GE Aviation Military Systems makes jet engines for the U.S. Department of Defense and its allies all over the world. It’s a growing $4.2-billion-a-year business, and Clemson University alumnus Tony Mathis oversees the whole operation as its president and chief executive officer.

Mathis is one of Clemson’s most engaged alumni. He serves on the board overseeing the Clemson University Foundation, has helped establish two endowments and manages the executive relationship between General Electric (GE) and the University.

Tony Mathis

Tony Mathis

Mathis, an IPTAY member, recently moved from Seattle to Cincinnati, allowing him to attend more Clemson football games. But even when nearly an entire continent separated him from his alma mater, Mathis made time to return to campus.

“Clemson is, has been, and always will be a priority,” Mathis said. “If you make something a priority, you will do it. What I do with Clemson and GE is built on mutual value. We are providing tons of value to the University, but the University is also providing tons of value to the General Electric Company.”

Mathis is highly supportive of Clemson’s efforts to encourage diversity. He worked with Clemson Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill to support the formation of the Tiger Alliance, an initiative targeting African-American and Hispanic high school students. He is also working with former trustee and alumnus James E. Bostic Jr. to provide financial support for diverse students in the Calhoun Honors College.

“What that is going to do is help the diversity of the University, and in turn it will create more diverse candidate slates for GE, as well as others,” he said. “That’s one thing that’s important to us—to be able to come on campus and interview diverse talent. The best talent, but also diverse.”

Mathis graduated Clemson with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986 and went on to receive a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno and an MBA from Xavier University.

He served as 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, where he focused on flight test and propulsion project engineering. Mathis joined GE Aviation in 1997 and has held roles of increasing responsibility.

Mathis said he liked everything about Clemson University from the first time he set foot on campus for a science-and-math camp when he was a high school student from Atlanta, Georgia.

“It was like love at first sight between me and Clemson,” he said.

An important part of Mathis’ life and development is his membership in the Chi Zeta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, Inc. He joined the fraternity in 1983 and went on to lead the establishment of two diversity endowments, which were announced in 2014.

One was named the Chi Zeta Chapter Diversity Endowment, and the other is in the name of William C. Clinkscales Sr., a chapter advisor who served as assistant director of state operations for Clemson Extension.

Mathis also leads the engagement and recruiting efforts between Clemson and GE. The relationship helps connect graduates with potential job opportunities. It also gave Clemson the chance to become one of four universities to take part in a consortium focused on ceramic matrix composites, which are crucial to the next generation of jet engines.

Raj Bordia, chair of Clemson’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, worked with Mathis on the consortium.

“Tony has been behind us 100 percent and has introduced us to the right people,” Bordia said. “He’s a gentleman and has followed through on everything he has promised to do.”

Mathis is on the Clemson University Foundation Board of Directors, serving as chairman of the nominating committee. The foundation seeks financial support for the University through various fundraising programs.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said that Mathis works tirelessly for Clemson.

“He plays an integral role in widening the pipeline from Clemson to industry and ensuring that the talent flowing through that pipeline is diverse,” Gramopadhye said. “I have deep gratitude for all that Tony does for the college and the University.”

For Mathis, it’s all about paying forward the help he received when he was a student.

“I just think Clemson is special,” he said. “The best four years of my life were at Clemson University, and it has meant so much to me and my family in my development, in my career and in my personal growth.

“It was all a function of other people helping me. I just know other Tony Mathises out there need somebody helping them to realize their dreams and potential. I love the University, and I love the football. But I go back because it takes people helping others.”