Oriental Trading CEO who turned company into profitable part of Berkshire dies at 56 | Money
Funeral services are pending for Sam Taylor, who guided Oriental Trading Co. from bankruptcy into one of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s local success stories.
Taylor, 56, died more than a year after being diagnosed with a lethal form of brain cancer. Arrangements are pending at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak & Cutler West Center Chapel at 7805 West Center Road.
Taylor, from Van Nuys, California, earned degrees in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University and business at Harvard University.
He was well-suited for the job as chief executive of a company that specializes in fun. He appeared on the “Undercover Boss” reality TV show shortly after taking the job. He dressed as a member of the rock group Kiss and performed at a company party, and at Berkshire’s post-meeting run he led a crowd of employees decked out in fluorescent wigs and sunglasses.
Taylor came to Omaha with his family — wife Stephanie and daughters Ashton, Celine and Mallory — in May 2008 to take over the troubled company, which had been saddled with high debt through a series of buyouts and refinancings.
He had headed e-commerce operations for Hewlett-Packard and Best Buy and aimed to turn Oriental Trading from a catalog sales company into an Internet-driven retailer.
The business itself was sound, but the debt and the recession led to a bankruptcy filing in 2010 and a plan to emerge as a smaller company with a brighter, profitable future once freed from its financial bind.
With the turnaround underway, in 2012 Taylor successfully pitched Oriental Trading to Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett, explaining how its La Vista distribution system, catalogs, online sales system and staff could become a profitable part of Berkshire.
“He was a wonderful manager and a wonderful human being,” Buffett said Friday.
Since joining Berkshire, Oriental Trading has made acquisitions of its own, adding new products to its lineup of party supplies, decorations, novelties, toys, games and entertainment items. Last April, Taylor was the subject of a World-Herald story about his diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme in October 2016 and the treatments that followed — precision laser surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
He volunteered for a study that had him wearing an adhesive cap embedded with transducers on his shaved head for about 20 hours a day, a therapy that had, in trials, increased some people’s chances of living longer than taking chemo alone.
The chance of surviving five years was listed at 13 percent.
“Sign me up,” Taylor had said. “I want to be part of that 13 percent.”
Oriental Trading employees raised $40,000 to show support for him, which he presented to the brain tumor center at Duke University. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “I work for the best company in the world because we have the best employees in the world!”
The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.