Dream No Little Dreams

Posted: February 9, 2014 by Bill Cunningham in Culture, Leadership, Startup

“Dream no little dreams for they have no power to move men’s souls” 


Clay Mathile, Founder of IAMS

Clay Mathile, Founder of IAMS

Clay Mathile, founder of the IAMS Company, paraphrased Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quote as the title for his autobiography. This should be required reading for all entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs intellectually understand the journey, but the stories of Mathile’s journey from 1970 to a billion dollar enterprise by 1999 resonate with founders far more than any textbook or Inc. magazine article.

On my journey to scale OneMorePallet, I invested two days in Aileron’s Course for Presidents at their campus in Tipp City, OH just north of Dayton. Aileron is Mathile’s organization and campus that fulfills his dream of helping grow entrepreneurs and giving back to the community.

Here are the lessons and learnings from the course that helps entrepreneurs focus on the right stuff.

  1. .Entrepreneurs are control freaks by nature – yet that formula doesn’t scale. During his 40’s, Mathile’s realized (and was extremely surprised) that he could no longer make every decision in the business. His board of directors convinced Mathile’s to “let go” and bring in a COO to run the business. It took two years to convince Mathile’s – but their patience paid off in spades. This gave Mathile’s more time to do the things he does very well!
  2. Culture trumps strategy every time. Having the right team in place and sharing a common vision enables startups to manage changes in strategy that are inevitable. Building a culture where the shared vision is part of the fabric of the company is essential for high growth companies.
  3. Investing in people has a better return on investment than investing in technology. Mathile’s believed IAMS received $10 for every $1 invested in people versus a 2 to 1 return on equipment.  A powerful employee team builds tremendous competitive advantage that helps companies on a rapid growth track.
  4. Never compromise on quality. At any point, any employee could stop production runs if they found a quality problem. This core value allowed IAMS to keep their promise to give the best possible products for their customers. Even in the face of product shortages, the IAMS culture never permitted any customer to receive anything but an excellent product.
  5. Invest in yourself as a founder. Mathile’s 30-year span at IAMS clearly changed him as a person. At each milestone, he had to face change and make decisions that changed his role and all the employee’s roles as they grew through the rapidly expanding company. Along they way, he invested time in American Management Association workshops, consultants to help address specific challenges like recruiting, human resources, success planning and more.

Entrepreneurs need to self-assess, seek education and counsel and change themselves to grow with the business. What got you here may not get you to where you want to go. Get a board of advisors, invest in Aileron or other courses to continue learning and get a mentor or two to help you change with the business.

Links:  Aileron –  www.aileron.org


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