Learn It, Do It, Give It Away – Meet Clay Mathile

Clay Mathile

One can learn a great deal growing up on the family farm. Such was the case of a boy named Clay, the eldest child of Bill and Helen, owners of a forty acre farm in Portage, a small town in northwest Ohio. Perhaps the first thing learned is a solid work ethic. A lot goes into growing crops such as wheat, oats, soy, hay along with raising both dairy and beef cattle – not to mention maintaining the family’s vegetable garden. 

Then there’s the need to learn teamwork. Even a small farm requires that everyone pull their weight – that everyone pitch in on chores that begin before the sun rises and often end as the day turns to night. Perhaps the greatest lesson is that a working farm is a business and that a successful business requires a great deal of strategy and planning. The discussions about farm operations often occurred around the family supper table. Yes, there is a quite a bit to learn on a farm.

He and his family took a trip to Arkansas to visit Clay’s great-uncle, who in addition to his farm, ran a sawmill and a cotton gin. Seeing the machinery used to pick the cotton made a big impression on Clay, who was only six at the time. It made him realize that one should continuously seek better ways to do things – to seek new and better solutions.

Clay stood out both as a student and an athlete while in high school. He finished at the top of his class, graduating at the age of 16. He enrolled at Ohio Northern University where he played basketball and pumped gas to make money. He started out studying to be a mechanical engineer but eventually switched to the business school where he earned a B.A. in business administration. He graduated in 1962, the same year that he married his high school sweetheart.

General Motors hired Clay to be an accountant at their Toledo plant. He left after one year to accept a management training position at the Campbell Soup Company in Napoleon, Ohio. There he gained experience in cost accounting, purchasing, inventory control and management. Importantly, he discovered that the corporate life wasn’t for him. In 1970, he left to become the seventh employee at a small Ohio-based dog food company which had annual revenue of only about $500,000.

Clay brought with him the lessons he had learned as a child on the farm. He augmented those traits with sound business knowledge and experience. Driven by Clay’s entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, the company began to expand its distribution, increase its product line and sales grew dramatically. In 1975, Clay purchased one half of the company for $100,000. In 1980 he had become president and CEO. Two years later, he became sole owner of the company by agreeing to pay its founder, Paul Iams, $100,000 per year in perpetuity and a new Cadillac. 

The company focused on the premium dog food segment with both the Iams and Eukanuba brands. By the end of the century, under Clay’s leadership, Iams had gained a 5.7% share of the U.S. pet food industry, boasting sales of $1 billion. In 1999, Clay sold Iams to Proctor & Gamble for $2.3 billion, still the largest single acquisition in P&G’s history.

Clay grew a small, specialty company into a multi-billion dollar entity in thirty years. Iams continues to be a highly regarded brand in the pet food industry, with both domestic and international distribution. Yet that brand became successful through the vision, management and direction of an individual – a personal brand. Clay Mathile is that fearless brand.

Fearless Brands beget fearless brands

Clayton ‘Clay’ Mathiles built the Iams Company into a fearless brand. However, there’s much more to this fearless brand than a dog food company. To begin with, Mathile agreed to sell the Iams Company to Proctor & Gamble only after his research convinced him that P&G shared the same commitment to quality that had made Iams so successful. He then allocated $100 million from the sale of the company to the Iams employees. He committed an additional $100 million to large-scale community projects in Dayton, Ohio.

But Clay Mathile was far from finished. With another $130 million he created a center for entrepreneurship which he named Aileron. This foundation was founded on the belief that privately held businesses fuel free enterprise and raise the quality of life for all. Its stated mission is to unleash the potential of private businesses through Professional Management. Aileron is having measurable positive impact with thousands of businesses and that mission continues.

Mathile now owns his second billion dollar business. He is the majority owner of ooVoo, a lesser known competitor to Skype and Google Hangouts. It is a free service which boasts over 100 million registered users. In January 2015, ooVoo debuted its “intelligent video” feature, which can tell users if the person on the other end of the video chat is feeling happy, confused or nervous based on facial expressions.

He and his family have also created several philanthropic organizations. The Mathile Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization which helps children and families in need. The Glen at St. Joseph is a life-changing campus for single mothers and their young children – the result of the vision of Mathile’s wife, Mary Ann. The Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition is an initiative based on Mathile’s belief that no child should suffer from the lack of quality food.

Clay Mathile and his family give back – tirelessly.

Not only is Mathile a fearless brand himself – his companies are powerful examples of the results achieved through effective branding.

Find your passion – Regular readers know to expect this bullet. Why? Simple, because it is a trait at the very heart of every single fearless brand. Whether you call it your passion, your motivation or your why – it’s imperative to know  and follow your purpose.

Stay in touch with your core values – Mathile learned early in life the value of hard work, cooperation, strategy and diligence. Additionally, he discovered the magic of seeking new solutions and continuing to learn. No matter the level of your talents and skills you can and need to learn new principles and applications.

Run your business – don’t let it run you – You must be in control of your business. Likewise, you must manage your brand – or someone else will.

Learn, Do, Give – There’s no better way to say this than in Clay Mathile’s own words. “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.”

In all likelihood you won’t own a single billion dollar business – much less two. Yet the exact same principles which Clay Mathile enacted at the Iams Company, Aileron and his various foundations are applicable in your business – in your brand. Know your why, trust your core values, manage your brand and ‘give it away’. You’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll achieve your dream results.

Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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