Businesses Through Leadership – Interview with Terry Starbucker

Have you started a business but feel like it could be better?

Terry is the mastermind behind SOBCon Conferences now in its seventh year. The conferences give business leaders the opportunity to learn, develop skills, plan, and strategize with a small group. Each session includes time for attendees to apply the concepts and ideas to their own businesses with the help of other business leaders attending.

Let’s see if we can capture some of Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie’s wisdom and energy, in asking him about his life, his leadership, and his business.


1. Hi Terry, Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you become an entrepreneur? How difficult was the transition from a corporate job to pursuing your personal business interests? What ultimately led you to make a lifestyle change?

I started my career as a CPA back in 1982, and then a twist of fate put me into the cable TV industry, and executive management, in 1987. I served in several executive capacities in cable for the better part of the next 23 years. My bosses were long-time entrepreneurs that I grew to admire, because of their guile, acumen, and fearlessness. When my last cable gig ended (successfully) in 2010 I decided to make the jump to entrepreneur myself, and I’ve not looked back. It was time.

2. In the corporate world, one’s identity is often defined by one’s title and job description. Did that change when you started your own company? In your mind how is your identity evolving? How does that impact what and how you do things?

That’s a very interesting question – the identity thing does change. Now, I’m outside “context”; that is, a previously defined corporate situation. As an entrepreneur, I have to create my own context. And that’s an entirely different conversation. I’m basically learning how to do that as I go along, but I’ve been blessed with sitting in the middle of a pretty robust startup community here in Portland, and that has been inspiring.

3. Your “Crash Davis Belief Statement” is a wonderful combination of values, family, business, faith, and joy. Toward the end you list “the incredible wisdom of my grandmother?” What was that wisdom? How has your grandmother and her wisdom impacted your life?

When my grandmother was celebrating her 100th birthday about 6 years ago, she leaned over to me and said – “live, laugh and love Terry – that’s what I’ve tried to do all these years, and it’s what has sustained me”. It’s had a huge impact on me. What a great lady she was.

4. What do you think is the most important quality a business leader needs to develop? Why? If that does not come naturally, how can one nurture that quality?

It’s really about honing and developing your common sense – that is, a natural barometer of figuring out the “right thing” to do, that goes beyond the objective facts that are presented. All too often this quality is not used in decision-making, and that often leads to an unhealthy working environment – there’s no humanity injected into the equation.

5. As you work with business leaders, what do you think the top common struggles are? Is seems like what presents as a problem is sometimes really more of a symptom of a different issue. Do you find that to be the case? If so, how do you help leaders to get to that deeper level vision?

The top struggle, in my view, is wrestling our fear to the floor – not out of sight, not out the door, but on the floor. What I mean by that is it has to be controlled – fear can be quite motivating, certainly – but the paralysis that fear can cause just HAS to be avoided. A lot of bad decisions really come down to NOT keeping fear on the floor.

6. It is clear through your writing that you believe and operate in a servant leadership style. Has that always been the case or is that a style that experience led you to? How do employees react?

I had to learn about servant leadership the hard way – that is, I made a lot of mistakes when I was thrust into an executive role in 1987. I came to realize that it wasn’t about me – it was about them, and I needed to fulfill the book definition of “lead” – show the way. When you are showing the way the RIGHT way, employees will follow you.

7. You are an advocate of making customer service a priority. What does “good” customer service entail? Is poor customer service an issue in very many businesses?

Good customer service should come naturally - after all, there are humans involved. I use the “Golden Rule” a lot when I make presentations about this – “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself”. You wouldn't want to be treated rudely, or unfairly, or dispassionately – so why do it to someone else? Once teammates fully understand this, and buy into it, and can put it in the context of their own fulfillment as an employee, the sky’s the limit on customer satisfaction and loyalty.

8. There is a SOBCon conference coming in May in Chicago. Tell us about the conference. Who is the conference designed for? Are there things people can do in advance to be better prepared to get the most out of the gathering? What do people take away from the gathering? Are there any changes to the program this session?

Yes, we’re having another SOBCon (the SOB stands for Successful Online Business) in Chicago this May (May 3-5). It’s designed for people who are looking to take their dreams and ideas, and turn them into real action. There’s a lot of interaction - attendees are put into Mastermind groups of 4 or 5 people, and we leave a lot of time in the program to foster some real and deep conversations. We also have great speakers who put out a ton of awesome ideas that can foster the push to action. It’s a transformative experience that can change your life. This year’s theme is the Customer Centered Business.

9. Another conference is held each year in Portland. Is the program design the same for both? Do you notice any difference in the people or the needs of the people attending the two conferences?

The design is the same for both events –it’s only the location and general theme that is different.

10. In one of your blogs you mentioned the importance of work being “fun.” Do you think that is a consideration in most businesses? Why is it important? How does one make work fun?

If work isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing. You know the quote by James Michener ? That says it all– it's one of my favorites: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.” That’s what I’m shooting for!

11. Terry, you made a lot of services available to people who are looking to take their business further. What are you planning next?

I’m writing a book on leadership that I’m hoping to publish soon – it’s a distillation of my 30 year journey into some very practical advice to take your leadership, and your business, further. Stay tuned!

Thank You!

Thank YOU Tal, it’s been a pleasure!


Terry "Starbucker” St. Marie is a business consultant, strategist, coach and angel investor. He is in the business of helping businesses fly. Terry operates from an understanding that a successful business is dependent on successful leadership. His website includes blog posts and other materials which instill very practical ways of becoming a effective leader. Inside Out Thinking is his consulting and coaching service which helps businesses create a solid model, get the right people, implement the best policies for sales and customer service, and develop social media outlets. You can find him at or on Twitter @Starbucker


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Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.

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