Philosopher, Entrepreneur, Teacher

Photo by Tim Martin
Photo by Tim Martin

Beer-brewing Renaissance Man earns Alumni Achievement Award

Jim Caruso pursues irrelevance with unbridled passion.

It’s central to his philosophy of business, and a window into his outlook on life. He is an entrepreneur who thinks like a teacher, believing his most important role is to help others become smarter, stronger and better.

After rising from busboy to vice president at the Denny’s restaurant chain, he struck out on his own and today is CEO of Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery, among the nation’s top 40 craft breweries in terms of production.

“I continuously train and develop my people so that I can be irrelevant on a day-to-day basis while they manage and grow the business,” Caruso said. That freedom from daily minutiae, he said, allows him “to add extraordinary value at the highest strategic level.”

Caruso’s unique approach, and the success it has brought him, has led to his recognition as the 2016 Alumni Achievement Award winner for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Caruso and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

The “Aha! moment” that generated his approach came while he was still a UMKC student, Caruso said. As an Economics graduate student teaching assistant, “I realized how much I enjoyed teaching and how I could make a difference in people’s ability to learn.” He chose to channel his passion for teaching as an entrepreneur, rather than a classroom teacher, “because of my enthusiasm for manufacturing, sales and marketing.”

Caruso runs Flying Dog as a sort of philosopher-entrepreneur, crediting as inspiration both “the gonzo spirit of Hunter S. Thompson” and the Law of Requisite Variety, a concept of biological evolution developed by British cyberneticist and psychiatrist Ross Ashby. Caruso defines the law this way: “She or he who has the most options, who is the most adaptable, who tries more things than others, will always come out ahead.”

The approach works. Flying Dog beers are highly rated by beer lovers, and the brewery has launched a $50 million expansion project. A new brewery in Europe is one of the few things on Caruso’s short to-do list, because … well, let him explain:

“I believe there is a bigger project, a bigger dream beyond, that I am not yet conscious of. The route I take to everything is not to have a specific goal, which I believe is limiting, but to always be moving in a particular direction with maximum peripheral vision to see opportunities, and the curiosity to pursue them.”

Should be a very interesting journey.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.

Nominations are now open for the Class of 2017 Alumni Awardees. Click here to nominate fellow alumni who are deserving of the campus’ highest recognition for alumni achievement. Nominations close March 7.

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