St. Louis Character: Peter Hobler

St. Louis Business Journal

Friday, July 24, 2015

By Margaret Crane

After his family sold its stake in Maritz Inc., Peter Hobler, 58, inherited millions. Money, he thought, was synonymous with success. But after making some unfortunate business decisions, he lost it all. Ironically, it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to him, a wake-up call that would change his life.

Today, the personal development coach, author, speaker and executive director of Hope Happens, a nonprofit that raises money to fund research for neurological disorders, is finally comfortable in his own skin. But it took hard work and the loss of his best friend and brother, Christopher, from ALS in 2005. In 2000, Chris founded ALS HOPE, a private foundation that morphed into the public nonprofit, Hope Happens in 2003, and eventually led to The Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, which opened its doors at Washington University on Nov. 1, 2004.

Where You’ll find Peter Hobler

  • Hope Happens office in Clayton
  • Lunching at Almond’s or Avenue
  • Sipping coffee at Northwest, Starbucks at Clayton and Lindbergh or Kaldi’s
  • Dinner at Charlie Gitto’s or Cardwell’s in Clayton with donors
  • Hiking with Alie at Castlewood State Park
  • At the airport ready to board a plane to go anywhere in the world
  • Website:
  • email:
  • facebook: HopeHappens
  • Twitter: @HopeHappens4ND

“Since Chris’ passing, Peter and his family have maintained Chris’ vision. Most recently, Peter has taken up the mantle as head of Hope Happens; he’s looking for ways it might have even greater impact. These efforts help to support the Hope Center mission to push the envelope in our understanding of basic cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying numerous neurological disorders and therapies to treat those disorders,” said Anneliese Schaefer, Hope Center executive director.

Peter Hobler grew up in Ladue, one of three children (he also has two step siblings) of the late Wells Atherton Hobler, an entrepreneur who worked in advertising for Benton & Bowles, co-founded by his father, and also did marketing research for Maritz for 20 years, and Jean Maritz Hobler, daughter of Maritz founder, James Sr.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics at DePauw University, he went to work as a travel director for Maritz Travel Co., served as a senior account administrator for Maritz Inc., and 10 years after receiving his undergraduate degree, earned an MBA from Washington University. In 2012, he started his own coaching firm, DragonHeart.

Hobler, who lives in Ladue, is divorced and has a daughter Alie, 18.

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How did setbacks make you look inside yourself? I led a dream life, had a gorgeous home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, traveled all over the world. Then all came crashing down. I blamed others — my business partners for setbacks and didn’t take responsibility for it.

Why didn’t you take responsibility? As a child, I was always corrected and developed a huge sense of self-doubt and worthlessness. I became unbearably shy. When I made two varsity sports teams in college and was afraid I wouldn’t play, instead of talking to the coaches about it because I was too timid, I walked away. This became a pattern in my life.

What did you do? I started working with a success coach and took classes to work on myself and my fears and figure out what I wanted to do to become the best person and leader I knew I could be.

When did you start to understand that fear was paralyzing you? I was inspired by my brother, how he faced his fears of dying and his passion to make a difference. I’ll never forget hanging a copy of his portrait in the office. I looked into my brother’s eyes and then looked at myself in the mirror and thought, I can speak. I can move. What’s my excuse? Why do I procrastinate? Walk away from things? It was fear. My coach asked me, “What single value, if completely filled with it, leaves no room for fear?” I thought it was love. No, it’s gratitude.

How do you use gratitude to shift to a more empowering mind set? It’s a two-step process. When I feel an emotional or energetic drain, my immediate reaction is to go to sleep or walk away. Then I think, “it’s gratitude time.” I am grateful for ... my daughter, the most amazing person I know, or I am grateful that I survived atrial fibrillation, which I came out of two days later unscathed.

What’s step two? Now that I’m in a better place, I’m smiling, I’m on top of my emotions and I’ll look back on what just happened. OK, that was no fun and I’ll think about the trigger: was I being subconsciously judgmental or scared? If so, how can I learn and grow from what happened. I will then journal.

Are you still battling your fears? It’s an ongoing struggle. When I find myself in that mushy place, I immediately say to myself: Is this real fear or is it just in my head? What is keeping me from doing what I need to do? Is it past conditioning? I then think: I love myself just the way I am and things always turn out better than I expect.

When did you decide to write about it? My coach, my publisher and I came up with the concept for a book and outlined it. The result: “Courage to Find the Fire Within: Invest in Yourself to Discover Your Passion.” (2013, Aloha Publishing). In 2014, I created a course on the principals of courage, “Getting Unstuck ... Because Your Life is Waiting.” Next I did a video course, no title yet, where I interview eight people. The first, Bill Donius, former CEO of Pulaski Bank, discusses how pursuing your passion changes everything. Each of the other seven tells a story of courage in the context of one of the seven principles outlined in my book.

What does DragonHeart mean? When you have a Dragon Heart, you are no longer afraid of anything.

Talk about your brother. He was an athlete, singer and songwriter, married with four kids. At the first sign of his illness — he started to lose his voice — Chris went for a diagnosis. I was with him when the doctor basically said to go home and die. Chris realized there had been no progress in treating ALS since our grandfather, James Maritz Sr., died 33 years earlier of the disease.

How did Chris start Hope Happens? He approached our parents and our family to found ALS HOPE and money from the private foundation went to the ALS Therapy Development Foundation for two years until Chris started Hope Happens. My family was the No. 1 supporter through the years. They raised $1 million the first year.

What spurred the creation of Hope Center at Wash U? When Chris was diagnosed, neurological disease research had been minimal. There was little profit in it. Chris felt there was a link between all neurological disorders and wanted to speed up the research process to improve the lives of people with these diseases. He contacted Dr. William Peck at the Wash U School of Medicine.

How much has Hope Happens donated to the Hope Center? Nearly $4 million, raising last year $422,000.

Do you fund anything other than The Hope Center? No. We have signed a 10-year agreement that is renewed every 10 years with Washington University to give as much as possible from Hope Happens to Hope Center. Hope Happens promotes awareness, education and provides funding to buy equipment and start up funds for pilot projects that support Hope Center’s mission.

What’s Hope Center like today, nearly 11 years after its founding? It has grown from 17 to more than 110 labs and approximately 113 faculty members, representing more than 650 researchers, and 21 different departments. It takes more than $60 million to run annually. Recently, the 11,000-square-foot center added 8,000 square feet.

When not working, coaching, writing or speaking, what do you like to do? Hang out with Alie. I’d love to get back into tennis. I enjoy nature and to be outside and like cooking lobster, fish, wild game.

What’s still on your bucket list? I want to learn how to sail and some day write my family’s history.

7 Principles of Courage*

  • Clarity of destination
  • Origin of inspiration
  • Unrealized Potential — Mind Set & Unrealized Potential: Forging your new mind set, forming new habits, routines and rituals
  • Responsibility
  • Awareness of what is holding you back and stopping the vicious cycle of subconscious fear
  • Gratitude
  • Excellence

*From “Courage to Find the Fire Within”

Margaret Crane is a St. Louis freelance writer.