Clay and MaryAnn were insistent that, if push came to shove, they’d pick family over business. No amount of success — financial or otherwise — was worth sacrificing their family.
Clay was an eager lifelong learner and leaned on thought leaders like John Ward and Léon Danco to learn the best practices for running a family business.
Clay and MaryAnn set the tone for the family and invited their children to contribute to and co-create something bigger than themselves.
Very early on in their relationship, Clay and MaryAnn were insistent that, if they had to choose, they’d pick family over business. “I want to sit with my family at Thanksgiving," Clay was known for saying. At the end of the day, no amount of success — financial or otherwise — was worth sacrificing their family.
This decision to put family first was one that they believed would, in the long term, fortify the business, too; the couple intended for their business — first Iams, and later Mathile Family Enterprise and its subsidiaries — to be managed by their children and their spouses, and, down the road, future generations of Mathiles.
Investing in the family meant investing in the individuals who would later run the family business. This intention — coupled with their family values for mutual respect, honesty, integrity, and serving others — created a family culture wherein the family and the business could grow in harmony.
Clay was an eager and energetic lifelong learner; he experienced the merger of his family and his business as a gateway for growth and sought to learn the best practices for running a family enterprise from the most renowned thought leaders on the subject.
Clay’s search led him to learn from family business icons who would forever shape his perspective. Among them were John Ward, the namesake for the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Léon Danco, a pioneering authority on family-owned privately held companies.
Léon became one of Clay’s most influential mentors as he navigated the family business. Many of the principles Léon advocated became part of the Mathile family culture (children should work outside of the business for 5 years before working in it, for example). Their mentorship was also instrumental in Clay’s decision to form an outside board — a decision he emphasized when he went on to mentor other family business owners himself.
Understanding how important it was for them to set the tone for future generations, Clay and MaryAnn ran their family the way they ran their business: professionally, intentionally, and exceptionally. They invited their children to contribute to and co-create something bigger than themselves as they created a family business model uniquely their own.
Over the years, the Mathiles implemented structures, practices, and traditions that helped perpetuate the strength of their family. They practiced their shared value of learning by visiting nearly a dozen family offices to learn from the successes and failures of others. They held family meetings with their children and their spouses (who were treated as equals) to align on their shared values, look toward the future, and make decisions together. And they took seriously the work of developing the next generation to lead.
Effectively decentralizing control, Clay and MaryAnn empowered their children and their spouses to experiment, take risks without micromanagement, and fail without fear — all for the sake of the growth and development of the entire family and the business they were running together.
Clay is known for his fondness for vision statements and their ability to align a team toward a shared objective. For him and MaryAnn, the family was no different. The Mathiles aligned to a single line — A Family United Forever — that encapsulated their unyielding and unending commitment to family before all else.
In his role as President of Iams, Clay saw it as his personal mission to lead the company toward its vision; the same was true for he and MaryAnn’s role in the family. The couple were equal contributors in what they’d built together: They prioritized their partnership, balanced each other, held each other accountable, and ultimately supported one another in building a family legacy that was always designed to outlive them.
The family business system they built together is proof that — when aligned with vision, values, and commitment — generations of a family can come together to build something that lasts forever.