When Lonnie Taylor was seven years old, his world changed forever. His parents had first set out from Barnwell, South Carolina to Hartford, Connecticut, before eventually settling in Washington, DC. It was there, on that life-defining day, that his father passed away.
When Leroy Taylor died, Lonnie was one of eleven children that his widowed mother, Magdalene Taylor, would now need to care for, far from any extended family, in a three-bedroom apartment in a “tough” area of DC. “Like so many others,” Lonnie says today, “I come from a very humble background. DC was not an easy place to grow up, but we made it. We survived and thrived.” Thus, from that day forward, surviving and thriving became an integral aspect of his character, with an emphasis on the latter.
Lonnie’s mother not only worked full time as a teacher and a pre-school center director, but also continued her education part-time and volunteered in the community as part of VISTA, now a leg of Americorps.
“She worked so hard to support us. She volunteered in the community under that program, and even for all the work she was doing, she still maintained all her motherly responsibilities,” Lonnie says. “She was a strict disciplinarian, always leading by example. She showed that we could persevere and strive and succeed. She instilled in us from a young age the importance of working hard, the concept that we have an unlimited capacity for learning, and the power of using what you learn to benefit your situation.”
Eventually, Lonnie’s mother was able to purchase a new home and to customize education for each of her children, which, in Lonnie’s case, allowed him to attend a Catholic high school. In part due to his mother’s encouragement, and in part to his own natural ability, Lonnie had rocketed up to the eleventh grade by the time he was fifteen years old. He continued to survive and thrive, and at the end of that school year, he was given an opportunity that would change his life forever.
“The principal at my school had recommended me for an internship with Senator Jacob K. Javits, a senior Republican from New York,” Lonnie says. Several schools in Washington each recommended a student for the program, and Lonnie was selected. “When this opportunity was first presented to me, I did not have a significant appreciation for the Senate or for the Congress in general,” he affirms. “I did not know what I was getting into. But the transition into that world and the guidance I received from Senator Javits and his staff had a huge impact on the person I have become today.”
On his first day, the Senator asked Lonnie to shadow him. “I went wherever he went,” Lonnie says. “Into the antechambers, behind the hearing rooms, sitting in on briefings, witnessing discussions in committees, riding the elevators reserved for Senators…all on the first day!” He remembers that it was particularly striking to walk into that world as a resident of the District of Columbia. “But the most touching part,” he continues, “was that he treated me as if I was his staffer, and he treated his staff as if they were his family. I think he knew he was making a difference in my life, and indeed he did. My time with him in large part determined the direction of my career going forward.”
Today, Lonnie is the Practice Leader of the Government, Legal and Public Affairs Group at Diversified Search (Diversified), one of the top ten executive search firms in the United States. Between his internship with Senator Javits and joining Diversified a year and a half ago, Lonnie has worked a great variety of roles in government and the private sector, with his efforts generating achievements vast and varied.
After finishing his internship, Senator Javits hired Lonnie to work on the Hill while he finished his senior year of high school. After graduating, he pursued a business degree from George Washington University while continuing to work in various roles in the Senator’s office. When he graduated from GW and Senator Javits retired, Lonnie went to work for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and began attending Georgetown Law School at night. Around the same time, he was married, and his first child was born one and a half years later. Working as a staffer for one of the hardest-working men in Washington while going to law school at night and raising a newborn might sound overwhelming, but Lonnie just recalled the strength of his own mother. “I’m proud of what I have accomplished,” Lonnie says, “and especially proud of my children. But all that I’ve done pales in comparison next to what my mother has done and continues to do.”
Even after Lonnie and his ten siblings had grown up and left home, Lonnie’s mother was not done parenting. She became a foster parent, taking in close to twenty children. When she became particularly taken by a set of twin sisters, she adopted them. When she learned that they had a younger sister previously unknown to the agency, she adopted that child as well. “So I had it easy,” Lonnie laughs. “That’s how I see it.”
Lonnie received his law degree and continued to work on the Hill for some time as Chief of Staff to Congressman Jack Buechner (R-MO) before serving as a member of the George H.W. Bush Administration at the General Services Administration, and then with the US Chamber of Commerce for ten years as their chief lobbyist and head of congressional and intergovernmental affairs. Following this, he co-led the government relations practice group for the now-defunct law firm Powell Goldstein.
“At that point,” Lonnie remembers, “I took stock of where I was. I had been on Capitol Hill and dealt with the legislative branch. I had been in the executive branch in working with the White House and the GSA. I had worked in the non-profit world with the largest association of businesses, and now I was in the law firm world. I was still working in an overlap of all these previous sectors, but for a law firm. What was lacking in my repertoire, however, was the corporate experience.”
With that in mind, Lonnie moved on to governmental affairs at Nextel Corporation, a nimble Fortune 200 telecommunications company experiencing tremendous growth and aching to take on AT&T and Verizon. “Their slogan at that time,” Lonnie says, “was ‘Done.’ Just Done. Just getting out there and getting things done. That was embraced by all of us. It was a really charged environment we were in, but then Nextel merged with Sprint and was to be no more. That came to an end.”
Finally, Lonnie arrived at his most recent career destination: the field of executive search. He made his debut in the industry with Heidrick and Struggles, then transitioned to Boyden, and is now successfully cemented in Diversified Search, LLC. “I’ve been in many different positions,” Lonnie says. “I’ve managed all sizes of teams and dealt with all calibers of individuals on those teams. The reason that executive search has turned out to be such a great match for me is because I like the fact that it can impact people’s lives in a very positive, tangible way. And more importantly, I’m able to make this impact using the government affairs and political affairs expertise I’ve honed in previous jobs. It’s as if I’ve been preparing my whole life to master the skills and knowledge base that make me perfect for this line of work, and that concept is really fulfilling.”
The history of Diversified is in its name. Thirty-seven years ago, Judith von Seldeneck had a vision to form an executive search firm whose initial mission would be to focus on women and to effectively place them in the hierarchy of corporate America. Since then, Diversified has expanded the meaning of its name to cover not just gender diversity or racial diversity, but to fully embrace cultures, specialties, and areas of expertise.
“What I enjoy most about Diversified,” Lonnie says, “is that it is a nimble organization. It will bend over backwards to customize what it does to meet the needs of the client. It does not engage in transactional relationships. It provides long-term, specific advice to the client. It’s not unusual for me to get a call from a senior leader of a client organization to share a problem and ask my advice. That kind of trusting, counseling relationship emanates from Diversified’s culture. Transparent, inclusive and customized—those concepts are both the culture and mission behind what we do and how we operate.”
Ultimately, Lonnie’s success is a story of the support, guidance and encouragement that allowed his natural abilities to reach their fullest potential—those people that compelled him to survive and thrive, even in the face of adversity. “I had a second grade teacher,” Lonnie recalls, “who was very important to me—Miss Bogan. She made learning so interesting and so exciting that I still think of her very fondly today, all these decades later. I certainly credit her, along with my mother, with the kind of passion I’ve shown in learning and getting the kind of education that made such a difference in my life, not only in terms of a career, but even more so in terms of how I conduct myself as I go about my daily life. That kind of passion is sincere and compelling and impossible to fake.”
Lonnie also credits his success to his community as a whole. “I think of people who have been supportive, generally speaking, in the community,” he says. “This is why I’ve been so active in my volunteer services.” Along those lines, Lonnie is the former chairman of the Board of Youth Services of America and the Washington Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. He had been a longstanding board member of the Washington Scholarship Fund and other organizations, and he has recently joined the board of an organization called International Social Service – USA (ISS-USA), which helps to reunite families that have been separated across country lines.
And, of course, Lonnie can’t think about community involvement without remembering his mother. “Even as she was raising eleven kids and furthering her education and working,” Lonnie recalls, “she found time to be a part of her community.”
Lonnie’s wife and children, too, embody these principals of community and tradition. Kristin Clark Taylor, born in Detroit, worked with the Detroit Free Press editorial board and later served as assistant press secretary to former Vice President George H.W. Bush, who later, as president, appointed her to the position of director of the White House Office of Media Relations. She wrote a memoir of her time there, The First to Speak: A Woman of Color Inside the White House. Today, she is a full-time author and writes non-fiction about the African American family and the essential nature of family traditions, emphasizing the obligation to pass along those traditions through generations. “She is more than a supporter,” Lonnie says. “We are a team. She’s made all the difference.”
Their two children, Lonnie Paul II and Mary Elizabeth, are in their early and mid-twenties, and are themselves living the family traditions of hard work and service. Lonnie Paul II has started a social media marketing business, and Mary Elizabeth serves as a member of the Senate floor and cloakroom staff for Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. “My personal legacy is my children,” Lonnie says. “My professional legacy is all the young people whose lives and careers I’ve impacted as I’ve guided them in their policy knowledge, career development, ability to solve problems, and their sensitivity in dealing with others.”
In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Lonnie finishes with an anecdote that taught him an important lesson in working with people. “One day many years ago, in one of my Senate offices, I was working with my team on a project during a very hectic week,” he recalls. “We weren’t meeting our deadline and I was very impatient with a young staffer. I gave her the most difficult time. We made it to Friday, and made the deadline, and left for the weekend. When we came back to the office on Monday, I had moved on to other things in my mind, and when I saw her, I said that I hoped she had had a great weekend. She responded by telling me that she hadn’t, and her family hadn’t either. When I asked why not, she said it was because of me.
“This struck me. It may be obvious from an outside perspective, but when I heard that, it shook me. The impact you can have on other people’s lives is astounding, and heartening. I hadn’t only impacted her, but also her family, and I realized that it wasn’t right. So when I have bad news to deliver, I never do it on a Friday. And in delivering whatever news it is, whenever it is, I need to understand the real incentive is to get the job done. And that doesn’t require you to do it in a mean or impatient way.
“I have high expectations, and I won’t shy away from that. But I have learned what it means to have been supported in my career, and how others have influenced me. And I have turned around and shared that. That is part of my tradition.” By helping others survive and thrive in much the same way that others helped him in years past, Lonnie continues a personal and professional tradition of helping others be all that they can be by being all he, himself, can be.