Profit Minded

Your Business Rules Your Life? Help from a Billionaire Who’s Been There

On his way to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest businessmen, Clay Mathile says he made numerous mistakes that brought his company “close to meeting a haymaker.” He once hired a blind truck driver, and he sent a dog-hating sales exec to dog shows, for instance.

But the biggest thing that got in the way of Mathile’s eventual success, he says, was his own behavior. It took some brutally honest feedback from peers and employees for him to see that “I wasn’t developing my people; I was manipulating them.”

Mathile shares that and other hard-earned wisdom in “Run Your Business, Don’t Let It Run You,” published this week. It’s a must-read for any small business owner who is looking for the key to growth, sustainability, and even personal happiness. Subtitled “learning and living professional management,” the book’s jacket promises entrepreneurs “no more 16-hour days.”

Mathile became owner of the IAMS pet food company in 1982 at age 41, grew it from half a million to $1 billion in sales, and sold it to Procter & Gamble for $2.3 billion cash in 1999.

Now, at 72, he is passionate about giving back by supporting small business owners. “Entrepreneurs perform the most noble act of anyone in a free society,” he says. “By putting their capital at risk and creating jobs for others, they keep the Great American Dream alive.”

Mathile’s most significant contribution is Aileron, a $150 million campus he built for training retreats on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio. The book encapsulates the professional management approach that small business leaders learn there in a two-day Course for Presidents, including details of the trademarked DOC Model (for Direction, Operation, Control) that the Aileron faculty continues to develop.

Clay Mathile at Aileron in Dayton, Ohio

Yahoo! Small Business Advisor met with Mathile in New York City last week at a stop along his book tour, which included a live interview on Fox News. These are just a few of the gems, verbatim, that the 200-page paperback offers to business owners:

An owner’s lack of self-awareness obstructs a business’s growth. “I wasn’t able to step back from my crazed way of working until I understood how my role in the business affected everyone else, prevented rather than promoted growth, and had to change. … I had to learn to manage results, not people’s activities. … By getting out of their way and letting them do their jobs, you will be supporting rather than restricting growth.”

Owners need to give up trying to be super-employees. “We see companies fail because owners and senior executives cannot make the transition from doer to manager, shifting from being their business’s super-employee with a hand in every decision to becoming a leader whose job is to think about the future and where the business should be headed.”

Work on your business, instead of in your business. “[Making] the commitment to change your role and shift your focus … will shift your company into a sustainable and profitable organization. … Your business will begin to see future trends, opportunities, and threats before they are on top of you. … This will help your business become more adaptable and thrive in any market environment.”

Owners need to communicate their vision. “Employees in 95 percent of private enterprises don’t know what the owner is thinking. They know the leader wants the business to grow, but she has failed to communicate why and has not articulated the mission and vision in a meaningful way that inspires employees and gives them a powerful feeling of purpose and contribution in their daily work. … Your personal vision can become the lifeblood of the company.”

Gut feelings aren’t good enough. “Base decisions on evidence, not emotion. Many business owners equate entrepreneurialism with a speed-and-action, overeager gunslinger mentality. Although some of the qualities associated with this mindset may have helped you to succeed as the owner of a startup, they are often the same ones that at more advanced stages can cause you to fail.”

Owning a business doesn’t mean you’re the right person to run it. “Sometimes no amount of learning is enough to prepare you to lead your business to each new level. In one of the toughest tests of leadership, you may need to admit that you are no longer the best person to run the business. You may prefer to focus on your real passion—research and development or design and production. This choice might be in the best interests of your company, taking it to higher levels of growth.”

No plan? Then plan to fail. “Even if you got your business off the ground without much of a plan, the only way you can turn your dreams for growing your business, making it successful and sustainable, into a reality, is by committing yourself to planning as an integral part of your leadership and life. … Strategic planning is really a disciplined habit of continually thinking, discussing, investigating, communicating, reviewing, and learning.”

Mathile promises that applying the ideas in his book can help business owners regain freedom at the same time they’re regaining control of their business. “You will learn how to be successful, profitable, and sustainable by working on your business instead of in it, by managing results instead of people’s activities or behaviors, by stepping back for clarity and perspective.” Take it from a guy who has been there.

See also from Yahoo! Small Business: How a billionaire is changing small business owners’ lives

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