The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

Episode #265: Clay Mathile – Self Made Billionaire Shares His Keys To Success

Former CEO and owner of The Iams Company, Clay is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Aileron. He believes strongly in free enterprise and has a high respect for business owners who risk their capital to employ others. Clay attributes professional management as one of the key reasons he was able to grow Iams to a $1 billion organization. In 1999, the Mathile family sold Iams to international conglomerate Procter & Gamble for the sum of $2.3 billion.

The Learning Leader Show

“I bought the business with borrowed money. I was scared to death. I didn’t know how to run a business.  I had to learn.” — Clay Mathile describes his feelings after buying Iams

Show Notes:

  • Sustaining excellence:
    • Vision of what they want to do and where they want to go
    • A good idea of how to get there
    • Committed to their vision and idea
    • Clay’s 4 things he wanted
      • Own his own business
      • Have that business be something that was excellent and stood for something
      • To help entrepreneurs grow
      • To use technology learned to help develop food for indigenous people
  • Was hired at Iams in 1970 as the 7th employee
    • It took five years to figure out the problems and five more years to fix it
    • Convinced Paul Iams to sell Iams to him in 1975 (half) and the rest in 1981
    • Borrowed money to buy it
    • Why Clay?  “Paul had seen me work and seen me make an impact on the business.  I spent a lot of time on the sales and marketing strategy.”
      • Focused on the breeders and vets. The people who influence the actual user.  Clay was ahead of his time.
  • Went to President’s Course in 1982 at American Management Association
    • “I’m scared to death, I don’t know how to run a business.  I needed to learn.”
    • The key was hiring a President and super charging their growth
    • What went in the decision to sell the company?
      • Sat down with his family to decide what each child wanted to do – “They all wanted to chase their own dreams, their own passions. They didn’t want to own Iams.”
    • The CEO of Procter & Gamble called…
      • Clay takes us inside the room to negotiate the deal: “We told them what our number was… And they exceeded it. It ended up with $2.3 billion.”
  • Starting the family office in anticipation of the sale of his business — To build a new organization for the future.
  • Aileron started as the center for entrepreneur organizations in 1994
  • Aileron – “We give lift and guidance to the business owner.”
  • “How can I possibly repay you?” — Clay said to his mentors.  They said, “Don’t pay me… Just pass it on to others.”
  • “People are looking for immediate help for a problem they are having right now.  And we’ve designed this place to help them solve those problems.”
  • Been married for 55 years, have raised a successful family… How?
    • “When I was home, I was home. I was present. I wasn’t playing golf or out with the boys.”
    • Keys: “Trust… You have to like the person too.  Like hanging out with them.”
  • Why everyone should have a board?
    • “They see things that you don’t see. A strategic overview. It’s something you can’t do yourself.”
    • “After you’ve been in business for 10 years, 75% of all problems are because of you.”
  • Having a “Personal Board of Advisors”
    • “I recommend all senior executives have mentors.  All you have to do is ask. I’ve never had anyone turn me down when I’ve asked them.”
    • “Build trust and mutual respect.”
  • Culture
    • “I built it so I could work in it.”
    • “I had strange things in my management style. I was promoting empowerment before it was popular.”
    • “Most people do the right things for the right reasons if you put them in the right environment.”
    • “The value of the individual is so important. Treat them with respect.  They feel important and special. I saw every single employee at least once per year all over the world.”
    • “People are inherently good.”
  • Bad leaders = “Big egos, not trusting of others, insecure people.”
  • “When you push people outside of their comfort zone, you can’t beat on them when they fail. You have to let them make mistakes.”
  • Individual contributor to manager jump… Advice:
    • “You have to accept the fact that management is a profession as anything else is a profession.”
    • “Just because you’re the best sales person doesn’t mean you’ll be the best sales person.”
  • “As a manager, you’re job is to develop others.”
  • “You need to manage spontaneity, responsiveness.  Don’t react, be proactive.”
  • A good example of a proactive leader is a fire chief: They analyze the situation prior to making decisions. Manage in crisis
  • “In 1984, we built Iams University to help people learn…”
  • Most passionate about? “Teaching people, focus on the dreams of the people.  Read the book Dream Manager. That’s what we’re all about.”
  • Example of a typical day: “I do about anything I want to do.”
  • One dream for Aileron — “It will survive forever.”
  • Learning Leader = You have to be a continuous learner
  • How much of his success is luck?
    • “60% luck. Be in the right place at the right time.”
  • “Your listeners need to think about passing it on. To help others.”
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document

“We give lift and guidance to the business owner.”

Social Media:

More Learning:

Episode 078: Kat Cole – From Hooters Waitress To President of Cinnabon

Episode 216: Jim Collins — How To Go From Good To Great

Episode 179: How To Sustain Excellence – The Best Answers From 178 Questions

Episode 234: Jocko Willink — Why Discipline Equals Freedom

Leave A Comment