No Desire to Retire

A few years ago I sold my company and began transitioning my role with the new ownership. Because I made such a change in my career, friends and clients assumed I was retiring and when I saw or called people, they would ask, “How are you enjoying retirement?”

That’s one question I hope to never answer because I have no plans to retire. Ever. My dad worked until he was 87 and I will follow his example, working even well beyond that age if possible. He never believed people should retire at the then-accepted age of 65. As the comedian George Burns said, “Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.”

For some reason even the assumption that I would be retiring bothered me. Perhaps it’s my own issue of feeling like I won’t be interesting at parties any longer if I’m no longer working. My identity seems to be inextricably tied to my career. I also enjoy the stimulation and interaction with other people that I get in a work environment.

I do a lot of volunteer work with non-profits and feel that staying in the working world keeps my skills sharp and better able to contribute to those organizations.

If I even tried to retire, I know I’d be like former NFL player Brett Favre. Although it was speculated for years that he was retiring, he continued to put on those pads and play, year after year. He played well past the time his teammates had hung up their jerseys, becoming the only grandfather in the NFL.

I do know plenty of people who are very happily retired. A friend of mine tells me how much he enjoys watching cartoons with his new grandson. Others play golf, travel and enjoy other activities they never had time to indulge in while managing a career.

The best example of someone blissfully retired is my wife, Arlene, who quit work after 25 years as a successful, award-winning residential real estate broker.

She actually retired at my suggestion. She had received a call from potential clients who were relocating to Atlanta and wanted her to show them homes that weekend. That meant she would have to preview dozens of properties, put together a complicated schedule of showings, alter it based on what they saw the first day, then do it all over again the next. Oh, and there is no guarantee they would buy a home from her.

Somewhat exasperated, she called to tell me we’d have to cancel all our weekend plans, so I said, “Why don’t you just retire? We don’t need your income, and it will give you the flexibility to do all the things you want but don’t have time for.”

After consulting a friend who had run a multi-million dollar company and giving it careful consideration, she took my advice and retired. She has never looked back.

But Arlene remains engaged and as interesting to me as she ever was. She exercises, spends time with our grandchildren, volunteers at the synagogue and plans and prepares healthy meals. She also attends classes on various subjects and handles everything in our lives that doesn’t involve earning money. Arlene jokes that she doesn’t have enough hours in the day to be retired.

The past few years I have cut my working hours down from 60 to a more manageable 45-50. I’m still searching for a better balance but I’m not quite there yet. I wouldn’t mind slowing down a bit more.

So I realize the issue of retirement is a personal one. And for me, retirement is just not in the cards. Maybe my reluctance to retire has to do with what Malcolm Forbes once said, “Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did.” I don’t plan to ever find out.

Does Your Daughter Want to Be CEO? Six Mistakes CEOs Make When Choosing a Successor for a Family Business

Dr. Robert Doback: He quit college his junior year and said he wanted to join the family business.

Nancy Huff: But you’re a medical doctor…

Dr. Robert Doback: I told him that. He just said, ‘It’s all about who you know.”

— From the film “Step Brothers”

 

My dad thought I would take over the family business. But I told him several times I didn’t want it and his persistent misconception cost the family a lot of money and my dad a lot of grief, as I wrote in my last post.

If you’re the owner of a family business, chances are you have relatives working for you. You may have brought in your kids and placed them in positions of increasing responsibility, assuming that one day you’ll retire and fill your days perfecting your golf game or cruising around the world while the next generation takes over.

If you own a family business and plan on a son or daughtertaking over, ask him or her if they want to run the business. Don’t assume they do.

But have you ever asked your son or daughter if he or she wants to be the boss? You may be surprised by the response. Children crave their parents’ approval and don’t like to disappoint them. It’s possible they are in their current positions just to please you.

Your daughter may secretly be harboring aspirations to be an entertainment attorney or your son may be dreaming of a career in the medical field. Rather than focusing all their energies on the future of your business, they may be working towards their exit as soon as dear old mom or dad is out of the picture.

Not asking that crucial question is just one of the mistakes I see when family business owners deal with the question of succession.

Here are five others to watch out for:

1. Using guilt to get a family member to take over the company

Doesn’t the company you worked so hard to build and grow deserve someone at the top who is 100% devoted and whose skills match those necessary to be a successful CEO? Think about the last time you were guilted into something. Did you feel positive about it? If you ask your family member if he or she wants to take over and the answer is no or a halfhearted yes, consider other options.

2. Leaving the succession of a company up to a lawyer

I’ve heard this many times when I ask CEOs about their succession plan. “I don’t worry about that. My lawyer will handle it all.”

Lawyers are necessary for many aspects of your business. But they are often called in when the company is already in transition and will be focused on the legal issues. The key to an orderly succession is to have it planned out before you need it, and you need to consult all your business advisors when developing the plan.

3. Leaving the company in the hands of several family members

You can’t run a business by committee. “We’ll just get together over Sunday supper and decide on that then,” I’ve heard before. It’s fine to have family members talk over key decisions. But you have to have one person empowered to make all the final decisions.

4. Not picking a number 2

So you’ve gone through the process of picking a successor. Guess what? You also need a number 2. Let’s say your son takes over and he leaves the company in a few years to start his own business. Or your successor is your brother-in-law, who takes a liking to the diner waitress and sends you a “Having a great life” postcard from St. Croix. You need to have a back up.

5. Not educating everyone about the succession plan

Once you have a succession plan for the next CEO and the number 2 person, make sure all the family members know about it. There may be hard feelings over the selections, but it’s best to deal with them now and have everything settled before the transition.

It’s also important once the succession plan is made to communicate the plan to customers, vendors and bankers. Then, bring the successor into important meetings so there will be continuity when you retire or get hit by a bus.

So how do you pick the best people to run your company? Stay tuned for the next post on The Turnaround Authority.

The New American Ethic: Revaluing Hard Work and Austerity

I recently reaffirmed my contention that not only are we in a recession, but we never truly came out of one in the first place. The term “New Norm” was once tossed around a lot, and I want to re-invoke it here in order to say that the economy is going to be like this for a long time. If you ask me, at least the next 5 years.

So what does that mean for the regular person? That it’s time to find pleasure in austerity.

Changing Attitudes

Part of the economy and its effect on us is our attitude towards it. If we change our attitude towards the economy we will be better able to bear the burden of this bear market environment, and we will minimize its impact on us and our country.

Now, that’s easier said than done. I can tell you to be happy with less far more easily than I can be happy with less. I won’t pretend like this is a picnic, but we need to start thinking differently if we’re going to make this happen.

In essence, we need a return to Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Maybe we don’t need a return to it, exactly, but we could use a secular reevaluation of its value – a New American Ethic. That is how we will change our attitude.

The Protestant Ethic Reapplied

Now, don’t balk at the notion of applying a Protestant Ethic because the religious undercurrent shocks you. An element of Weber’s reconfiguration in The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism was an emphasis on wealth and its accumulation as the result of a rational means of existence. This, on its surface, is actually rather secular, but I’m not proposing that wealth is the end-goal (nor, mind you, was Weber). We’re both proposing that the reality of this rational existence is hard work. The result is wealth.

For Weber, the historical emphasis on the value of hard work was born of the Protestant Reformation circa the early 1500s (think back to 10th grade history, Martin Luther nailing his Theses and the resultant religious uproar in Europe). Protestantism, notably its Calvinist manifestation, according to Weber, emphasized the value of all work – including and particularly secular work – as being extremely important and a path to personal salvation. That is, secular work was for God, too.

Weber contended that this attitude ultimately led to the glorification of secular work and the groundswell of capitalistic enterprise that occurred in countries where Protestantism was embraced (think northern Germany, England, the Benelux countries – places where the Industrial Revolution was taking off by the 18th century). Ultimately, this ethic flowed to America’s capitalistic beginnings and Protestant predilections.

While an emphasis on the inherent value of hard work is the first step, it is an outgrowth of this Protestant Ethic that is the necessary component in transforming America’s attitude towards our challenging economic environment: austerity. Wealth was not meant to be gaudy or filled with showy pageantry, or as Protestants would describe Catholic churches, filled with Popery. Like the austere churches in which Protestants worshipped, wealth demonstrated that those with it worked hard for what they believed in. They did not have to flaunt this wealth for it to be the natural and deserved outcome of their devotion to hard work. In fact, it was considered all the more commendable to live within humble means – to embrace austerity.

The New American Ethic

Hard Work and Austerity are exactly what we need in our current economic situation.

We need to see the value in working hard for what we have. I know that unemployment is high. In fact, it’s higher than what’s reported by probably something near to 150% due to contractors never having been on employment books and people losing benefits due to the length of time they’ve been out of the workforce. But that’s nearly 15% of the population that desperately needs to embrace what I am terming the New American Ethic.

We need a return to respecting the value of hard work and the entrepreneurial capitalistic enterprise that built this country in the first place. Starting a business is not for everyone, but there is tons of work to be done and had that does not involve conventional employment at a big company. Part of our problem in finding and doing this work is our attitude, though: that the only employment worth having is that which pays a standard and acceptable salary (what we can “flaunt,” if you will, or share proudly at our Thanksgiving tables with relatives who judge us). But this is wrong. We must rethink our emphasis on valuing the money and value the hard work instead.

This is not to pretend that it doesn’t take money to feed a family, but I’m not suggesting that we quit well-paying jobs for the noble feelings that could come with hard work and having less. I’m saying that all of us – from the unemployed to the 1% – need to think differently about our values in order to do two things. The first is rethinking the ways that we’re going to get America back to work, and the second is preventing ourselves from spiraling further towards economic disaster by not depending any longer on the broken systems we have in place for pensions, social security, retirement and future benefits. People’s retirement investments are not what we thought they would be, and pension funds are failing left and right.

In 2010, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp paid $5.6 billion in benefits for people with failed pension plans. The government is paying this money, which means that we are paying to fund other people’s underfunded pensions even though we have to make personal retirement sacrifices in the meantime. This is not sustainable, and if we’re going to stop relying on these increasingly broken and failed systems we’re going to need to rethink our attitude towards work and wealth.

For the Right Reasons

Coupled with an emphasis on the pleasure and value of austerity – doing more with less and living within humble means – the New American Ethic is one that values hard work for the pleasure and sake of that hard work. If we don’t start living that way we are going to die poorer and considerably less happy about it than we otherwise could be.

Our country needs to embrace this attitude, not as a mandate from above, but as a groundswell from the bottom up – the only way such a movement can work. Every individual needs to see the value of his time, his hands and his mind, and put all three to work in whatever way he can – not for riches or glory or as the Protestant Ethic would contend, God, but for himself, his family and our collective future.

It is this kind of movement, towards a New American Ethic, that will get us through these tough years and return the American economy to its position of power and success – but more sustainably this time. It is also these values that we can share with the world in order that we may all build and work ourselves towards a better future.