He was born to the job of management like many others, probably most, managers of the time. His father and uncle were William and Colin Mather, millwrights, engineers and general machine makers, owners of a medium-sized factory (the Salford Iron Works) which stood on the Irwell river in Salford. Their family had come south from Aberdeenshire in the late eighteenth century and was by then fairly prosperous. By the middle of the 1860s, the firm employed about 300 men.
William Mather enjoyed a happy and simple childhood, during which the genial disposition - prominent throughout his life - was evidently formed. The family of eight lived in the suburbs, some distance from the factory and as a boy, he had the best of playgrounds in the fields around his home. His education was, however, unusual and he seems to have largely arranged it himself.
He attended a day school in Broughton from the age of 7 to 12 and was, amongst other things, learning at the age of 12, Latin, French, arithmetic and geography. He then persuaded his father to let him start an apprenticeship at the family works. He stuck to the rough workshop life for three years, only to leave it, at his own suggestion, for a boarding school. During that time came a great event in his life - a visit (alone) to the Great Exhibition of 1851. The display of Britain's mechanical progress must have made a strong impression on him.
His second period of school life did not last long - only a year - but it was important for the lasting influence (through his headmaster) that the teachings of Swedenborg had upon him. This increased the serious and responsible cast of his mind. A year's stay in Dresden with a tutor, his previous headmaster, where he also attended a primary school for three months to learn the language, gave him a lasting insight into German Society and and strengthened an already deep religious feeling. Completion of his apprenticeship at the family works combined with night school at the Mechanics' Institute during two strenuous years was the final preparation for industrial leadership.
He came rapidly into full responsibility in the firm. At the age of 21, on the death of his father, he became Assistant Manager under his uncle who was nick-named 'Cast - iron Colin'. He was taken into partnership in 1863 when he was just 24. A few years later he was in sole charge and remained head of Mather & Platt until 1916.
His half century of management was a record of growth and success for the company and his industrial achievements may be shown in three main aspects. 1. Design and development, 2. Sales and Marketing and 3. Personnel work. He himself was pre-eminent in all three functions but it was as a man of vision and compassion within the realms of personnel management and education for which he was (and still is) fondly remembered.