Five questions with Aileron’s president

Joni Fedders is president of Aileron, the Miami County small-business training institute founded by billionaire businessman Clay Mathile.

Private business owners and entrepreneurs from across Ohio and the U.S. come to the nonprofit organization’s 114-acre campus in Bethel Twp., near Tipp City, where they learn Aileron’s professional management systems to scale and grow their business.

Fedders spoke to Dayton B2B about Aileron and offered insights that area business leaders might find useful.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received from a business leader?

A: I feel like I’ve received lots of great advice, and there are so many different dimensions to running an organization. But recently we’ve been studying (W. Edwards) Deming, which is a philosophy that has been around in lean manufacturing and many of those things have come across and grown.

Probably the best advice in there was leading with a systems view. So how do you lead your organization and look at it as a system and what it can produce? And then how can all the parts and pieces become visible to the group and the employees that are working in there so they can work as a cohesive unit?

So a lot of Deming is making process visible, asking questions and using that as a platform to continuously improve and create and innovate.

That has been something that we’ve really embraced this year and fallen in love with as far as a way to run an organization. It’s definitely leading with more of that systems view.

Q: What advice do you have for young people starting in business who want to become leaders in their company?

A: What I’ve seen successful here and with a lot of young leaders is that they really do want to make a difference, and with that they ask great questions.

So I’d say continue to be curious. Continue to stay curious and ask questions. And then on the flip side, don’t be afraid to lead – to take the initiative to try some of those ideas that they have, to implement, to speak up and really take the lead.

Q: What are some of the things business organizations forget when they plan for the future?

A: I would say to look externally at what’s going on, and to look at what the environment might be like in five or 10 years versus what it is today.

Who would have thought bottled water would be this incredible industry? But it’s looking externally. Look at what the client is going to need or what the customers are going to be like or need – what their wants and needs are going to be in the future.

Q: What is a common error business leaders make in company reorganizations?

A: It is probably failing to plan — to look at how to execute the whole plan.

I had someone who just went through a really good one and the question was what made it so successful, or how did you handle it well.

They took a lot of care and concern about the people, about communicating and about having a plan, and working through that and playing out the different scenarios.

Q: In this recovering economy, what are some of the top concerns for CEOs and business leaders?

A: It probably is the never-ending change of the economic conditions, the regulations, and how they have to navigate some of that while they are also trying to grow their business and work through customers and product invention and stuff like that. So I think it is some of the external marketplace.

I think it is around people. It seems like a lot of people talk about it’s hard to find the right people and the skill sets that they’re going to need.

When you go from a 20-person company to a 100-person company, do you have the employees that can adapt and bring the skill sets, and then change and adapt as they grow? So I would say a lot of it is around people, too.

And there seems to be a lot in the marketplace right now about succession. There is a lot of change. What do I do with my business? How do I run it so it is sustainable beyond me? How would I transition it, whether it be to the next generation or to someone else?

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