Retirement can wait Older north shore women find new careers

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

While many of their peers, husbands and friends are winding down their professional careers, making the transition to retirement or cutting back to part-time employment, some north shore professional women are taking the opposite approach. Instead of cruising into retirement, these women are gearing up, shifting into second or third careers. And they aren’t planning to quit any time soon.
One example is Louise Block, a Grafton resident who is starting her fourth career. Although the latest chapter of her working life gives her more free time than most of her previous jobs, at 55 years old, she isn’t slowing down too much.
Over the past 30 years, Block has been a secretary, a stay-at-home mom and an entrepreneur – twice.
When Block married her husband, Don, they both decided she would stay home with their kids. Previously, she had worked as a secretary to the president and vice president of an international manufacturing representative firm in Grafton.
Block says she loved staying home with her kids, but part of her missed the fulfillment of professional work.
"I really missed my job," she said.
Block began doing some light secretarial work at home.
When her kids entered kindergarten and first grade, Block formed a company that would later become Block Business Call Center. She took her business out of her home and into rented office space in Mequon. From 1989 to 2001, the company grew from one part-time employee to 10 full-time workers, answering phone calls for more than 180 companies.
But by 1998, Block decided it was time for something new.
"I started to feel the stress of having a larger business," Block said. She wasn’t in a hurry to sell her business, but wanted to be able to take her career in another direction.
After several years and false starts, she sold the Block Business Call Center in 2001. She worked there on a part-time basis for the next three years, even while she was starting her next venture.
Beginning in 2002, Block met with a personal consultant to help her decide the next phase of her career.
"He told me to take the things that I love to do – which are cooking and travel," she said. "And while I was having a dinner party, a friend told me I should cook for people. Within the same week, I saw an ad in a magazine on becoming a personal chef."
That ad eventually led Block to the United States Personal Chefing Association, where she attended a week-long course that emphasized business planning and lessons on commercial cooking. At the time, Block was finishing up her part-time work with the call center, before starting her own personal chef business.
Now that her work with the call center is complete, Block works about two days a week on her personal chef business with her regular clients. If she’s hired to cook for a small party, group or special event, she’ll work more.
Having more free time was part of Block’s newest business plan, one she plans to continue for the next 10 years.
"I think I will carry this on until I’m 65," she said. "The only thing I need now is an easier way to carry my load." She has to carry her cookware with her when she cooks for clients.
"I’ve been fortunate to enjoy my working life," she said. "I feel sorry for people who are in jobs where they don’t like being there. I have been driven by a desire to do what I want to do. I set small goals one at a time, to build my business and build my career. And meeting those goals has driven me. It’s never been the dollar value of the business."
Cobby Shereff, 49, a partner with Blumenfield & Shereff LLP, a Mequon-based law firm, had a different career path than Block. However, a similar drive and love for what she does have her charging ahead while many of her peers are thinking about slowing down.
Shereff re-entered the work force in 2000, after taking 12 years off to raise her children. She recently started the law firm with her husband, Charles Blumenfield, as the other partner.
Shereff works in business practice law, specializing in intellectual property matters. She said that about 60 percent of her work involves trademarks, and 40 percent is in copyright issues. She previously worked with two boutique law firms in downtown Milwaukee.
Blumenfield works in civil litigation and personal defense.
Now that her children are older, Shereff said she has more time and energy to devote to her career.
"I am committed to the success of this practice and my clients, who have honored me by coming with me and trusted me with their legal work," she said.
She has no exit strategy with the new practice, and she has no plans for retirement.
"Going back to work was very frightening," she said. "I was concerned that I was rusty – on a technological basis, PCs (personal computers) were just coming in when I left the work force. I think it was a question of competence. Would the skills I had used every day during my dozen years at home translate or serve as a bridge to re-entry? I had some serious questions."
In 1997, when Blanche Berenzweig was about Shereff’s age, she started her financial planning firm, BSB Financial Services Inc. Her commitment to the Mequon business is just as strong today.
Having the business open for several years gives Berenzweig the opportunity to pick who she wants as clients, something she says is of great value to her now that she is older than 55.
"Now I get to choose the people I want to do business with," she said. "That’s a very enviable position to be in. But it didn’t come for free. It never comes for free."
Berenzweig has no plans for retirement, saying she’s working to build the business to pass along someday.
"As long as I can walk, talk and chew gum, I will work," she said. "My issue was to grow this business, to grow it into something viable and strong, so that someday I can pass it down."
Even when she had children at home, Berenzweig said, she needed to work at least part-time, not so much for financial reasons, but because it’s part of her personality.
"It’s just who I am," she said. "I was always doing something,"
After her kids started school in 1986, she helped start an insurance branch at F&M Bank. Berenzweig had so many people asking her financial questions she decided to become a certified financial planner. She earned the certification in 1989 and worked for other financial planning offices for several years before starting BSB in 1997.
Berenzweig said many of the women she knows through networking are planning financially for retirement, but they are not planning for the transition in their personal lives.
"It’s a major change," she said. "’What’s going to fulfill me?’ is the issue. A lot of them come out and start businesses or get professional designations."
As her business life becomes more and more intertwined with her professional life, Berenzweig’s professional life has become more valuable.
"It has to do with passion," she said. "When you can choose who you can do business with, it becomes very enriching and becomes very important. And what happens with many women my age is that my business also falls into my social world. I’m not sure sometimes where one ends and the other starts."

June 24, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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