When Albert Myers retired in 1979 as president of Myers Brothers Department Stores, headquartered in Springfield, Ill., he received an engraved, Swiss-made gold clock. The only problem was, his name was misspelled. Myers remembers thinking, “If that’s what happens to the boss, I wonder how other people cope with being shunted aside.” After doing some research Myers concluded that more than 70 percent of the men and women approaching retirement are doing so with no preparation. And that takes in a lot of people. Sixty million Americans are 50 or older—about a quarter of the population—and even the baby boomers are beginning to see little crow’s-feet in their bathroom mirrors. Myers refused to go quietly to pasture. He developed a chain of travel agencies, launched a hot-air balloon company, started a coal-exporting business and founded the Success Over Sixty Institute at Aspen, Colo. to help older people lead vigorous lives. Now, at 67, he has put his formulas for regeneration into Success Over Sixty (Summit Books, $15.95), co-authored by PEOPLE senior editor Christopher P. Andersen. Myers discussed the art of moving up, not out, with reporter Jack Kelley.
Is there anything wrong with just lying back after retirement and letting the world go by?
U.S. Congressman Claude Pepper said it best: “Life is like riding a bicycle. You don’t fall off unless you stop pedaling.” If sitting in a hammock is the most enjoyment people can get out of life, there’s nothing wrong with it. But a 1981 Harris poll indicated that 75 percent of people under 65 want to keep working when they retire. Despite the discrimination they face, 25 percent of men and women over retirement age do continue to seek full-or part-time employment. Traditional retirement, swallowed whole, can be deadly. People who disengage from society survive an average of only six years past retirement. They suffer significantly more heart attacks, strokes, cancers and serious psychological problems than those who continue working.
Isn’t it hard to take a risk late in life?
Most of us fear risk at any time. But you get nowhere without some investment of money, effort and pride. You may not always win in the short run, but if you overcome your own resistance to prudent risk taking, you will eventually walk away a winner.
Do women who haven’t had careers find it harder to get into one later in life?
Often it’s more a problem of self-image than of fact. Housewives and mothers think they have no marketable skills. In truth the average housewife performs services worth about $35,000 a year. She should look at herself in that light. Consider Bertha Jackman, a 90-year-old great-grandmother from De Funiak Springs, Fla., who is a Red Cross volunteer. She turned a washrag into a bathtub puppet for children, called it the Scrub Pup, and made money marketing it through department stores. Then there’s the Georgia housewife who tended beehives as a hobby and decided to sell her own brand of honey. She now ships over $1 million worth throughout the South each year.
When and how should you begin planning your nonretiring retirement?
It’s never too early. Set your goals. Make a list of 10 things that were most important to you when you were 25 and another list of the things you considered most important 10 years ago. Compare the two, and take the best from both for today’s list. Next, take stock of what you’re equipped to do and what you’ve done. Those who view life as an ongoing learning process will fare best as they grow older and begin to shift gears. They’re ready for a second career.
What’s the most important ground rule for finding a second career?
Don’t focus on what appears most lucrative—do something you like. When I talk about success, I’m talking not just about money, but also about being active, productive and enjoying life. For example, one man we interviewed retired from middle management at Sears and remembered that his happiest working days had been spent as a salesman in the store’s garden department. Today he’s a partner in a successful landscape-gardening business.
How can a retiree turn a hobby into a second career?
Look at Wayman Presley. He was a rural mail carrier in Makanda, Ill. for 22 years and retired at 61 with $1,000 in savings. But he knew he loved to play tour guide. For years on days off he had taken people on walking tours of the hills near the Missouri-Illinois border. After retirement he organized a train tour to Miami. From there he built a national tour-bus company that grosses $7 million annually.
What’s your advice for avoiding the pitfalls of launching a small business?
First, keep in mind that 40 percent of all new businesses fail during their first year. Limit your risk—invest only as much as you can afford to lose. If necessary, take on a partner to cut your risk—or borrow. Go to the Small Business Administration for financing and overall advice. It’s been harder for older people to get loans, but that, I think, is changing. Second, research business conditions in your market by talking to the local Chamber of Commerce, bankers, landlords, other businessmen and potential customers. Third, educate yourself. The SBA provides funding for university business-development centers at colleges throughout the country.
What kind of professional help does a person going into business need?
At a minimum you need an attorney, an accountant or professional book-keeper, a banker and an insurance broker willing to put together a package tailored to your business.
Is buying a franchise a good idea?
Franchising has its advantages. The brand name is established, and through the franchiser you can establish immediate credit. Some of the research is done for you, and the franchiser should also help with advertising and promotion. But there are risks. Not all franchisers are reputable. Beware of someone who makes it too easy to qualify. Most reputable franchisers will review you thoroughly before letting you buy the right to use their good name. Even if the deal appears solid, don’t buy until you have enough capital to cover your initial investment and sustain your operation through the first six months.
Isn’t success late in life more a matter of brains and talent than of just being flexible?
Sure, extraordinarily gifted people succeed. But there are far more examples of average men and women doing so. Consider Dorothy Stattler from Connecticut. For years she knew she wanted to open her own gift shop, and after she retired from a paper-products company, she did. She had a hard time getting a loan, and two weeks after she opened a storm flooded her out. But she cleaned up and her perseverance paid off—customers began flocking to the store.
If you’re happy at your job, can you arrange to stay on?
Possibly. Ask your company about working part-time in your present job, or a different one. The Grumman Corporation rehires retired employees through a subcontractor for part-time work when a contract boosts the factory workload. Polaroid has tried another approach. It lets employees considering retirement take an unpaid leave of absence for up to six months to test the waters. They can then come back full-time, or taper off, while retaining their company benefits. Remember, unless you’re an executive, you can’t be forced to retire until you’re 70.
Your book also emphasizes the need for exercise. If you haven’t done it by 60, isn’t it too late?
Never. Anybody can walk and most people can swim or jog. It’s the will that matters. I skied 75 to 100 days this year. Yesterday morning I went up in a balloon. The summer before last I tried windsurfing at the Ruedi Reservoir near my home in Aspen. I spent most of the first day upside down in the water. It didn’t help that the Ruedi regulars are tanned young ski instructors happy to razz anyone who can’t keep up. So I headed for L.A. and the warmer waters of Marina Del Rey. There I learned to windsurf at a more leisurely pace. And that’s the key. Go at your own pace. When I got back to Aspen last summer I went straight to the reservoir and showed them my stuff. You just have to refuse to listen when society tells you you’re too old and ought to hang it up.