Clay Mathile dies; Iams pet food billionaire, Dayton-area philanthropist

Clay Mathile, the former owner and CEO of the Iams pet food company, and a longtime Dayton philanthropist, died Saturday surrounded by family, according to a statement from the Mathile family.

He was 82.

“Clay was a visionary leader, impassioned philanthropist, devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend. He profoundly changed the lives of many through his generous heart, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his unwavering belief in others,” the family said in a statement.

Mathile bought part ownership in Iams in the 1970s, then became full owner in the early 1980s, and sold Iams to Procter & Gamble in 1999 for $2.3 billion. According to Forbes, Iams’ annual sales were $500,000 when Mathile joined in 1970, and grew 1,600 times over, to $800 million by 1999.

Mathile was heavily involved in Dayton-area causes. He founded the Aileron business nonprofit, as well as the Mathile Family Foundation and The Glen at St. Joseph, a Dayton institution that aims to help low-income single mothers.

Credit: Ty Greenlees

Credit: Ty Greenlees

A statement from Aileron Saturday said, “As we reflect on Clay’s life, we remember his words: ‘My hope for Aileron is that it will forever meet the needs of future generations of entrepreneurs, practicing what it preaches — using professional management to guide its mission and shape a brighter future for our communities. Dream no little dreams … for they have no magic to move men’s souls.’ “

State, local leaders react

Gov. Mike DeWine said Saturday said Mathile was the “go-to leader of the business community in Dayton” for many years.

“He was a visionary, and through his passion and belief in the future of the Miami Valley, he saw what was possible and made others believe in what could be achieved,” DeWine said, calling Mathile a mentor to many. “He cared deeply about his community and Ohio.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said despite Mathile’s many achievements, he remained humble and generous: “Clay never asked for anything for himself ... he wanted to help the community he loved become the best it could be and wanted all of us to work toward that end.”

Mathile helped launch the Miami Valley Economic Development Coalition in the early 1990s before it turned into today’s Dayton Development Coalition.

“Mathile always saw Dayton’s potential, even when many of us struggled to see it ourselves,” said DDC President Jeff Hoagland. “He spent decades cultivating that potential through his leadership in the business community, his engagement with entrepreneurs, and his vast philanthropic work.”

For many who knew him, whether personally or professionally, Mathile’s legacy of success is a testament to his character.

“(Mathile) embodied the American Dream,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said in a statement Saturday. “His hard work, grit, and determination helped him find success, (and) he donated tens of millions of dollars and gave back to the Miami Valley.”

Dayton Chamber of Commerce President Chris Kershner called Mathile “an authentic, good and genuine person,” and also praised Mary Mathile for her work in the couple’s philanthropy.

“His reach was great and he didn’t do it because he wanted the recognition,” Kershner said. “Our community is better because of what Clay and Mary Mathile have done for us.”

Clay Mathile’s history

Mathile was born Jan. 11, 1941, in Portage, Ohio, just south of Bowling Green, where his parents were a farmer (Bill) and a teacher (Helen), according to the family. He earned a business degree from Ohio Northern University in 1962, then married MaryAnn Maas Mathile, with whom he had five children.

After working in accounting at General Motors and then at Campbell Soup Company, Mathile moved to Dayton in 1970 to begin working with Paul F. Iams’ Iams Food Company, which produced premium dog food products, according to the family. When Paul Iams retired in January 1982, Clay and MaryAnn Mathile became sole owners and Clay the CEO of The Iams Company.

Mathile grew Iams from $13 million in sales in 1982, turning it into a billion-dollar company.

In a statement, the family said Mathile grew Iams with a four-part focus on “Customer, Culture, Products and People.” They said that manifested itself in “world-class manufacturing practices and world-class nutrition” for cats and dogs. But it also meant a work environment where employees were respected and given resources, such as the Iams University training approach.

Credit: SKIP PETERSON

Credit: SKIP PETERSON

According to previous Dayton Daily News coverage, Mathile founded Aileron in 1996, three years before he sold Iams, as the Center for Entrepreneurial Education. Its mission was to function as a local outreach in response to the declining automotive and manufacturing industries in the Dayton region.

Mathile wanted to help other business owners the way his mentors had helped him, family members said. He believed that supporting America’s small business owners via professional management training “would catalyze a ripple effect that could raise the quality of life for families, communities, and the nation.” Aileron said Saturday that 15,000 business leaders visit Aileron’s campus every year to retreat from the day-to-day and focus on the future of their businesses.

About his connections to Dayton, Mathile had said: “I have had a strong belief in and a commitment towards the potential of the Dayton Region since I joined the Iams Company in 1970. And, it was because of that belief that we kept the Iams Company headquartered here, in Dayton. After the sale, we went to work on giving back to the region through our Family Foundation, The Glen and of course Aileron. Each of which have helped to support our dreams of giving back to this community.”

In 2012, Mathile was the second-richest person in Ohio, according to Forbes magazine, at $1.9 billion. That ranked him 250th in the United States according to Forbes, and among Ohioans, behind only Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited store chain.

Awards and investments

In 2014, the President’s Club of Dayton gave Clay and Mary Mathile its Citizen Legion of Honor award, the oldest honor given to volunteer-leaders in the region. As of 2014, the Mathile Family Foundation said it had awarded more than $300 million in grants to organizations, mostly in the Dayton area, many of them focused on children. Today, they say that total has passed $500 million.

“Over the years, I have gotten too much credit, and Mary hasn’t gotten enough,” Clay Mathile said at the time of the Legion of Honor Award. “In her humble way, she has taught all of us in the family how philanthropy should be done.”

Via the Mathile Community Awards, over 10 years, they awarded more than $60 million to projects like the Schuster Center, the YMCA, the Cassano Health Center, and Wright Dunbar Inc., the family said. They also worked internationally. The Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition developed Chispuditos, a nutrient-dense formula-like food that combats childhood malnutrition and is distributed throughout Central America.

Mathile and his wife have also been major Republican political donors. They gave over $75,000 to Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted over the past five years, according to Ohio campaign finance records. In 2017, Mathile donated donated $1 million to Ohio Conservatives for Change, a super PAC that was backing Husted for governor, according to federal campaign finance filings.

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

In 2019, the Dayton Development Coalition honored Mathile with the Maureen Patterson Regional Leader Award at its annual meeting.

In 2021, Aileron celebrated 25 years in business, as its goal to guide entrepreneurs through choppy waters and teach them to adapt was very relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mathile family said Saturday that Mathile is survived by his wife, MaryAnn; his children Cate and Don Laden, Tim and Lynn Mathile, Mike and Michelle Mathile, Tina Mathile, Jennifer and Pat Prikkel, his 15 grandchildren and their families; and his one great-grandchild.