Mal Mixon

Being promoted to a management position does not make you a leader or guarantee success in your position. Managers and CEOs frequently fail and are replaced. To be successful, one must learn how to harness the power of teamwork — to create a people force that will not be denied.

Imagine the following story: A young Confederate officer was squarely facing Union positions about 1,000 yards across a field. Both sides were well-entrenched. The young officer was told to take his unit out of its fortified position and make a charge at dawn.

At dawn, he leaped out of his position and yelled, “Charge, follow me!” He ran forward 100 yards then turned and looked back. None of his unit had moved. At that moment, this young officer learned the difference between leadership and management responsibility.

Teamwork is the most important achievement a leader needs to develop. I first learned the power of teamwork in the Marine Corps — that no one is more important than anyone else on the team. I have applied this in my business career.

It takes time to learn how to build and motivate a team. Each person has different ambitions, personal problems, illnesses and abilities. If you can deal effectively with all the problems and challenges, your team will come to admire and respect you and want to achieve the same objectives.

Here are some principles on leadership and teamwork that I learned from the Marine Corps: 

  • Set an example. The Marine Corps teaches you never to ask your people to do more than you are willing to do yourself. In business, if you are unwilling to take a red-eye flight to California or to confront the tough problems, how can you expect your people to do so?
  • Develop loyalty downward. Care about your people first. Some people have trouble with that one, but what it really means is, “Do I care more about Mal Mixon, or do I care more about my team?” I always feel that I want my people to be well-paid and to reach self-realization. If they do, I am automatically wealthy and successful.
  • Make integrity a priority. Never make a promise that you do not intend to honor or keep. My people can trust me. They know that I tell them the truth. I never lie to them.
  • Keep your tenacity and resolution strong. Cultivate an unfaltering determination to achieve your plans and goals. Some things are never going to happen exactly the way you think they will. If you think you can or think you cannot, you are probably right.
  • Become a professional expert. A snow job never works. Become a great marketer, a great engineer, a great operating person or whatever. A leader recognizes his or her weaknesses and does not always act like the smartest person in the room.
  • Emphasize courage. Face difficult problems and circumstances squarely and lead where others may be apprehensive or unsure. Have the mentality of, “I like to deal with problems. I like to fix things, because I know when I fix it, the company is going to be a lot better.”

Mal Mixon
Invacare Corporation
A complete story of Mal’s rise from rags to riches is told in his book “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business Books. It can be found at and on


Few Americans really understand capitalism. They think mostly about getting a job someday and think capitalists are the rich guys who live in New York City. When I was growing up, my teachers would ask me what I aspired to be — perhaps a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher — but never once did they tell me I could own a piece of the rock and become a capitalist.

My teachers never spoke to me about owning or starting a business. I knew absolutely nothing about how to start or run a business. It was always, “Who are you going to work for?” or “What do you want to be?” It was never, “Do you know how to start or run a business with only a little money?” My school never brought any guest speakers into my classroom to teach me about business. 

Focus on your approach

The closest I ever came to running a business was my childhood lemonade stand at my Aunt Eva Jane’s house, where I spent my summers as a youth.

Even after I graduated from Harvard Business School, where I learned the principles of running a business, I still focused on employment in my early years. I had little money and never realized I could own something. After I had worked for 10 years and made money for others but little for myself, I began to question what I was doing. Then I began to learn about leveraged buyouts and sale-leasebacks, and how I could use a bank’s money to purchase a company with very little equity.

This thinking led me to purchase a small company called Invacare Corporation with $19 million in sales for $7.8 million with only $10,000 of my own money — I was 39. Today the company has grown to $1.5 billion in annual sales. Some 100 deals later, here I am at 73 still looking for my next deal. Once I learned my first lesson of capitalism with Invacare, I repeated it many times over. 

Own your piece of the pie

The lesson I learned, which I wish had occurred earlier in my life, is to own something as soon as you can — no matter how small. Become a capitalist! There are very few people who can accumulate wealth based on salaries. Learn your skills while on someone else’s payroll and then when you have your own company, you will have the positive outcomes that only your ownership can bring.

The lack of learning about entrepreneurship really needs to change in America; we have to change the mindset among those teaching our youngsters.

Believe in capitalism

Capitalism is the freedom to create something new and reach one’s self-realization.

I believe in this so strongly that I work every year with Richard Osborne, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, in a course he teaches on entrepreneurship.

I am one of the subjects for his class to do an in-depth study of my life experiences and professional career.

Some of those who have been invited to participate in the class include entrepreneur Dan T. Moore III and former Cleveland Clinic CEO Floyd “Fred” D. Loop.

Each student is expected to write a 3,000-word article that captures what he or she has learned about entrepreneurship. This assignment accounts for a big portion of their grade — so they are highly motivated to do a good job. 

Mal Mixon is the chairman of Invacare Corporation. A complete story of his rise from rags to riches is told in his book “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business Books. It can be found at and on To contact Mixon, email him at For more information, visit