Clay Mathile is Breeding the Next Generation of Business Leaders
Clay Mathile has little to prove in the world of business. The Ohio native transformed Iams from a regional pet food company into a global giant, selling it to Procter & Gamble for a cool $2.3 billion in 1999.
But the self-made billionaire wasn’t satisfied with just enjoying his own success. Instead, he’s busy passing on some of his wisdom to the next generation of business leaders.
“In my life, my first objective was to own my own business,” said Mathile. “I was a farm kid from northern Ohio and I didn’t have any money and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get it. I was fortunate enough to meet the right people and come to Iams and build it into a success.”
Now he’s helping to create the circumstances for entrepreneurs to find a similar opportunity.
During the final years of his tenure with Iams, Mathile helped develop a leadership training program, Iams University, for both the company’s employees and its distributors. Upon his departure, Mathile took the program- now known as Aileron - with him and use it as an opportunity to enlighten the broaded Midwestern business community.
Mathile used $130 million of his own capital to help build Aileron’s current campus, which is located just north of Dayton, Ohio in Tipp City.
“We decided that we would use Iams University as an outreach into the community and we started offering the program for presidents,” he said.
Mathile, who leads the course for presidents himself, stressed that he views up-and-coming entrepreneurs as the keys to healing the nation’s economy.
“If you look at history, the United States has been the most innovative country in the world. I believe that that can still happen. You only have to look at a guy who had nine employees turn around and sell his company for $19 billion to Facebook. “
Joni Fedders, president of Aileron, shares Mathile’s passion and said the campus is designed to keep the country’s innovative spirit alive. “There’s a strong belief that entrepreneurs are going to be part of the solution that keeps this country on the path to continued success and wealth.“
On campus, businesses leaders who are attempting to navigate the waters of significant growth can attend seminars on best practices and strategies. It is at this juncture in a company’s life where it can either thrive and reach a new level of profitability, or be swiftly extinguished due to poor planning.
“After getting the right product in the right market, the right service in the right market, you think about how you’re going to grow,” said Mathile. “We get business owners when they are in trouble and they’re usually in a spot where they need to scale up.”
The program’s focus is a simple framework around setting direction, how they are aligning that future direction, and the controls that they can use said Fedders.
“It focuses on setting direction, how they are aligning that future direction and the controls that they can put in place,” she said. “You can get a lot of training in different places, but what we provide is really a simple framework and how you look at it as whole rather than hit or miss individual pieces.”
The advice seems to be working. Between 2009 and 2011, says Fedders, the roster of companies that had worked through Aileron’s programs experienced a growth rate of 21%. The bulk of the clientele hovers in the small to medium range, but several Fortune 500 companies have also worked with the institute.
“We’re going to read what our clients need and want,” said Mathile. “We talk about leadership, we have some programs that help CEOs become better leaders, but if you really want to get down and deep there are plenty of great programs. It’s about the focus on the customer, in this case the business owner, and exactly what they need. “
Mathile is very pleased that he has been able to do his part in helping other businesses thrive and though he has invested much of his own capital in the pursuit of helping others, this situation is one instance in which return on investment is not the primary concern.
“If you don’t give your money away, it’s going to Uncle Sam,” said Mathile. “If you think about it, you spend about a third of your life learning, you spend about a third of your life doing, you should probably spend the final third of your life giving.”