Clayton Mathile

Former CEO and Owner, Iams
Ohio Northern University, Class of 1962
Clayton Mathile Headshot

​​​When I started at Ohio Northern University, I didn’t know anything about a liberal arts education. I wanted to be an engineer and to play basketball. Sometimes in my mechanical-drawing class, my professor, who was a big basketball fan, talked about basketball. We got along great. In those days we didn’t have computer-aided drawing; we had to line out everything.  I did fine in math, but mechanical drawing was driving me nuts. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I said I wanted to own my own business. The next quarter he took me over to the business department, and I started in the liberal arts program with a business discipline. ​

Being from a farming area, I hadn’t had such a breadth of exposure to different courses and disciplines. The social sciences and humanities—philosophy, literature, public speaking, sociology, psychology, economics, and foreign language—were most important to me. If you think about a lifetime of learning, you can’t beat a solid liberal arts foundation. The ability to take those classes and to be involved with a diverse group of students from all different kinds of places and economic backgrounds opened up a broad and rewarding world for me.
The combination of a liberal arts education and extracurricular experiences at a smaller school where the student-teacher ratio was low and interaction was high helped me in what I’d do for the rest of my life.  In the library, searching for answers—which is what life is about—showed me how the past helps to solve problems now and in the future. The challenges of playing level-three basketball also prepared me for business: You have to work hard, practice, be smart, assess your opponent, figure out what to do to win, and be willing to accept losses as a normal part of life. When I got out of school in 1962, jobs were not plentiful. With nearly enough credits to minor in accounting, I got a job as an accountant and progressed from there.
To high school students looking at colleges today, I’d say the best thing for the long term is to get a liberal arts education as early as possible and then to specialize. If you don’t have big college loans, you can afford to bounce around a bit. But if you have tuition payments coming at you, you need to have a specialty first so you can get a job right after college. A liberal arts education makes you a well-rounded, global person. My liberal arts education still helps me to successfully navigate uncharted territories as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. It can do the same for countless others. 

Clayton Mathile is a former CEO and owner of the Iams Company and the founder of the Mathile Family Enterprise, which includes Aileron, the Mathile Family Foundation, and several for-profit and nonprofit entities. Dedicated to inspiring others to be lifelong learners, Mathile is the author of two books, Run Your Business, Don't Let it Run You, and his autobiography, Dream No Little Dreams. He and his wife Mary live in Dayton, Ohio, where he serves as a trustee on a select group of nonprofit boards that focus on education, medical innovation, and social justice. Mathile insists that his most important roles are those of husband, father of five, and grandfather of 15.