Aaron Shelley Primed For Success

Audio Episode

Aaron has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. He has worked with small businesses and startups where he developed a unique systems perspective on business and family. His work in the academic and business worlds led him to understand how related our families and business dynamics are. He and his wife have run the largest Irish Dance school in Utah for over 20 years. He has built multiple companies, consulted across multiple industries, and helped raise $54 million as the COO of a technology company. He lives in Utah with his wife and four children.


About Aaron Shelley

It always seemed like my friends and I were primed for success. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood and there were about ten boys around that became my friends. We went to the same church. We went to the same schools. We were all in the same scout troop. We played sports in the street almost every day. We regularly played video games and board games together. Our families all had about the same amount of money. We all had two parents in the home. We were all living the American middle-class lifestyle.

After high school, we all went our separate ways, and that is when things started to go off the rails.

Two years after high school, the parents of my best friend, John, got divorced. I had spent hours playing at their home, jumping on their trampoline, watching TV, and now, with three kids still at home, they divorced. A few years later, another friend’s parents got divorced. I had played board games at their house almost every week growing up.

So much for happily ever after.

As we grew older, I went to college, got married, got an engineering degree, got a business degree, had four kids, and started a business. One friend became a lawyer, got married, and then got divorced. One had six kids, had serious health issues, and worked a blue-collar job for a logistics company. One started his own construction company and had four kids. And one was sentenced to life without parole in prison for the rape and attempted murder of a twenty-year-old woman.

Wait! What? I had become a little numb to the divorces, but I was shocked when my friend went to prison for rape and attempted murder. A failed marriage is one thing, but life in prison is completely different. Have you ever had a friend do something so bad that you wonder if you even really knew them?

How did we turn out so differently? We were all raised in the same middle-class neighborhood, same schools, same activities, and yet the outcomes of our lives varied so wildly. As a husband and parent to four children, I became obsessed in trying to understand why families turn out the way they do so that I could protect my family from these problems.

At the time, I was forty years old and had just finished work at a failed startup company. I was also working on another startup and doing consulting. It was during this time that I finally found the answer to my question. On one project, I was interviewing people with different family structures for a professor who was writing a book on the relationship between entrepreneurship levels and family. In another consulting job, I managed all the processes, systems, and people at a small fulfillment company.

This weird combination of researching family and managing a small business at the same time led me to the insight that family and business are actually very similar. Both a family and a business are a group of people working together so they can survive and grow. Of course, there are differences—like families usually being biologically related, unlike coworkers, and parents’ inability to fire their children—but at a high level, families act very similar to small businesses. I know you probably don’t believe me, and I’d be skeptical, too. Business is always portrayed as being heartless and uncaring, and no one wants a family like that. Just stick with me, and let’s see if you agree or not.