Posted: March 01, 2011
Small Biz: Nearing 80, Joe Sabah still motivatesMike Taylor
I don't know how many e-mails I've gotten from Joe Sabah or when they started arriving in my inbox. Thirty e-mails last year alone, with subject titles like "How to Speak for Fun and Profit" and "How to Get on Radio Talk Shows All Across America Without Leaving Your Home or Office" and "Joe's Blog with 3 Money Making Secrets and More!"
Having been the target of so many of his pitches, I decided to seek out the man behind JoeSabah.com, so one day in early February I called him up. Sabah told me he's been on talk-radio shows 704 times and typically parlays each appearance into sales of $300 to $400 for his book, "How to Get the Job You Really Want and Get Employers to Call You."
"My mother kept asking me, ‘When are you going to get a real job?'" Sabah says. He keeps a photo of his mother, who lived to 99, on his credenza. "Well, I've had this real job for over 30 years. I'm 79 now, reaching for 80 in May."
Seven years ago Sabah suffered a stroke, so now he uses a walker and types with only his right hand.
"In the background you're going to hear me talking to my helper, Debra," Sabah said. "She came to my rescue after my stroke in '04. She's been a helper, mom, assistant. Whatever needs to be done, she does for me."
Along with Debra, whom Joe met at one of his seminars and who assists him on Thursdays and Fridays, Sabah has three other helpers.
"I have Diana on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; I have Dorothy on Monday; and I have my former spouse, Judy, on Sundays," says Joe, who has amassed an e-mail database of 21,581 contacts nationally, about 5,000 in Colorado and about 3,000 in Denver.
Sabah's primary business offering seems to be his "How to Speak for Fun and Profit" seminar, a four-hour session for which he charges $150 and strives for 10 or 12 attendees. The seminars are held in a first-floor room of his apartment building on South University Boulevard and begin with sandwiches from Subway. He says he's been giving the same seminar since 1979.
More than just coaching people on public speaking, Sabah says his larger mission is "to help people sing the song they came to sing."
By that he means, "Are you doing with your life what God really put you on this Earth for? Should you be playing the drums? Driving a truck? Teaching school? Statistics say 85 percent of people are in jobs they don't like. I say quit it; do something you like."
Sabah grew up in Steubenville, Ohio - "me and Dean Martin and Jimmy the Greek," he says - one of five siblings raised by their mother after Joe's father died when he was 9. After high school Sabah began selling insurance. He credits a Dale Carnegie course he took in 1958 for changing his life.
"I was a shy, bashful, backwards 27-year-old, just afraid to talk to people," he says.
Sabah came to Denver in 1974. His job was to call real estate firms, stock brokerages and auto dealers - anybody with 10 or more salespeople - and give them a "free" 30-minute sales seminar with the aim of selling them tickets for $38 for motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale, Cavett Robert and others.
In 1983, Sabah and his ex-wife, Judy, founded the Colorado Speakers Association, now a chapter of the National Speakers Association.
"I'd put that on my resume if I had one," he says.
Sabah says some are surprised by the computer savvy he exhibits at his age; he's been using a Mac for 26 years. But he does have a sentimental side when it comes to some old ways.
"Remember telegrams - 10 words for about three bucks?" he asks. "Two years ago Western Union discontinued telegrams. I literally cried, because that was my livelihood when I was 14. I had the Western Union cap, I had my bicycle and I rode around Steubenville delivering telegrams."
It emerges that Sabah might not really be that wistful, that this is just a setup for a point he wants to make. "Even though Western Union discontinued telegrams, Twitter picked up on it!" he says. "One hundred forty-four characters - for free!
"There's nothing new in this world," he says. "Twitter's not new; it's just an updated version of telegrams."
Maybe he's right about Twitter. Sabah, though, is an original.
Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at email@example.com.