Colleen Taylor is the president of Merchants Services at American Express, a Spelman College Trustee and more. Her executive accomplishments are manifold. But she saved the best job title for last on her impressive resume “favorite auntie to fourteen nieces and nephews.” When talking with Taylor, she exudes pride with stories and gratitude for her role and how those relationships have shaped her life. Taylor also has a stepson from her late wife, Carol, whom Taylor praised as an “awesome, amazing young man.” Taylor explained how auntie relationships are different from parenting. “You don’t have the pressure of authority. I encourage them to experience everything.”
Colleen doesn’t have any blood-related aunties. But she is blessed with aunties in her life. “I grew up with auntie figures from my church. My mom’s best friend from our church is still my Aunt Betty. I still talk to her all the time,” Taylor said. Her auntie role extends beyond her own blood relatives. Her Aunt Betty inspired and influenced her. One of her best friends from her Spelman sorority years, is an only child. Colleen stepped up as an auntie to her friend’s children who, “by the way, are both Spelman students now.” Taylor says their choice of school was “Not only because their mom went there. Literally one of them told me: ‘I looked at you, Auntie Coll, and I see what you’re doing.’”
For Taylor, being an auntie is part of an honored community and far beyond the rigid, standard family tree format. “I think being an auntie figure is not just because you are someone’s sibling and they had a kid. It’s the role you’re playing as a mentor, advocate, and in many regards, a friend.” Being able to connect with her nieces and nephews on a personal level–a human level–involves a necessary depth of love and connection.
Taylor’s list of personal and professional accomplishments is long and impressive. She graduated from Spelman College, and then earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She serves on the board of directors at Spelman College, Lowe’s, and Bill.com, and is the President of Merchant Services at American Express. Her professional success certainly shapes how she influences her nieces and nephews, too. She is super focused on their professional success. “I tell them – ‘Hey, you’ve got to be the best at what you’re doing.’ They come to me for advice around that.” Taylor noted that one of her nephews is a skilled football player and is one of the top recruits in the country. Despite the fact his football talent puts him in high demand to various colleges, he isn’t taking the easy road. He wants more.
Taylor’s nephew said he told a football coach: “Listen, my Aunt Colleen is not going to let me come to a school that doesn’t have a good academic program.”
That’s what great aunts do — insert and intervene with great advice. “I wasn’t even there for that coach conversation. But my nephews and nieces know my values for excellence—that you have to go somewhere where you’re going to get an education.”
Taylor is pleased to be a positive influence on her nieces and nephews. “They are listening to me about the things that matter,” Taylor said. “Besides me showing up with great gifts, taking everyone on awesome trips, being funny and fun, I am glad that they are listening and that they feel safe talking to me about topics that they might not talk about with their mom or dad.”
Aunties are Mentors
As an executive, Taylor said she sometimes brings an “aunty perspective” as a mentor beyond her professional work world. If the qualities of a good mentor are: active listener, honesty, integrity, empathy, communication, and credibility, then Taylor brings it all to the table.
“I think in terms–whether it’s the jobs that I’ve had, or being on a board, or working in the community–the sense of mentorship that is inherent in the title of Auntie is something that goes over in the way that I treat employees, my team, the way I engage customers,” she said.
Taylor credits her success to mentors. “One of my early mentors hired me for a training program.” Taylor reflected that she learned about leadership and friendship from that mentor. She became her mentor’s peer after years of hard work. Her mentor taught her to see possibilities and understand competition in the workplace. Now, Taylor said her former work mentor is one of her best friends. “She read at my wedding!” Taylor said.
Taylor values how relationships are important parts of our lives as they provide comfort, support, security, fun and more. Whether it’s a co-worker, friend, family, or neighbor, all relationships evolve over time and require a level of work, respect, communication, and commitment.
To explain, Taylor recalled a story about her oldest niece, Trinity. She recalled “very vividly holding her when she was a baby and singing an old song, ‘I got nothing but love for you, baby.’ It’s a rap song that’s way before your age,” Taylor said with a laugh. “Now, she’s getting married!”
“When she was really small, she was the cutest darn thing. And then as a teenager, she was so smart and she went off to Stanford. She’s amazing,” Taylor gushed. Then, she became emotional. “She turned into a really critical person for me when my wife got sick. She was more like a friend, because she came and supported us through a really terrible process.” Colleen’s wife suddenly became gravely ill in 2017, and died the next year. “I often think if Trinity wasn’t around, it wouldn’t have been good. She was such a great friend. She was my family. My sisters weren’t here–although they were here on the phone, and they came to visit. But because Trinity was here, she visited every two weeks for a year. On Friday nights we had movie nights with me and Carol. Carol was so sick. And as a young person, I’m sure it was really hard for her to see somebody be that sick. But she did it, and she was awesome. She brought her boyfriend. She did grocery shopping for us, and she made it kind of…okay. Like, regular. I think these relationships can be really important, not only to the aunt, but for the niece or the nephew as well.”
‘You push your people into their light’
“Now I always say to my nieces and nephews, I hope when you come visit me at Shady Pine retirement home, please push me to the sun on the patio and make sure they’re not feeding me cat food. If I’m blinking when you visit, that means they’re probably abusing me. When I’m old, maybe I won’t have my full capacities. And, it’s funny because my other niece signs her notes to me with the message: ‘I’ll push you to the sun.’ Isn’t that cute?” Maybe, to be an aunty is to do just that—push your people into their light, their sunshine, to be seen and to do one’s best!”