Former execs take non-traditional retirement route

More senior executives are choosing to work longer as an alternative to traditional retirement. Read more to find out what options are available to the retiring IT exec, and why experts say retirement is easier said than done.

It’s hard to find a veteran CIO these days who will say, “I’ve reached my peak; now I’m ready to retire.”

In fact, since more executives choose to work until physically unable, they’re finding time for second and even third careers. Of those who do choose retirement, many quickly find that after kicking back for a bit to recharge their batteries, they’re eager for a new challenge. In this article, we’ll explore some of the options open to the retiring IT executive and pass on some advice from experts who say retirement is easier said than done.

When the boredom sets in
Insiders can attest to the fact that many veteran executives have a difficult time giving up their careers, and fewer are choosing full-blown retirement as an option. Just ask Orlan Johnson, a consultant with Drake Beam Morin, an outplacement and career transitions firm.

He works with clients in DBM’s Active Retirement program, a one-on-one counseling plan for individuals ready to shift to a post-career phase.

“In some cases, ‘active retirement’ means somebody is sitting on a couple of different boards for companies, maybe working as a lower paid person at a nonprofit organization,” said Johnson, who works out of DBM’s Raleigh, NC, office. “For some people, it means they are playing golf and attending church regularly, but that’s rare. Those who do go into straight retirement, it doesn’t last. They get bored.”

In fact, he discourages them from taking the traditional retirement route and, instead, persuades them to take a long, hard look at their futures.

“Most of these people have never spent any time thinking about what they want to do,” he noted. “They’re 50 or 55 years old, and they’ve just worked all their lives. I ask them where they want to be in ten years. They don’t know. They’ve never thought about it.”

He said many of his clients find success as part-time consultants. In the Research Triangle Park, he added, “there’s so much activity in the IT area, they’re able to stay busy. Many get involved with entrepreneurial organizations. Some go to work for state agencies or government-funded programs at the biotechnology center.”

Giving something back
Some retired IT executives perform community service and volunteer work through organizations like SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. There, they serve as counselors to small business owners and entrepreneurs, offering free advice and mentoring. SCORE volunteers are recruited at the local level, and about 80 percent of applicants are accepted.

“They come to SCORE because they’re interested in giving back to a business system that has provided them with success and a good living,” said Ken Yancey, executive director of SCORE’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. “They also come back because after 20 or 30 years of being in business every day, they don’t want to give it up. We give them the outlet to stay involved. We find that most of the folks who come to us have been retired less than four years and they have traveled, played a lot of golf, and they now want something more challenging.”

Yancey points out that community volunteerism is on the rise among retired professionals, and individuals are finding new ways to serve.

“If you have a food bank in your local community, [the organizers] probably have a computer system to manage inventory,” he said. “They are probably running on donated equipment and patching things together. They need people who can assist them in finding low-cost, no-cost solutions for software, canned or custom equipment, and networking opportunities. [Retirees] possess skills that are clearly a commodity right now.”

Aside from their technology skills, retired IT executives also have a great deal of business savvy to pass on to nonprofit organizations, civic groups, and budding entrepreneurs.

“These individuals have operated in a fast-paced business environment and made lots of important decisions,” Yancey said. “That’s valuable experience they can pass on to people who really need it.”

Mike Brinda, a retired CEO who lives in Irvine, CA, is passing on his experiences owning and operating a successful company.

In 1994, he sold New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the company he founded. In his retirement, Brinda has written a screenplay, volunteered for local charities, and invested in venture capital projects. Like many retired executives, he felt the pull of the field that served him well in his career. As an outlet, he volunteers his time with SCORE.

Brinda spends two or three days a month at the Orange County SCORE office. He counsels individuals in person, by phone, and via e-mail, many of whom “give up after you tell them the problems with their ideas. A few go on and produce a business plan, or if they’re already in business, I help them out.”

Of course, volunteer work can take many forms, and a number of former executives choose low-stress activities. “Some of these executives who have lived a very fast-paced, strategically oriented, high-pressure career would really like to stuff envelopes for a while,” Yancey said. “They want to do something where they can contribute, but that’s not as pressure-packed.”

Are you in or out?
Brinda said there are plenty of ways for retired IT executives to stay active in their field, such as serving on boards, acting as a silent investor in a start-up, and consulting. Unfortunately, he warns, the difficulty lies in finding the middle ground between retirement and a full-time job.

“It’s easy to say I can withdraw myself mentally if I’ve invested money in a company, but it’s not easy to do. You’re either in it 100 percent, or you’re not in it at all. I think people get a rude awakening when they think they can straddle the fence. Your mind is constantly kicking around the business issues. It’s like you’re not retired at all. Even if you don’t go to the office every day, your mind is there.”

Johnson agreed. “A lot of people are that way,” he said. “They’re either on or off. There’s no in-between. I think those are the kind of people who go back and get full-time jobs. They do it because they don’t know how to modulate their approach to anything. Those are the ones who have a difficult time retiring.”
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