No desire to retire

What did Casey Stengel, Tony Bennett and George Burns have in common? They could not stay retired. They managed baseball, sang, told jokes and smoked cigars until they were in their 80s and beyond.

In recent months I have begun to identify a trend among older and so-called retired baby boomer entrepreneurs. They also want to get back into the game. They don’t like sitting on the sidelines and watching others start and grow their businesses.

This became more evident to me on my latest visit to Scottsdale, Ariz. I had dinner with, played golf with and exercised with successful entrepreneurs who say they are retired, yet they are either actively involved in an ongoing business or have a desire to start a new one.

This generation, the so-called “baby boomers,” are redefining retirement as we know it. As one myself, I can identify with their work ethic and desire to stay active, both mentally and physically. They work hard to keep their bodies in shape, but also desire to keep their minds sharp.

Some I meet have elected to share their experience and knowledge by volunteering through organizations like SCORE and assist younger executives in developing their businesses. Others serve on for-profit and nonprofit boards, while others have invested their resources in starting new businesses.

We are the sons and daughters of the “Greatest Generation” the children of the Depression and World War II. We have been shaped, formed and tempered by the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. We kneeled behind our desks in elementary school to prepare for the nuclear attack that never came and practiced our shelter and fire drills.

We are not ready for retirement. We are builders of new businesses, the mentors of the next generation of thinkers and creators, and we are being recycled and repurposed.

The same week that I started to research this trend, I happened upon an article written by Matt Sedensky of the Associated Press, titled “Baby Boomers Fueling Wave of Entrepreneurship.” In it he cites data that supports my thesis. The annual entrepreneurial activity report published in April by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found the share of new entrepreneurs ages 55 to 64 grew from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 23.4 percent last year. Entrepreneurship among 45- to 54-year-olds saw a slight bump, while activity among younger age groups fell. The foundation doesn’t track startups by those 65 and older, but Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that group has a higher rate of self-employment than any other age group.

Experts say older people are flocking to self-employment both because of a frustrating job market and the growing ease and falling cost of starting a business.

“It’s become easier technologically and geographically to do this at older ages,” said Dane Stangler, the research and policy director at Kauffman. “We’ll see continued higher rates of entrepreneurship because of these demographic trends.”

Recently, I participated in an online discussion about the “millennials” and how they see their roles in business. I have named my generation “the re-boomers.” We have all this physical and mental energy and a desire to continue to make a contribution. Even my internal medicine doctor continues to work at 72 and is looking for additional opportunities to contribute to the development of the next generation of doctors.

No Dell Webb communities for us, no rocking chairs or fishing poles. No, we want the latest hand-held device to participate in online discussions and the ability to network across the globe. We have joined or formed venture capital groups looking to invest in new ventures in business segments that didn’t even exist when we were running our own companies. We are a generation hard wired to work, to dream and to accomplish the impossible. We are the generation that was told we could go to the moon and we did. We conquered polio and small pox, transplanted hearts and other organs and invented devices to help people hear and see more clearly.

So why do we want to stop? We don’t.

We just have to look at Warren Buffet as an example of an entrepreneur who is still very active into his 80s. His mind is still sharp and he is an influencer, a mentor and an advisor to presidents.

It is said that “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” and our generation is not wasting our minds, nor are we wasting any time in getting back into the game. I myself have re-energized and refocused myself in the last few months. I desire to get back into helping nonprofits better achieve their missions using for-profit business strategies and reducing their dependence on government grants and support. A recent discussion on social entrepreneurism at the Wisconsin Club spiked my curiosity and got my juices flowing again.

There is a void created when you enter into the retirement phase, get your monthly Social Security check and put that AARP card in your wallet. You are beginning to receive and no longer contributing. For many in our generation, contributing is what keeps us going.

Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president and CEO of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group of consultants that provide services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiations and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display