K.T. Thuerbach: A Pioneer in Business, Learning and Aging

BY LIZ MARCHI

What began as a small fishing cabin has evolved, over the last 25 years, into one of the most charming cottage compounds on Flathead Lake. KT Thuerbach sits at his desk surrounded by data, materials, books and other research on how we age and, in particular, how the mind affects how we live and approach the last quarter of life. At 67, he and his wife Carol travel extensively all over the world. Most recently they have engaged in adventure travel, repelling waterfalls in Costa Rica and hiking in the Inca Trail in the mountains of Peru. They will be biking in Nova Scotia next week.

KT’s journey to the exploration of the architecture of the mind began shortly after he graduated from Harvard Business School in 1971. He was the only member of his class not to take a job interview. Instead, KT and three other classmates started a new business, a global consulting and turnaround firm. International development organizations were lending millions to developing nations in an effort to seed industrialization and pull them out of poverty. When businesses were failing, KT’s team arrived. After 54 successful turnarounds and work in 83 countries, it was time to return to the United States.

During his travels, KT was in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa and picked up an American magazine that included an article about authentic, handcrafted log home construction – it stated that by 1990 there would not be any craftsmen in the U.S. who knew how to construct a traditional log home. So, upon his return, KT scoured the Western states, looking for those remaining elderly craftsmen. He partnered with a small Colorado operation and moved it to the Bitterroot Valley. The company was the first to construct log homes using standing dead timber and to assemble on a central site, and then ship the structure for reassembly. It also developed the synthetic chinking that is used today industry wide. The company still holds the record for most log homes featured in the prestigious Architectural Digest. The success of the business enabled him to start 14 other companies in an array of industries.

In the 1980s KT was invited to participate in a retreat with 15 business professors and 14 other entrepreneurs from around the country. Their charge was to determine whether the topic of starting and growing a business could be taught in universities and colleges. As a result of this work, today every accredited business school in the U.S. offers one or more courses in entrepreneurship.

KT then began researching how an individual’s mindset plays into obtaining results. He built a course that debuted at the University of Montana entitled, “Principals of Business, Personal and Financial Success.” Some years later, he took this research, applying it to a new field: Behavioral Finance – the psychological tendencies people have when they make financial decisions. He became a sought-after lecturer for CEO, CFO conferences.

Today, KT is applying much of what he has learned over a lifetime of work, teaching and research to the topic of aging. We all know that diet and exercise have huge impacts on aging. Taking it even further, he has now built a body of work around how our attitudes and mindset increase our life span and health span. It’s a stage in life for which we don’t have a lexicon.

Liz is fascinated by the various approaches to aging – from denial, to plastic surgery, running marathons to depression. Given our current demographics, Liz thinks that there is a lot to explore, celebrate and learn from those living and aging in the Flathead Valley. Contact her at Liz@frontierangels.com

No story about KT would ever be complete without his partner, best friend and love of his life, Carol. Theirs is a Montana love story.

Carol was one of the first two women to teach at Flathead Valley Community College. She taught business. KT, an avid skier who has skied all over the world, was skiing at Big Mountain in 1977. Back then, if you were a single, you would ski up to the lift line and callout, “single.” A woman in the front of the line responded and KT joined her. She was very attractive with a great smile. They immediately began chatting. Back in those days, when you bought skis the retailer would engrave your name and hometown on them. Casually, he looked down at her skis and said, “Nice to meet you Donna.” Carol said, “My name is Carol, I bought my skis from Donna.” He knew she was quick on the uptake. By the time they got off the lift, he had asked her to ski down with him. After turn four, he could tell she was a beginner skier. He had paid $12 for the lift ticket and wanted to get his money’s worth so they parted company. Later in the day they wound up in the coffee warming hut and exchanged phone numbers. Thirty-seven years later, they are a dynamic team who have served as role models and mentors to countless students and young people. Now they are blazing a new path for living in your late 60s and beyond.