Although he claims there are no more business ventures on his horizon, Doug Leuthold, BSCE ’71 has embarked on a second career. This one involves mentoring, sharing expertise, philanthropy and yes, a little golf!
A 1971 civil engineering graduate, Leuthold and his wife, Renee, are now committed to volunteerism and helping to pave career paths for current ONU students. They are as passionate about this endeavor as they were about their professional lives. A big step recently has been a generous donation to ONU’s Forward Together Campaign; a cause close to their hearts as Doug serves on the campaign steering committee.
The founder and former president of Advanced Fiber Technology (AFT), Bucyrus, Ohio, Leuthold commercialized an innovative product, building a business with revenues of approximately $18 million annually. He sold AFT to Installed Building Products in 2018. He now finds himself giving more time to ONU and serving on boards of non-profit organizations.
Growing up on a farm in Bucyrus, Leuthold raised hogs to pay for his college tuition. He thinks his farm upbringing was a good foundation for a successful business career.
“Farming gives you a certain work ethic,” he recalled. “You can’t say, ‘Well, I won’t milk the cows, or I won’t feed the pigs.’ There are things that have to be done every day.”
Although paying the tuition at a private university was a stretch for him, Leuthold enrolled in the engineering program at Northern. He confessed he learned the meaning of “party” in his freshman year. He was passing but not a stellar student.
“When they inducted me into ONU’s Lehr Society (donor recognition), I mentioned that I was on the Dean’s List twice, and the first time was NOT the good list!” he laughed.
By his junior year, he had “settled down” and did well academically. Still, when it came time to attend Bowling Green State University for an MBA, he found that his GPA was lower than required and he also needed some prerequisites in business. Conforming to the stereotype of the typical engineering student, his GMAT scores were very high in the math component and not so high on the verbal section.
“I got to work and started taking the prerequisites right away,” Leuthold added. “I also took a lot of the grad courses out of sequence, but still got A’s and B’s.”
A triple threat
In show business, an individual who can sing, dance and act is known as a triple threat. It turned out that Leuthold was a triple threat in the entrepreneurial arena. He loved and understood math, appreciated the value of business knowledge and enjoyed working with and being around people.
After cutting back to part-time classes for financial reasons, he graduated with a master of business administration degree in 1983, accepting a project management position with Bechtel, a large international engineering and construction company. He and Renee moved every other year, eventually spending four years in San Francisco, the location of Bechtel’s corporate headquarters. Leuthold admits the opportunities were fantastic.
“I worked on the Space Shuttle, at nuclear plants and even a bomb storage facility for NATO in Europe,” he remembered. But the possibility of being his own boss beckoned to him and he started Advanced Fiber Technology in 1988. What prompted him to leave a secure, lucrative position with a large company and take a chance with a new product and new technology?
“I could put my hands totally on the steering wheel,” he recalled. “The highs were higher, and the lows were lower than working for someone else.”
Those start-up years were shaky at times. Leuthold remembered weeks when they couldn’t cover payroll and just hoped that, “the mailman would be good to us.” Schooled in Bechtel’s solid management and control practices, however, he felt prepared to weather the hard times. The main reason he had gone to graduate school was that he didn’t want to just sit at a drafting board. He wanted a role in management and to experience the business side of construction. At AFT he definitely got that experience, and more.
The cornerstone of Leuthold’s business was the AFT Fiberizer, a machine that reduces paper into individual fibers, producing a low-density cellulose material with superior insulative qualities. It’s an eco-friendly product, converting waste paper for industrial needs worldwide. Leuthold admitted that the “eco” part of his business was unintentional. In 1988, the environment was not a primary concern.
“The only green I was concerned with at the time was making enough ‘green’ to pay our bank loans,” he laughed.
Helping to guide Northern’s future
Leuthold has been known to say that, “ONU does it right.” When asked to expound on that statement, he gladly responded.
“Every class is taught by a professor,” he added. “Nothing against graduate assistants, but I think a class is more valuable and meaningful when it’s taught by a full-time faculty member.”
Leuthold serves as a member of the College of Engineering’s KEEN Society.Comprised of ONU graduates who are successful businesspeople, the group does not provide input on curriculum, but helps guide strategy and plans for the future.
Engineering programs have become more hands on over the years, with computers changing things dramatically, says Leuthold. While there was little automation when he was a student, he thinks there is “all sorts of wild automation taking place” in the field today. Environmental engineering is also a very popular focus right now.
The second career
Self-professed workaholics, the Leutholds are focusing on volunteering in their retirement. Renee, a former executive with the Italian eyewear company, Luxotica, is active with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and was named a CASA State Volunteer of the Year a few years ago. In addition to his work with ONU, Doug is president of the Bucyrus YMCA Board of Directors and served on the Crawford County Community Foundation Board. They live in downtown Cincinnati but spend much of the year at their home in Sedona, Arizona. Travel is also a big priority for the couple.
ONU’s Forward Together Campaign is supporting scholarships, innovative teaching and learning, the Northern Fund, and campus structural improvements. Leuthold is passionate about meeting the campaign goal of $100 million. The campaign’s success has a deep personal meaning for him.
“My educational experience at ONU made a huge difference in my success later in life.
I owe a debt of gratitude. I have friends who went to larger colleges and may have been among several hundred students in the class. At Northern, the faculty was genuinely interested in me. Giving back is one way of saying thanks for preparing me for my career.”