Michelle Higdon has parlayed a love of her life into a career that is helping businesses – and animals – grow.

Michelle Higdon brings real-world experience to Spiro advisory role.

Michelle Higdon brings real-world experience to Spiro Institute advisory role.

And the lessons she’s learned on her professional journey are helping budding entrepreneurs grow through her advisory board role with Clemson University’s Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

“I’m the daughter of a livestock extension agent and grew up showing horses and cattle through 4-H. My father raised me with a solid foundation that included a love of animals, a strong work ethic and fiscal responsibility. Fortunately, I happened to find business opportunities in the pet industry that were a good fit,” said Higdon, who resides in Central with her husband, Lee and children, Gail, a Furman University business major and Guy, a civil engineering undergrad at Clemson.

Today, Higdon works with private equity groups to acquire branded consumer package goods businesses, primarily in the pet food industry. She provides strategic direction to the business being acquired, and sometimes co-invests, with the goal of helping the business reach a new level of performance.

“I grew up in the marketing and sales side of consumer packaged goods with a local company, Greased Lightning Cleaning Products, then followed opportunity in the pet foods industry”, Higdon said. “One of the things I do is work with the company founders, or investors, to build a strong strategy and management team to reach their goals. Sometimes, that involves taking on a leadership role to help even successful companies achieve broader and higher levels of distribution and performance.”

Solid Gold Pet, a holistic pet nutrition company, and Waggin’ Train, a Purina affiliate, are two companies Higdon helped usher in new directions. A current mission has her serving as board chairman of Jones Naturals LLC, a family-owned, Illinois-based company that nationally manufactures 100 percent, American made meat-based pet chews and snacks.

A Spiro advisory board member since 2013, Higdon said she was drawn to that role, and as a mentor, after seeing the impact the institute and Clemson’s MBAe program had on aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The Spiro Institute and Clemson’s MBAe program are opening students’ minds to creating their own businesses and teaching them innovative ways to positively impact any business,” Higdon said. “It’s exciting to watch and help these students grow, whether they’re 22 or 52.”

Higdon is very enthusiastic about the Spiro Institute expanding its reach to undergraduate students and their desire to learn more about entrepreneurial behavior.

“Spiro is expanding its footprint with undergraduates in a number of areas. One, in particular, is a summer program that has students shadowing mentors for a day,” Higdon said. “Young people only know what they’ve been exposed to, so this program has the potential to open a world of opportunities for these undergrads.” Another undergraduate initiative will be unveiled this fall with the opening of an accelerator in downtown Clemson where students and faculty can bring their ideas to fruition with help from a variety of sources.

Higdon said the Spiro Institute board has a “healthy blend” of members from the business and academic sectors which, among other things, exposes students to a well-rounded entrepreneurial experience, and similarly diverse viewpoints on career advice.

Being from private industry, Higdon says she brings a capitalistic view and connections to the board that can be helpful in directing students to networks that may help them with their ideas. Another asset is lessons she learned on her career journey.

“The kind of direction Spiro and the MBA program provide is something I wish I had in college. Even though a formal education cannot fully replace learning through trial and error, it could help to shorten the learning curve and save an entrepreneur time and money,” Higdon said. “One piece of advice I offer students is not to be afraid of failing, because it’s going to happen. We all make wrong decisions, but we learn from those mistakes and move on. Many successful businesses were spawned by mistakes that were fixed.”

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