Alumnus, entrepreneur keynotes Purdue summer commencement

August 8, 2015  

New graduates hugs

A pair of happy graduates share a hug during the Purdue University summer commencement ceremony on Saturday (Aug. 8). (Purdue University image/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Shawn Taylor, a Purdue alumnus, president and operating partner of Zaxby's Houston LLC, and a limited partner in the Houston Astros Major League Baseball team, provided the keynote address at the university's summer commencement on Saturday (Aug. 8).

About 1,290 students were eligible for degrees, with 260 undergraduates, about 415 graduate students and one student from the professional programs, participating in the morning commencement ceremony in Elliott Hall of Music.

Taylor was raised in the projects on the south side of Chicago by a single mother of four. The Dr. Cornell A. Bell Business Opportunity Program recruited him to Purdue in 1978. BOP laid the foundation for his success as a student, which led him to earning a bachelor's degree, with distinction, in accounting from Purdue in 1982. He quickly ascended in the business world. He began his professional career at Arthur Andersen in Dallas, the world's largest accounting firm, where he led in the recruitment and retention of minority employees at a rate never achieved by any other office in the firm.

Graduate with John Purdue statue

This graduate leans in to kiss the statue of Purdue founder John Purdue in the Purdue Memorial Mall. (Purdue University image/Mark Simons)
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In 1994, he founded Family EATs Limited Partnership (FELP), through which he owned and operated 33 Taco Bell restaurants in the Houston area. FELP became the largest African-American-owned Taco Bell franchise in the company's history, with more than 500 employees and nearly $30 million in sales. He also held several leadership positions within the Taco Bell system and served on its Franchise Management Advisory Council.

In 2007, Taylor sold FELP and spent the next six years working through various nonprofit organizations to give back to students from communities similar to the one in which he grew up.

He became a limited partner in the Astros baseball organization in 2011 and today serves on the Astros Foundation board of directors. In 2013, he became a franchisee for Zaxby's in Houston and recently signed a development agreement to build 35 new restaurants.

Shawn Taylor

Shawn Taylor, an alumnus and elite entrepreneur in the Houston area, gives the keynote address during the ceremony. (Purdue University image/Mark Simons)
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"I am honored to be invited back to Purdue, my alma mater, and to be able to talk to these graduates about what education did for me," Taylor said before the commencement. "I always enjoy speaking to students about maximizing their opportunities regardless of their surroundings."

Taylor earned the Krannert School of Management's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2012. He is a member of the school's Dean's Advisory Council. The married father of two serves on numerous nonprofit boards, including the Houston KIPP Academy. He is president of the Houston Community College Foundation and is on the finance committee of the Hermann Healthcare system.

The student responder for the ceremony was Lindsey B. Payne of Lafayette, Indiana, who iearned a doctoral degree in ecological sciences and engineering.

Commencement videos will be available for $30 per DVD. Order forms can be obtained at the Loeb Playhouse box office, online at or by calling 765-494-3933. Forms may be submitted within two weeks of the event. 

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, 

Source: Christine DeHahn Pass, senior assistant registrar, 765-494-6163, 

Related website:

Taylor to graduates: Dream big with courage and commitment

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