Aileron adapts as it teaches business leaders to do the same

A photo of part of the Aileron campus, in Miami County's Bethel Twp. Contributed

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A photo of part of the Aileron campus, in Miami County's Bethel Twp. Contributed

2021 marked 25th anniversary of business education effort

Billionaire Clay Mathile’s business education project, Aileron, has always sought to guide entrepreneurs through choppy waters, teaching them to adapt as needed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic sunk its claws into the nation in the spring of 2020, leaders and clients of Aileron found those lessons more relevant than ever.

There were more “right now” questions after the pandemic began to be felt domestically in March 2020, Aileron President Joni Fedders said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. How do businesses serve customers right now? Where do they have employees work right now?

In a sense, though, Aileron anticipated some of those questions when it opened its “virtual,” computer-connected campus in 2015. (The physical campus off Wildcat Road opened in 2008.)

“We were big Zoom users before the pandemic hit,” Fedders said. “Everybody was kind of catching up. We were already working that way.”

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Aileron advisors and clients at work, in a photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributed

Aileron advisors and clients at work, in a photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Aileron advisors and clients at work, in a photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributed

In March 2020, the campus closed on a Friday afternoon. The next Monday morning, it opened as “completely virtual,” Fedders said.

Much of those first days were spent simply calling clients and connecting. “We know we got a lot of good feedback from that,” the Ailerson president said.

Marisa O’Neill, chief executive of Miamisburg’s RetireMEDiQ, a client of Aileron’s for at least five years, said Aileron has been “extremely helpful” to her, especially since she was identified as her company’s likely future CEO.

“It’s pretty amazing,” O’Neill said. “We had an advisor over there who had his own successful career. He knew some of the things he saw when he was going through this, and he passed along some of that advice to me.”

The pandemic did not derail that work, she said.

“We said, ‘All right, this is now here and this is now going to impact our people,’” O’Neill recalled. “’How are we going to move forward and shift these plans?’”

2021 marked 25 years since Aileron began working with businesses. The business education project was founded by Mathile and born out of Iams University at the Iams Co. When Fedders was running her own tech company, she attended the Course for Presidents at Iams University.

Mathile owned the Iams Co. and founded Aileron in 1996 to provide support for business owners and free enterprise in general. Mathile sold Iams to Procter & Gamble for $2.3 billion three years later.

But if you go back a bit further, Aileron grew from Mathile’s Center for Entrepreneurial Education, which started in 1994 as an outreach program for family-owned businesses in the Iams pet food distribution network.

By 2015, Mathile had invested about $150 million in Aileron.

And those campus investments continue, Fedders said. In 2021, an outdoor space, including a gazebo, was added, giving clients a safer outdoor area for congregating. And interior spaces were arranged with social distancing in mind.

Today, Mike Mathile, Clay’s son, is chairman of Aileron’s board. Clay and Mary Mathile are the owners of the enterprise, Fedders said.

Aileron leaders are starting to envision ways that clients and friends of the campus can contribute to supporting the campus and its continuing work. While virtual connections continue, the campus is open today and is “busier than ever,” Fedders said.

“Our vision today is to be a thriving community that raises the quality of life in America,” she said. “That community, it could be made up of donors, it could be made up of people who sit on other boards. There are different ways for you to participate in sustaining Aileron’s mission and vision.”

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