in other businesses to follow it.

Elliot Moss

And to me, it’s an obvious thing that you hire based on talent rather than colour or gender and anything else and any, we would agree on this and it’s… any right minded person will go well obviously.

Daniel Taylor

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

The challenge has been finding the talent potentially because people say ‘well it’s harder to find talent in the black community’ or whatever.  Have you seen that or is that a myth that needs busting?

Daniel Taylor

It’s a myth.  You know, especially when you look at big businesses.  Big businesses do recruitment in a very tunnel vision way sometimes and they don’t understand how to open up their horizons.  I have met some amazing talents which come from socially deprived areas which may never go to your typical Ivy League schools but you need to go out there.  So I used to only hire for instance from Universities like Bournemouth which have a very open and creative mind in training designers.  It seems also to be from social deprived backgrounds because of the cost and where it is but I like the way they were doing it and I actually shone the Cambridge kind of elitist-type chap because I am saying ‘you don’t really need, you are going to come here and tell me this is how I’ve been trained and I want to train this guy, mould him, help him, push him up and then guide him’ and that person will probably do more for the world than this guy over here who is from Cambridge and if you look at over the years, I’ve probably hired you know, must be 300 to 400 people over the years and I could tell you, I have never hired somebody who worked for one of my competitors to come and work for me because he’s good.  I think he comes with luggage. I prefer to build them up.

Elliot Moss

Elliot Moss

The last six months, forget Covid for a moment which is, which is here.  It’s also been an amazing time for this movement called Black Lives Matter.

Daniel Taylor

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

Ever since I was a kid and I am hurtling towards 50, Daniel, I know I only look 30 thank you, before you even say… I can see it in your eyes.  Thank you.  You know, ever since I was a kid and I am a politics student so obviously I read a bit more about race and things, it’s always been an issue but I’ve never seen it pop in the way it has done in the last six months into the front pages and the middle pages.  It has always been a thing that people discuss in serious circles or we’ve got a race issue here.  It’s pretty clear there’s a major race issue.  For you, has that affected anything that you’ve been doing in the world of practical business part one and part two, yes or no, I am interested on that side but emotionally, has it affected you?

Daniel Taylor

Well that’s a very, very good question.  On the business front it’s made bigger corporations relate to us better.  It’s been interesting discussions which I have had with some big, big businesses and sadly with what’s happened over the last five months there will be some good out of it on the business front.  Emotionally it’s been a roller coaster of a ride because it highlights that in my years of being on this planet things haven’t moved a hell of a lot you know, enough that we… it took a live feed to then let everybody focus that we have a problem but that problem has always been there hasn’t it, it’s just, just the media shows it in different ways but when you get it on the internet which wasn’t around in my day, it focuses your mind and it also makes, it makes us have a conversation with people who do not look like us to have a discussion which hopefully will change things for the future.

Elliot Moss

The politics around this and generally you being a political animal.  Has your life connected to politics and for those who don’t know, Daniel is engaged in the world of politics in his own way as many of us are but at different levels and so on.  Has the race issue been there for you or has it been about a different kind of politics as in you know, you are generally if you are a labour party supporter then you believe in the welfare state, you believe in support, you believe in a safety net.  If you are a conservative politician you believe in the free market and so on and so forth.  Race in there is either part of that agenda or it’s not and you just said then you know, the truth is in your lifetime things haven’t shifted very much.  What’s your relationship been like with race and politics?

Daniel Taylor

Well that’s another interesting question.  Funny enough I tread the midline with all of them.  For instance, I am working with Shaun Bailey for London Mayoral, Shaun being Conservative and my attitude is that this is the first black person who is hopefully going to run the, one of the largest cities on the planet.  Now whether or not your politics is you know, Labour, Liberal or whatever, this is an opportunity for all of us to see a real change at a very senior level so I am supporting Shaun.  On the flip side I also believe in the welfare system so I am very happy to sit with people on the Labour party side so you know, we should be doing more, you know, we should be helping more you know and I have those direct kind of clear questions, because I am very comfortable with myself and I don’t believe… this is a statement you might have heard, I always look at people you know, you use the same bathroom as I do so you know, so why should I be scared of what you know, the worse you can say is no.  So I ask.  So I am fortunate that I can have the conversations where a lot of people do not have the confident or are comfortable to have those conversations.  So when the pandemic happened I picked up the phone, called up some of the contacts I have in the Conservatives, are we going to go lockdown?  And the word was ‘it’s coming’ so I had to then spread the word, we needed to start getting the life rafts and start making moves so yeah, politics, situations what you described, it’s a tough one for me but I feel I have been able to navigate through the political side and the emotional vat and the business side has become an easier discussion at a higher level.

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for my final chat with Daniel Taylor.  Plus we will be playing a track from Monty Alexander, that’s in just a moment, please don’t go anywhere.

Daniel Taylor my Business Shaper, he is the Founder of the MDC Group.  You are obviously a person with deep seated values you know, which come from the lived experience you’ve had and just who you are anyway I think even regardless of whether you’d gone back and toiled on the farm, you probably still would have been pretty much the same kind of person I am guessing.  Your MBE that you received which was for your work in the business community, fantastic.  The other side of it though is that these values have translated into you doing a hell of a lot that’s not in the business community directly.  Tell me a little bit about the work that you do and why you do that?

Daniel Taylor

Well I supported a number of charities but I was fortunate I was one of the founding trustees of the Skills Council with Lord Hall, Tony Hall, and I also support organisation like the Black British Business Awards with individuals like Karen Blackett who is one of the judges on that board and I have been around and my business has supported it ever since it founded five, six years ago.  The Power List magazines, I have supported them for the last ten years as an individual and as a business and then recently the Aleto Foundation with Sir Kenneth Olisa who is our chairman and there we focus on future leaders, black leaders.

Elliot Moss

And you also asked I know to go and talk to big businesses, medium sized businesses about being a senior black person in business.  Do you get joy from all these things or is it more, is it more just part of the wider responsibility that you have taken on yourself because you just think it is the right thing to do.  I mean how does it work for you?  Why do you get so involved in all these other areas beyond your own business?

Daniel Taylor

I am a person who is fascinated with the sixties and the role models of the sixties, the Martin Luther King’s, the Jeff Kays, you know, the Malcolm X’s and the list goes on and I watch everything ever done or read anything which has, which has happened through that era and what is quite clear is that you have always got to continue a message.  You’ve got to get the message out and I feel that I am at a juncture of my life where I need to whenever somebody asks me ‘do you mind?’, I normally say ‘yes’.  It is very rare I say no and I think that by just hearing me I am hoping that somebody can relate to it because I am not coming here saying you know, I am an Ivy League individual or you know, a silver spoon you know, I did it from the hard way up to where I am now and I am where I think I am going in the future, where I should be going in the future so I will talk to my Bame brothers, especially young people need to be influenced, they need to see direction, need to have faith and hope and faith and hope should not be by people who rap or kick a football or whatever in sports, hope can be the lawyer, the engineer, the doctor, the architect, the designed, the politician.  We should be telling our young people those are great goals.

Elliot Moss

Mmmm.  Just before I let you go because those words are really important you’ve just said, you mix and you mentioned some names, important people, people of society.  One last thing before I ask you your song choice, how have you Daniel, to me, retained as it seems to me that you are this person, how have you retained your humility?  You come in here, we talk, it’s as if you are just another guy and yet actually under the bonnet of Daniel Taylor is immense talent, super values, unbelievable success and yet we are just having a chat so where does that come from?  That groundedness?

Daniel Taylor

Well it’s got to be my father you know, my father was a motor mechanic, well when he came here he trained to be a mechanic, worked for one of the oldest dealerships, Neil & Roots, Vauxhall dealer and my father was one of those individuals who understood the system so at the time he would work privately for his bank manager, work privately for his lawyer, he worked privately for his insurance guy and built up his own network and so he was quite a humane person and he was the first person I ever knew who actually had a Barclay card.  I knew nobody, in those days having a Barclay card was a massive deal you know and he had a Barclay card.  He was a mechanic you know and he always would understand how to gravitate, how to talk to people, how to relate to people and no matter where you sit in life you should be able to do that and I am pretty good at that.

Elliot Moss

I would say you are pretty good at that, it’s at least a 9.5 out of 10.  It’s been lovely talking to you Daniel, thank you so much for your time. 

Daniel Taylor

No thank you.

Elliot Moss

Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Daniel Taylor

Well I am an Incognito massive fan and bearing in mind from the days of Light of the World and brilliant Bluey who I adore as an individual, it’s Above The Night.

Elliot Moss

Incognito with Above The Night, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Daniel Taylor.  “What if I ever get sick” he said.  This is a man who is focussed on building a legacy business and putting in all the infrastructure that needs to go underneath that to make that happen.  “You need to go out there” he said, of finding the best talent whatever colour or gender that may be and finally he’s on a mission, he talked about getting the message out and I thought that was really, really powerful stuff.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers, you will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive.  To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Thriving academically and earning his first graduate job as a designer, Daniel founded MDC Group in 1998 – a business challenging the preconceptions of the industry and embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. MDC has an all-women executive team, and notable clients include the BBC, Boeing, the Conservative Party and Disney.

Awarded an MBE for his contributions to Business Design & Diversity in the Workplace in 2019, Daniel brings together the ideologies of social momentum with the strategic vision to nurture businesses to multi-million pound, global enterprises.

Highlights

I always look at life in a very positive way.

I am thankful for some of the blessings that I have, have achieved, and where I am going.

The most disappointing part of the year is when you start the New Year, because you start with a clean balance sheet and you’ve got to make it all back again and build the pipeline.

I got sent to Jamaica and stayed there for a few years, and you really (come to) appreciate the small things like electricity, water, running water, a toilet indoors. 

Sadly with what’s happened over the last five months… (it) highlights that in my years of being on this planet, things haven’t moved a hell of a lot.

We all are equal. You should not judge people because of their gender or their colour.

A lot of my clients become friends - that’s how I like to work.

People look at the short termism by lifestyle: wearing nice clothes, buying a fast car, you might buy a house… you don’t think about next week.

I had a responsibility to my family and my staff to ensure that I built a legacy, a structure which protects the future of our business as best as I can.

I actually hired for attitude and trained for skills.

Diversity should come as a natural thing.

Big businesses do recruitment in a very tunnel vision way sometimes, and they don’t understand how to open up their horizons.

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