You won"t find much praise for The Indianapolis Star in these pages, but on a Sunday not long ago our daily paper ran a piece that made me wish NUVO had gotten there first. The story, by John Fritze, ran under the headline "Business Camp Is a Boys Club." It concerned a two and half day retreat that local tycoon Mickey Maurer runs for 100 Indianapolis businessmen - with special emphasis on the word men. On the surface, Fritze"s story may have seemed like little more than a generic he said/she said piece. On the one hand was Maurer, an undisputed pillar of our community, hosting a men-only get-together, which, by the way, raises $100,000 for local charities. On the other, a chorus of women, who, while trying hard to come off as good sports, were, nevertheless, expressing reservations about Camp Mickey"s masculine insider aura.
The Star"s decision to put this story on the front page, as opposed, say, to sticking it back in the Business section, was interesting. Of even greater interest, though, was the message that lurked between the lines. To this reader, at least, Fritze"s story was only partly about the subtleties of sexual discrimination. It was, to a greater degree, about the character of this city"s business culture - and about what may have to change if Indianapolis is ever to become the urban center it supposedly aspires to be.
According to Fritze, Maurer got the idea for his camp one evening while playing a game of pool. "He thought of skills he lacked," writes Fritze, "pool, archery, cooking - and decided to start a camp where men could learn them."
This year, a professional poker player is scheduled to be on hand to teach the finer points of holding and folding; local basketball legend George McGinnis will shoot some hoops with the "boys" and last, but hardly least, Sen. Evan Bayh will put in an appearance to Ö no doubt ponder the intricacies of contemporary civics with this group of his constituents.
Fritze quotes Maurer: "The men said it wouldn"t be the same camp with women present Ö most of the women I talk to don"t care, so what do I do?" Without going into what skills might be offered, Maurer adds that he would gladly consider setting up a similar camp for women.
By way of counterpoint, Fritze quotes Susan Ellis of the Network of Women in Business: "I don"t know anyone who likes exclusivity, and that is what this is."
But Elaine Bedel, president of Bedel Financial Consulting, allows that "I would never deny them the opportunity to do that, just as they don"t stop me from organizing my own events."
Fritze is careful to note that Camp Mickey receives no public money. It"s a private event that, he writes, few men - or women - have publicly questioned.
Which brings us to what"s really interesting about this story. Mickey Maurer is no villain. His camp raises a substantial amount of money for over 50 charities. If this is done in the context of bringing 100 guys together for cards and a bit of Robin Hood hijinks at $1,500 a pop, is that so scandalous?
Of course not. Maurer has a right to network with whomever he wants. From a certain perspective, you could call this nothing more than a good, albeit extravagant, exercise in community building. As Ellis rather pithily points out, "If Mickey Maurer asked me to go to something, I would not say no Ö Anyone who is serious about their business career in this community wouldn"t say no - no one could."
But are gatherings like Camp Mickey what this community really needs right now? Circle City describes more than this town"s urban design. It also applies to the concentric rings of influence that begin with some of our most successful families and then, line by line, extend out to encompass the rest of us. It"s a hierarchical system that places some people on the inside and many others on the outside - unless, that is, they are able, through opportunities like Mickey"s camp, to network their way closer to what constitutes the center of power.
There"s something very old school about Mickey"s camp. It appears to be a model of fraternity, emphasizing the importance of building close-knit relationships and trust among colleagues who might also be competitors. In this sense, it exemplifies the kind of old line Indianapolis values The Star once celebrated. This sounds fine until you remember that we also happen to live in an economy that emphasizes talent and mobility; where people hold jobs, on average, for less than four years at a time; and where entry barriers for creative transplants and transients need to be minimal if new and prosperous businesses are to take root. While business is an inevitably social practice, the terms of social engagement are changing.
Indianapolis doesn"t need to shoehorn more people into its inner circle via mover-and-shaker fests like Mickey"s camp. It needs, instead, to find ways to recognize and engage as many people as possible in the creative enterprise of making this a 21st century destination. This will undoubtedly feel risky in a community that places the kind of high value on close social ties and belonging that Indianapolis does. Such ties, after all, are a comfort - they provide continuity in a world that, we are endlessly reminded, is in a constant state of change. Determining who"s in and who"s out is one way to control things. But this is, after all, a city, not a club. The job is not to recruit new members, but to include as many participants as possible.