Excellence in Action

Peter Taylor ’80

Photo of Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor ’80 is the president of ECMC Foundation. In his role, Mr. Taylor has led more than $130 million of investments in initiatives affecting educational outcomes, especially among underserved populations, in the areas of college success and career readiness. Before joining ECMC Foundation, Mr. Taylor served as executive vice president and chief financial officer for the University of California system for five years. Active in the community, Mr. Taylor is an appointee of Governor Jerry Brown to the Board of Trustees of the California State University system. He also serves on the boards of Edison International, Pacific Life and the Kaiser Family Foundation. He previously served as President of the UCLA Alumni Association, Chair of the James Irvine Foundation, the alumni representative on the UC Board of Regents, the Chair of the UCLA Foundation and a board member of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Mr. Taylor is an accomplished speaker and author, with a particular focus on the role of career and technical education (CTE) in closing the skills gap—a central challenge facing our nation’s economy—and the need for a collective effort among stakeholders to break down the stigma that holds CTE and its students back. His perspective has been published by The Washington Post, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit News, InsideSources and he recently spoke at TEDxUCLA.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • August 16, 2019

To start, will you please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role?

It’s been a very interesting career path. I have taken a lot of what I would call “bank shots” – indirect pathways to fulfilling jobs.

I majored in the social sciences at UCLA, taking classes in  Political Science and History.  My first job out of UCLA, I worked in the political legislative sector. I was a staff rep in the state capitol in Sacramento for six years, and then I went back to graduate school and got my Master’s degree in Policy Analysis. I decided I wanted to work in the private sector, and eventually, I was very fortunate to get a job as a public finance banker with a major Wall Street firm. Public finance is a part of investment banking that funds big infrastructure projects like bridges, schools, and things that cost a lot of money. After the banking world went south in 2008, I had the opportunity to become CFO for the University of California system which I did for a few years and then retired.  I now run a small philanthropic foundation.

I often describe my career in two parts: my working career, for which I was paid, and my volunteer career, for which I earned non-monetary rewards. As I look back, the two paths have dove-tailed very nicely together. One has created opportunities for service just as one has opened doors professionally. I believe that volunteering and giving back is very important. You should find something you are passionate about, because it takes time and energy. You want to do something you care about, but if you do it well and are an engaged volunteer, people will notice. You could get opportunities for leadership in professional and work settings.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I often describe life as four phases. There’s learning, doing, advising, and relaxing. Looking back now, the smartest thing I did was to assume there wasn’t a hard break between learning and doing. At my first three jobs, I accepted positions where I could continue learning. That is not to say that benefits and salary are not important, but when I graduated from UCLA, one of my job offers paid 50% more than the other, but the learning opportunities were not nearly as good as the lower paying job. I was fortunate that the lower paying job set me on the perfect path. I encourage students to not have the mindset of “I’m graduated and done learning, now it is time for me to go work.” You should absolutely continue learning in your first few jobs. It is not the same type of classroom learning obviously, but learning doesn’t stop when you get your degree.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

At UCLA, I was involved in student government. I was an RA in Hedrick Hall and had a job in the library. I was on a few committees and had the opportunity to redesign new student orientation. UCLA gave me a chance to practice being a good board and committee member. It gave me a collaborative mindset and taught me how to make decisions. Communication, collaboration, and critical thinking are all skills that I learned at UCLA and have come in handy in the 40+ years since.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network? 

There wasn’t a formal network when I graduated. Certainly a number of people in my class were useful but a dean on campus, Rick Tuttle, was very helpful for me as a sounding board. He had many connections off campus and he gave me perspective about what opportunities might look like after graduation. In the grand scheme of things, I am glad to see that UCLA is a bit more organized now in terms of connecting students and alumni.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

Coming to grips with the realization that nothing is linear or easily and clearly planned out. I mentioned at the beginning of our chat that I have viewed my career as a series of bank shots. I worked in government and then I ran a nonprofit. I worked in the private sector for a while and went back to education and now I work in philanthropy. It might seem like none of those are connected, but there are skills that are transferable between sectors.

When I was an investment banker, I wasn’t the strongest quantitative guy by any means, but my skill was being able to translate complex, complicated quantitative concepts into plain English for my clients and customers. I was able to offer advice for what made sense for them and what didn’t. I hope that young people focus on technical skills because that will get them employed, but they should also focus on their professional skills of communication and collaboration which will come in handy throughout their 40 or 45 year careers.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?

If there is ever a time in your life to work really hard and take risks, now is the time to do it as long as that risk puts you in a position to learn. Sometimes students think that they’ve been working so hard, they need to take it easy, but now is the time to work hard and position yourself for the future. Don’t approach life with too many blinders. I was working hard in my first job or two, but I still found time to volunteer with the alumni association which exposed me to a whole different type of management and organizational challenge. It helped me grow as an individual and prepare me for roles I would take later. If there is ever a time to stretch yourself and work hard, now is it. 

How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?

I was very involved with the Alumni Association and chair of the scholarship board, and later on I was president of the Alumni Association and the alumni representative on the UC Board of Regents. Later, I chaired the UCLA foundation board, and most importantly in 2006-2007, I chaired the task force on African American admissions and retention.  

Since then, I’ve been more involved with the CSU system, because Governor Brown appointed me to the CSU Trustees a few years ago, but I still stay close to UCLA and keep my season tickets on hand.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

UCLA has a tremendous legacy of engagement across Los Angeles. You see some universities around the country and they are completely disconnected from their community. I’d like to think UCLA is connected to LA and LA is connected to UCLA. As a lifelong Angeleno myself, I’m very proud of that recognition that you can be a great university and do ground breaking research while still being involved in your community. 

And finally, what’s next?

I mentioned earlier that life has four phases: learning, doing, advising, and relaxing. I’m on that cusp between doing and advising. Somewhere in the future or a few years, I would imagine I’ll spend more of my time on boards of directors for nonprofit organizations and companies and helping them think strategically about their future on a higher level.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.