Last week our country lost a true friend, leader and mentor, Dr. Leon Danco. Considered the nation’s foremost authority on family-owned business and privately-held companies, Dr. Danco was a pioneer in this field. He founded family-business studies and dedicated over 50 years to understanding the unique dynamics, issues and opportunities of family and the family business. He was a speaker, consultant and author of many books on this subject, including Beyond Survival: A guide for the Business Owner and His Family. But, he is most well known for his sage mentorship of families and individuals, instilling in them the importance of a transformative principle: take care of the family business, as well as “the business of the family.” With this counsel, he helped business owners to salvage relationships, create healthy families, and prosperous organizations.
Clay Mathile, former owner of The Iams Company and founder of Aileron, benefitted greatly from Dr. Danco’s wisdom. Clay acknowledges Dr. Danco as one of his most influential mentors, whose expertise and guidance helped Clay navigate his personal journey in the deep and unchartered waters of owning his family business.
Dr. Danco encouraged Clay to form an outside board, to talk with his family openly about how they would or would not get involved in the business, to personally handle the success of the business in a positive, authentic way, and to think with long-term vision. Dr. Danco’s insight that the average person lives only 1,000 months was a sobering thought that shifted Clay’s perspective and created more urgency for him around identifying his purpose and what he wanted to accomplish while he was here. Clay said, “Thinking of your life in terms of months instead of years is a real wake-up call.”
Clay credits Dr. Danco for teaching him how to be an effective mentor to others. Danco demonstrated how to develop and challenge another person’s thinking without any hidden motivation, and how to take a personal, genuine interest in someone else and their success. Clay learned that being the owner of a family business can be a lonely job unless you develop respectful relationships with people who encourage you, but also push you to face reality, think hard about the future, and deal with your shortcomings.
Clay and Dr. Danco maintained their respectful relationship until the wise teacher’s recent death. Clay, the student, grew in his business leadership and as an individual, while his teacher took pride in the accomplishments and impact of his work.
Standing only 5 feet tall, Dr. Danco’s fiery spirit filled a room. We are all fortunate that he lived his 1,068 months to the fullest, leaving us with a valuable legacy. Because of his groundbreaking leadership and contributions, there is a growing field with numerous consultants, books, resources, educational centers, including Aileron, and a body of work focused on helping family businesses grow, become successful and sustainable. The following are some of Dr. Danco’s articles:
We consider it an honor to do our part to pass on the learning and to carry the torch of his legacy to future generations of family business owners.
About Joni Fedders
Joni Fedders is the president of Aileron, overseeing its strategic direction and operational activities.
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