2016 Movers & Shakers - Aaron Klusman

Written by Maria Baer Category: People Issue: September 2016
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“It’s TED Talks meets life stories,” Aaron Klusman says, describing The Camelback Society and its monthly guest-speaker program. The nuts-and-bolts description of the 10-year-old organization is no less intriguing: It’s a meet-up group for Christian entrepreneurs.

To be sure, Klusman likes doing business in Phoenix. At 35, the Valley native and former Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand has amassed a tidy business empire built on real estate development and ownership stakes in several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. He also founded the frozen yogurt chain Zoyo, and is opening a charter school. The business climate in the Valley agrees with him because principled entrepreneurs can make it without having to know someone, or know someone who knows someone. Or go to Harvard.

But “knowing someone” is, in a way, Klusman’s other passion – and The Camelback Society is his vehicle. Returning to the Valley from his baseball stint, the ASU graduate informally started the group to encourage Christian entrepreneurs to recover their sense of calling in their work. “Our guys... are really talented, driven people, but the responsibilities of family life start compressing,” he says. “They’re getting really positioned in their industries, but [some] put their talents on the shelf and do something a little bit easier because they can’t handle the tension of growing families; and then others just bury themselves in their work and check in on their families and 20 years down the road they show up and realize they weren’t ever really present.”

Since its founding, The Camelback Society has evolved into three regional groups that meet in Arcadia, Tempe and Downtown. It comprises around 50 members, all male, of whom sign a statement of faith upon joining that professes their Christian beliefs. They meet weekly, discussing life goals, civic responsibility and questions of probity and commerce – such as how to stay ethically sound in a tricky marketplace, and use their God-given business acumen for the good of their city. They also talk about deeply personal matters; hence the men-only mandate. Klusman, a married father of four, says they do organize monthly couples events.

Once a month, The Camelback Society also brings in accomplished speakers to share at its Civic Breakfast – the TED Talks part of the experience. The guys in the group benefit from seeing the human side of successful businesspeople, he says. After all, you can only glean so much godliness from dollars and doughnuts.