Small businesses successes a high for SBDC Star Performer

Steve Burke SBDC Star Performer 2017

By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC

TUKWILA, Wash. – Steve Burke, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), was named the network’s 2017 Star Performer for his work with small business owners in South Seattle.

The award was announced at the U.S. Small Business Administration annual gala May 2 at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. Burke and the Star Performers from each of the 63 SBDC networks across the country will be honored at the America’s SBDC conference in Nashville, Tenn., in September.

Burke joined the Washington SBDC in 2010, after a long career in outdoor recreation, property management and business consulting.

Michael Franz, Burke’s supervisor and an SBDC advisor in Seattle since 1998, said Burke set an inspiring standard, both as a business advisor and as a colleague. “He has high standards of service, amazing depth of knowledge, and principled integrity in everything that he does,” Franz said. “His passion for business and service has a positive effect on everyone around him.”

Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington SBDC, said Burke embodies the core values of the organization, including integrity, teamwork and continual improvement. “Whether he’s looking at a business plan, a financial statement or a commercial lease, Steve has the ability to home in on what’s really important,” Fladland said. “He provides a tremendous service to his clients, but also to our network.”

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to help small business owners start, grow or transition a business. The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives support from the U.S. Small Business Administration and other institutions of higher education and economic development.

In 2016 Burke worked with more than 100 small business owners to help them start, grow or transition a business. Those business owners credited him with helping them save or create 113 jobs and access more than $2 million in capital.

The importance of perspective

Takanori Koyama, owner of Northwest ABA, started working with Burke in 2013. “The biggest advice Steve gave me is that I need to work on the business, not in the business,” Koyama said. “That changed my mindset.”

Kenny Rogers, co-owner and general manager of Rain City Catering, said he had a similar experience. When he sat down to talk with Burke about his business for the first time, Burke asked him, “Do you want to be a chef or a businessman?” His partner was the head chef, so he answered, “Businessman.” “Okay then,” Burke responded, “tell me your story.”

Rain City Catering opened in 1999, but in 2011 the company had just three employees, including the two owners, and was struggling to make a profit. With Burke’s help, Rogers said, that started to change. In 2016 the company had six full-time employees, 15 on-call employees and gross revenue of $1.1 million. They expect to do better in 2017.

“Steve has definitely been an important resource for where we are today,” Rogers said.

Leasing and property management foundation

Burke’s first encounter with the Washington SBDC was in 2009 when was invited to speak at a professional development conference on the ins and outs of leases and lease negotiations. From 2002 to 2007 Burke was vice president of property operations and asset manager for Diamond Parking, during which time he negotiated leases and managed property in seven Western states.

That experience, and earlier experiences negotiating leases at Pike Place Market, inspired his decision to open his own consulting business and then join the SBDC. “I didn’t like the way small business owners were being treated,” he said. “It’s difficult for them to understand the confusing business of leasing.”

As a certified SBDC advisor, Burke meets with clients to work on all aspects of business development, but he has become the network’s go-to expert on leases from a small business perspective.

“In most business failures, a bad lease is a contributing factor,” Burke said. “And in most cases people are signing leases they don’t understand the consequences of.” His mission is to make sure SBDC clients understand “here’s what this means and this is how it’s going to impact your business.”

When Rogers and his partner were looking at commercial properties in 2011, Rogers said, they really liked the Renton Pavilion Event Center, but didn’t think they could afford the monthly rent. After talking with Burke, he was able to work out a deal where the monthly rent is lower, but the landlord gets a percentage of sales, too. On good months he ends up paying more, but during slow times he isn’t getting crushed by fixed payments he can’t afford. And, he said, both he and his landlord have an incentive for him to succeed. “The lease is the most important decision,” Rogers said, “because that is the foundation you build off of.”

Emotional high

Burke said he enjoys hearing his clients’ stories and finding ways to help them improve their business. When he learns that his advising or expertise made a difference for someone’s business, he said, it’s an emotional high.

Burke also enjoys the emotional high he gets from mentoring students in the Skunk Works Robotics program at Raisbeck Aviation High School. The father of three sons, all of whom have participated in the program, Burke sees the program as a gateway to tremendous opportunities in math and science for both boys and girls. Skunk Works robotics has competed in the FIRST world championships for 11 straight years.

Burke’s undergraduate degree was in recreation management from University of Montana and he spent 13 years with Thousand Trails Inc., an outdoor recreation company with RV resorts in 22 states. In 1993, he earned an MBA from San Diego State. Burke and his wife Stacey, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for a $3 billion company in Tacoma, Wash. , have been married for 31 years.

For more about the Washington SBDC, click here.


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