Entrepreneurs know how lonely it can be at the top. They often react to the stress and isolation by taking on more responsibility, because who, after all, really understands what they have to lose? And the business needn’t be moribund to be struggling: growth can present challenges of its own as obligations outpace a business’s capacity to meet them.
"People think they can get ahead just by working hard- er, but that often creates more problems," says President Joni Fedders.
Aileron offers a breath of fresh air to these entrepreneurs. Located on the northern outskirts of Dayton, Ai- leron is secluded among acres of farmland, tree groves and rustic country lanes. The campus is approached by a long driveway flanked by sloping brows of land covered in wild brush. The building’s serenely modern surfaces flow in harmony with the landscape. The setting makes Aileron’s purpose apparent: to examine the challenges facing your business at a safe, salubrious remove from them.
"We wanted a place where people could be reflective and feel inspired," says Fedders. "That’s what we’ve built."
Formed in 1996 as a nonprofit, the Aileron team offers outside perspectives to overburdened entrepreneurs looking to scale their business. The two-day Course for Presidents, for example, is an opportunity for 22 business owners to gather and share their experiences.
"People always say their business is unique," says Chuck Huggins, director of client development. "Their product may be unique, but their business is not. It is an eye-opening experience when they realize others have the same issues they do, whether it’s employees not being accountable or not having a clearly-defined vision."
"I learned in the course that the most valuable asset I have is my employees," says Robie Koehler of Mendenhall Technical Services, who went to Aileron in 2010 after her father retired, leaving the business to her. "When he was in charge, he was the head and everyone was under- neath him. I recognized when I took over that I needed more of a team approach, because we were growing and I needed more organization. But at the same time I was starting to doubt whether I could really lead this business. Aileron convinced me I could, that I had already started down the right path of structuring the business. They tossed me a life jacket and it was wonderful."
After the course, entrepreneurs such as Koehler self-assess their business and meet one-on-one with an adviser to develop an action plan. Eight sessions follow over the next year, during which the entrepreneurs have all Aileron’s resources at their disposal. Through all the sessions, seminars and meetings, the common theme is relief.
"People feel isolated at the beginning," says Huggins. "Then they hear others’ experiences and suddenly there are tools out there for them to use and trusted people like us who really want to help them. The realization that they don’t have to do it all by themselves can change so much for them."
Koehler saw the benefits of Aileron immediately, and she would advise other business owners to seek them out. "The advisors never tell you what to do or what topics to discuss. Everything is framed in terms of an experienced point of view, where someone who had an issue can talk about how they solved it and what they learned from doing so," says Koehler. "The takeaways are enormous."