Published June 19, 2012
Volume 20, Number 6

Latex Global Founder George Mathew Strives to Make a Difference   

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

It was sustainability—not sleepless nights—that inspired entrepreneur George Mathew to get into the mattress business. The founder of Latex Global had twin goals two years ago when he established his company, which recently moved to expanded quarters at 5990 Stoneridge Drive. “We want to make a difference, and to make a living,” he attests.

Mathew selected his field--distributing natural and organic bedding components—wisely, and he is now well on his way to accomplishing both goals.

In making the choice, Mathew was in one sense responding to a common concern in his current environment; in another, he was returning to his roots. A few years ago, as he was finishing up an MBA in General Management at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Mathew was inspired “to get back into natural, organic living.” The concept was heavily supported at the school, where a few of his professors “passionately believed in changing the world.”

“Initially, it felt like a cliché, and I didn't take it too seriously,” he relates. “But the more I heard, the more I wanted to get involved.” He went from asking himself thoughtfully where he could fit in to feeling compelled to “get back to basics.”

He reasoned that as a supplier of “clean” materials to the mattress industry he could make “an organizational response to the cause of putting Nature first in our lives.” The soundness of the value proposition was reinforced by consumers’ growing awareness of the importance of good sleep hygiene and the place where they spend one-third of their lives. 

“Conventional mattress manufacturers use synthetic materials to make their products,” Mathew explains. “The chemical components can be problematic, especially when it comes to triggering allergies.” Plus, the relatively short lifespan of these mattresses--just five to six years--adds significantly to the waste stream.  “All the springs and other parts used in today’s manufacturing take up space in the dumpsters, and we are running out of room for landfills. Unlike petroleum-based products, our components are all biodegradable.” 

All-natural bedding is one new market whose popularity survived the economic bubble of the last decade. Like the organic food movement, it has grown out of specialty stores into the more general retail arena. “Mainstream mattress companies are beginning to carry a handful of models of natural bedding. Even in the sluggish economy, sales of latex mattresses are going through the roof,” Mathew reports. 

He formed the company in 2010, locating its headquarters in Pleasanton and a distribution facility in Los Angeles.

Sustainability comes naturally to Mathew, a native of Kerala, India.

A popular tourist destination, this southwestern state along the Arabian seacoast possesses the highest Human Development Index, or standard of living, in the country. Its 93 percent literacy rate is accompanied by a strong  communications infrastructure, supporting the many engineering colleges and call centers that have sprung up in small villages throughout the state. 

It did not have the same hustle and bustle when Mathew was growing up there, however. In the era before MTV and the IT boom, Kerala, well known for its rubber tree plantations, had been a simple place to live. With farming the predominant industry, its residents were resourceful, “making things happen with what was available,” and generating minimal waste. 

Recalling his upbringing, Mathew notes that his working-class family, which included 12 children born over a period of 25 years, was large even by Indian standards. “We didn’t have much, barely enough to make a living.” As the youngest, he had eight older sisters to pamper him, and the absence of material goods did not feel like a burden.  Instead, he is grateful for the ingenuity his circumstances inspired. Resourcefulness and creativity “were the very qualities that motivated us to do things on our own, without resorting to manufactured or artificial goods. We were entrepreneurs for a reason: we depended on Nature.”

Mathew had finished three of four years toward an engineering degree in college in India when had the opportunity to come to the United States. Family members in Concord sponsored him, but after a short time, two siblings invited him to finish his degree while working in their business in Guam. Guam’s status as a U.S. territory home to a military base made for agreeable living conditions. At school Mathew changed his major to marketing and graduated from University of Guam.

In 1998 he was comfortable enough to embark on the marriage that had been arranged for him from India. His wife, a software engineer, faced better employment prospects in California, so they moved back to the Bay Area. Attracted by the mix of electronics—cameras, controls, sensors, for example— Mathew took a position in sales and marketing for an alarm system company and progressed in the business for 11 years.

Eight years in, he started getting “bored with life,” he says. “I wanted to do something more.” He enrolled in the MBA program, and “everything changed.” A “now-or-never” moment made him realize that it was the prime time to shift direction, start his own company, “and maybe create some jobs and make a difference, now, before it’s too late.”

Having grown up in the midst of rubber trees, whose sap is refined into latex, Mathew was very aware of the large role India plays as an exporter of natural bedding products. Most were being shipped to Europe, so there was opportunity in North America. “I went back to India to work with a couple good manufacturers who also happen to be family. They make the USDA-certified organic latex foam for us. We sell to a few national chains, but our focus is on the natural organic bedding market.”

For his next step, he is branching out into certified organic cotton bed linens. Sheets and blankets are currently in test market.  “We only work with a small group of suppliers. Once we know how the products are accepted, then we will take them to wider distribution.”

The growth potential is strong enough to bring additional family members into the business. Mathew’s brother is a partner, and his son, an MBA who worked in logistics for Nestle, handles operations. A brother-in-law, a retiring college professor, is expected onboard in a few months.

After two years in business, Mathew is still excited about translating his vision into reality and doing something with meaning. He is equally grateful for the quality of life he and his family—which consists of his wife Denna, both their mothers, and the couple’s two daughters, ages 11 and four—enjoy in the Tri-Valley.

“We are obviously very blessed to be in this country and experience everything here—from the parks and open spaces to the educational and business opportunities,” he muses. As someone who grew up with “the bare minimum,” he frequently reminds his daughters about the differences in their circumstances. “In India our home had only three bedrooms for all of us. It was not like here, where every bedroom has an attached bath.” While India is no longer a third-world country, Mathew points out, there are still so many more resources in the U.S. “Having the opportunity to grow up here is amazing. There are no limits to what you can do. I am pleasantly surprised and very thankful to be able to have this quality of life.”


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