Then he came across some advice in a small career publication: ?Think of something in your life that you enjoyed more than anything?and apply it to your career.?
Mathis?s mind immediately turned to bees, and the teenage years he spent as an assistant beekeeper near his home town of Parsons.
?I took to it immediately,? he said of the experience. ?I loved the whole bee culture. I didn?t even mind getting stung once in a while because it was so fascinating.
?From then on, every (high school) term paper I had to write, whether it was for biology or English, was about bees. I just enjoyed it.?
Emboldened by that memory, Mathis called the one bee-related business he knew of in the area: Barkman Honey in Hillsboro.
?I?ve seen your honey on the shelves at Dillons,? Mathis recalled from his initial phone call. ?I know you?re a Kansas company. I?ve got a degree in business and some sales experience, and I?ve also had some accounting experience. What do you need??
That phone call changed not only the direction of the Mathis household, but has turned out to be a pivotal point in the story of the company now known as Golden Heritage Foods LCC, which has grown from a small regional business in 1984 to become the second-largest honey packer in the country.
Through these 25 years, Mathis?s success in sales has made him a key player in that growth.
?Dave is able to maintain that fine tension between giving (clients) what they need and standing for our company?he?s done a great job of that over the years,? said Doug Weinbrenner, chief executive officer at Golden Heritage.
?He?s an amazing man.?
Mathis?s career with the company has grown from being hired as the first and only full-time salesperson to being named senior vice president for sales and marketing?with the recent addition of new responsibilities in product development.
He also serves on the board of directors.
Mathis prefers to describe the success he and the company have experienced in terms of jobs and opportunities rather than profits and market share.
And that success, by any standard, has been dynamic.
When Mathis first signed on in 1984, Barkman Honey had around a dozen employees.
Today, thanks in part to a merger in 2002 with Stoller?s Honey in Latty, Ohio, Golden Heritage has expanded its customer base nationwide and is developing new clients overseas.
The company employs just over 100 people, including around 60 at the Hillsboro plant.
?I think the thing that makes me happiest is the idea that you can take something that you really enjoy doing, and it?s provided employment for a lot more people than in those early days,? Mathis said. ?It?s provided some economic viability for the community.
?I feel like I?ve been a contributor, but I really feel that I?ve been blessed to be in the right place at the right time.?
Mathis speaks matter-of-factly of those contributions, but in the context of a team environment that has included the Barkman family, a 10-year connection with Weinbrenner, and the many co-workers at all levels of responsibility.
?I would be remiss in not stating that my success over the years has been a direct result of great people in our organization, from the rank-and-file line staff all the way to ownership,? he said.
?Without their providing consistent product quality and service, I could not have been successful.?
A mix of gifts
Those who know Mathis and have observed his business approach credit his success in sales to his core honesty and a sincere interest in his clients?combined with good business discipline.
?He?s got a special mix of skills and abilities that I?ve never seen before?and I think a lot of people I talk to would echo the same thought,? Weinbrenner said. ?He?s extremely tough, he?s very energetic, but he?s incredibly relational.
?He?s the kind of guy that if you were out in a boat and had to wait it out for two days, he would be guy you?d want in the boat with you,? he added. ?But he?s also got the soft touch and a skill set with people so that you just genuinely like Dave. You trust him?he makes you feel like you?re a better person.?
Asked to analyzes his approach, Mathis is less likely to quote the latest sales guru than his favorite theologian.
?Martin Buber believed in the concept of dialogue?that if you?re in true dialogue with others, God is always in the center of that,? Mathis said.
?So much of the time we think we?re in dialogue, but truly it?s just a monologue,? he added. ?While the other person is speaking, we?re already thinking about what we?re going to say next.?
That genuine one-to-one commitment makes a difference, even in the hard-nosed business world.
?At the end of the day honey can be considered just another agricultural commodity and you?re lucky to get value beyond it? Mathis said. ?But I think we?ve always believed in relational business development. It?s got to come from an authentic place.?
Mathis has maintained that core approach as his role with the company has expanded from sole salespersons to a manager of a sales and marketing team numbering a dozen people.
?Increasingly, Dave has become a leader in the organization?he is a strong leader,? Weinbrenner said. ?What do people want? They want vision and honesty, and he?s able to provide that to his team and to the company.
?He is so respected, that he commands a presence when we deal with difficult issues,? Weinbrenner added. ?There?s official and unofficial leadership, and he has both elements in who he is.?
Celebrating past and future
Coworkers celebrated Mathis?s 25-year anniversary with the company earlier this month. Now 57, Mathis doesn?t see his career ending anytime soon, as health allows.
?I enjoy what I do,? he said. ?The Barkman family is the majority owner, and they?ve made me feel like family over the years. I don?t see myself retiring in a traditional sense. I see myself remaining connected.?
That?s good news for Golden Heritage, according to its CEO, but it will be good for Mathis, too.
?I really believe the foundation he?s built here over the past 25 years is going to make the next 10 the best he?s ever had in his career,? Weinbrenner said.
?I?m going to hold him to that.?