Retire happy: Today’s retirees see the golden years as a golden career opportunity

Forget the golf course. Today’s retirees see the golden years as a golden career opportunity.

Freedom 55 is dead, but it’s not financial worries that killed the concept. Canadians, it seems, really don’t want to retire. At least, that’s what one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations, HSBC, found out in a recent worldwide survey of retirement attitudes. Only 22% of Canadians believe retirement is a time for rest and relaxation. Instead, the golden years are viewed as a time for reinvention, pursuing lost ambitions and taking on new personal challenges. “There’s only so much travelling and golfing you can do,” says Marc Cevey, CEO of HSBC Investments (Canada) Ltd.

That change in attitude is potentially good news for those of us a little further away from our golden years. After all, somebody will have to pay for baby boomer pensions as that generation crashes into retirement. By 2050, Canada will spend 13% of its GDP on public pensions, a 150% increase on the 5.1% of GDP spent in 2000. Well before then, however, Canada will experience a talent shortage as more people die than are born–a situation many European countries and Japan already face.

One solution is increasing immigration, but another is letting people decide when to retire based on their own capabilities, rather than the artificial 65-year-old barrier that exists in some provinces. New Brunswick and Ontario have introduced legislation this year to ban mandatory retirement, joining the majority of provinces and territories that do not require it. Some progressive companies are already on the senior gravy train. Take Avis, part of Cendant Car Rental Group. It has been hiring retirees for about 13 years as “shuttlers,” folks who drive the company’s rental cars from one location to another around town instead of using car transport trailers. That saves time and cuts down on car damage because retirees are actually quite careful drivers. Avis currently has about 700 retirees working for it across Canada, the oldest being 88. “We have everybody from engineers to teachers to CEOs, absolutely every walk of life,” says Elizabeth Lincoln, national learning and development manager at Cendant in Canada. “We’re really able to match what their personal needs are with our business needs.”

It’s more than just Type-A personalities scoffing at retirement these days. Who wants to spend the rest of their days looking back instead of forward? “You’ve got to plan for 20 years,” says Cevey. “If you’re not under pressure, your mindset changes and all of a sudden working is a far more pleasant experience.” From angel investing to working a regular job, the following stories illustrate five options to keep your hand in the workplace no matter how old you are.

The Angel

Ken Spencer’s friends laugh when he tells them he’s retired. They’re not being mean. The 61-year-old Spencer has a lot going on for someone who officially did retire 10 years ago as CEO of Creo Products Inc., the printing technology company he co-founded in 1983. At one point post-Creo, Spencer sat on nine boards, including a stint as chair at Science World in Vancouver. He also started the Velo Fund, an angel investing company that typically sinks up to $500,000 per investment in fledgling technology companies in British Columbia.

That’s a lot of work for someone not planning to stay in the corporate world. Spencer did take a year off to travel around the world, cycling whenever possible, with his partner and their then-12-year-old son. “The whole idea was to stop work and do some of the other things I wanted to do in life while I could still do them,” says Spencer. By the time he came back, he knew two things: he was ready to get busy again, and he had more than enough money to live on already. So he turned his family holding company, Velo, into an early-stage technology fund that gives its profits to charity. That company has invested in about 10 others, including Datum Telegraphic Inc., a maker of digital signal processors that was bought in 2000 by Burnaby, B.C.’s PMC-Sierra Inc. for US$140 million.

Today, Spencer has cut back, preferring to let Velo fund manager John Linton do most of the work, but he still gets a lot of satisfaction from what he does. A risky game, angel investing isn’t for everyone, but it’s a good way for retired execs to keep one hand in the corporate world, helping budding entrepreneurs. “My mantra is that retirement is not about doing nothing,” says Spencer. “It’s about doing what you want, with the people you want to do it with.” A.H.

The Consultant

Back in November, shortly after he announced he was leaving his job as chief economist and executive vice-president of the Bank of Montreal in February, Tim O’Neill got his best piece of advice about retiring and working part-time. He recalls, “Someone said to me, there are two very dangerous times for you. One is right now, because you’re anticipating you’ll be bored, when you retire from the bank. So you’re inclined to jump at things. Resist it. The second dangerous time is when you’ve been away from the bank for a couple months, because by then, you will be bored. But if you block off your time too quickly, something really exciting may come up, and you won’t have the freedom to do it.”

O’Neill, who had taught economics at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax for 12 years, took that advice to heart. The 57-year-old passed on pitches from headhunters on academic and corporate positions. Then in March, while he and his wife were on a Mediterranean cruise, O’Neill’s BlackBerry rang. It was the executive assistant to Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara. When Sorbara got on the line, he asked O’Neill to give him a hand with economic policy advice.

After a few meetings with Sorbara’s team in Toronto, O’Neill realized the visiting economist post with the ministry of finance was a part-time consulting job that excited him. In the one-year role, he’ll tackle a number of daunting challenges, including what to do about health care, as the population ages and medical technology costs continue to rise. “It’s a wonderful convergence of my interests, understanding of where I think I can help most, and the current needs of the government,” he explains.

Those around O’Neill tell him he seems happier in this new role. “Maybe it’s because they’re looking for that,” O’Neill says, “but I think it’s an accurate reflection.” C.L.

The Agent

Carol Jamieson is one tough cookie. She overcame the unexpected death in 1962 of her husband and childhood sweetheart just a year after the birth of their first child. And she survived a heart attack on the Toronto municipal campaign trail in 2003. In between those two events, Jamieson has reinvented herself, from a widowed single mother through a series of career changes to become a successful real estate agent and property developer who does things her way. “I only deal with the people I want to, and whatever effort I put into it only comes back to me,” Jamieson says. “If I decide to go to the movies on Wednesday afternoon, no one tells me I can’t.”

Jamieson turns 63 in August and has no plans to slow down any time soon. And why should she? To many, Jamieson has the ideal life, and she admits she’s been lucky, despite personal setbacks. Cracking the real estate business is tough work, she says, but it’s a good industry for older workers. Providing their financial portfolios give them some kind of income, seniors can earn enough to travel or indulge in their hobbies by turning just one or two deals a year. Of course, it helps to be plugged into the business world before starting out. “I’m trading on connections that I’ve acquired over a lifetime of doing business,” says Jamieson.

That lifetime includes more than 10 years spent at the helm of the Smith & Jamieson Tea Co., a tea import distributor she co-founded in 1976. But she’s also well-connected through many years spent as a political activist for the Conservatives–something she does when not spending time with her three grandchildren. She helped Belinda Stronach get elected and ran unsuccessfully for Toronto city council, during which campaign she spent 17 days in hospital recovering from a heart attack.

Despite protests from her sons that she should take it easy, Jamieson doesn’t see that happening. “I’d rather go out kicking and screaming than lying in my bed wishing I had done things,” says Jamieson. “If you want to go skydiving, go do it. If you want to race cars, do it.” And don’t be surprised to find Jamieson right next to you. A.H.

The Volunteer

Ten years ago, while travelling on an overnight train in Ukraine, Don MacLeod came across an unpleasant surprise. When he got to his bunk bed, the 76-year-old former shoe-manufacturing exec recalls, “there was a gigantic slob there, snoring up a storm.” He told the conductor to get rid of the guy, but she refused, claiming the passenger carried a gun. “Nobody has a gun over there,” MacLeod explains, “but everyone says they do.” The Harvard MBA graduate then came up with a bold plan. “I told her, ‘I’ve got a gun too, so you better smarten up,'” he confides. Although his bluff was a success, things turned out differently than he expected: MacLeod spent the night in the conductor’s stateroom, while she slept in the bunk bed above the snoring man.

That encounter happened during one of MacLeod’s many assignments with the Canadian Executive Service Organization. Based in Toronto, CESO promotes economic development in Canada and abroad, through the work of its more than 3,000 volunteer advisers, experts in fields that range from shoe manufacturing to potato diseases. MacLeod joined the organization in 1990, two years after retiring from former children’s-shoe manufacturer Savage Shoes, where he was president for 17 years. For him, CESO was an opportunity to combine his love of travelling with his interest to “do good works.” For example, his efforts in Ukraine many years ago helped two entrepreneur shoemakers from Moldova land capital from a representative of the International Financial Corp. of the World Bank in Kiev; they used the money to buy used manufacturing equipment.

Today, with more than 40 assignments under his belt in countries from Colombia to Kazakhstan, MacLeod is a CESO veteran. He points out that although CESO clients pay for transportation and accommodations, volunteers shouldn’t “expect to travel first class, second class or any other class except economy.” On the other hand, “you’ll meet an amazing number of colourful people,” MacLeod assures. On a project in Volsk, Russia, he partnered with a Chechnyan translator, who once bribed a Russian tank crew with a case of vodka and US$10 a person, to take him to visit his mother. Turns out the translator’s mother lived in a part of Chechnya where he would face a firing squad if found by army officials. Colourful, indeed. C.L.

The Entrepreneur

Alastair Gillespie has been everything from a Second World War fighter pilot to an energy minister in the Trudeau government. But it wasn’t until his retirement years that the 83-year-old became a part-owner and chair of one of Ontario’s most beloved microbreweries.

On New Year’s Day in 1995, the Rhodes Scholar struck up a conversation with longtime friend Bill Wilder. “We were both thinking about a retirement project,” Gillespie recalls, “and we began talking about starting a microbrewery.” Each had spent some time in the suds industry: Gillespie as the chairman of Carling O’Keefe Ltd. and Wilder as a director of John Labatt Ltd. The two saw the microbrewery segment as a growth opportunity. What’s more, they liked the idea of owning a business small enough to have a personal feel to it. To top it off, Gillespie says, “we liked the product.”

The two decided to pick the brain of someone in the microbrewery business. So they had lunch in Toronto with Donald Mingay, who at the time was a half-owner in Creemore Springs Brewery Ltd. Mingay explained to them the ins-and-outs of the microbrewery business and at the end of the discussion, he said, “Look, I’m going to be 80 next week. Why don’t you guys just buy my shares.” Gillespie and Wilder did just that and in 1995 the two began taking turns as Creemore’s chairman.

During their 10 years with the microbrewery, Gillespie and Wilder worked to improve Creemore’s budgeting process and employee relations. Under their guidance, the company more than doubled its beer production.

In April of this year, Molson Coors Brewing Co. bought Creemore Springs Brewery. Before Gillespie and Wilder sold their stakes, they negotiated assurances that Molson Coors would not change the microbrewer’s production location in Creemore, Ont. Cheers to that. C.L.