I had dinner the other night with a group of people, one of whom was a woman nearing retirement. The woman, whom we'll call 'Marge,' has the stereotypical appearance of a grandmother. Nevertheless, she started her own business four years ago. Obviously, she is not your stereotypical small business entrepreneur.
Marge is a steady-analytical type, but she also has an understated, although confident, optimism. She's not bubbly. Her approach is just right.
Additionally, I found her stick-to-it mindset quite refreshing. After a lifetime of working in administrative support where she was never required to be the "star," Marge has done a great job of flexing her wings and launching out. She's enjoying herself, and she's doing quite well.
Such is a new breed of entrepreneurs, as pointed out here on management-issues.com in article by Brian Amble entitled Older, Fitter, Indispensable.
70 is the new 50
Amble, referencing the Future of Retirement Study published by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), writes that "far from being a drain on society, older people across the world are making huge contributions to the economic and cultural wellbeing of their nations.Ö"
He points out that we should be preparing now for the increasing number of "retirees" who are going to remain active in the business community well into their seventies.
In fact, Amble quotes Clive Bannister, group managing director of insurance for HSBC, who says, "In terms of health, the age of 70 is the new 50."
With that perspective, it's pretty difficult to refer to these entrepreneurs as 'older workers." They may be on the right side of the bell curve, but the numbers indicate an increasing amount of spunk. New start ups by people over 55 are up 26 percent over the past five years, and, according to the AARP, those who are 55 to 64 years old are more likely than anyone else to start a business.
Brent Bowers, writing in the May/June edition of AARP's magazine, says: "Older entrepreneurs have a huge advantage that their younger competitors can only envy: wisdom forged by experience."
Wisdom Forged by Experience
That's a great point. When you think about it, many people over 55 know how to "get things through committee," as it were.
Taking charge of a project is probably something they've done many times before. And, if they've raised children, they can probably stay calm amidst chaos - which is a skill many entrepreneurs need.
Other factors include the likelihood that their network of colleagues (read: advice and assistance) is probably much bigger, and the fact that people in that age group are pretty darn resilient. In other words, they've proven they can withstand the storms.
This is not to say that grandma and grandpop operations aren't going to face their fair share of obstacles. Like anyone else, having a passion for something doesn't automatically make one an expert in employment laws and tax codes.
Still, the trend is quite interesting, and in some cases, necessary. Take Canada, for example. Over the next ten years, 50 percent of all workers there will be age 55 or older. Consequently, their government is looking for ways to keep older employees in the workforce. In fact, several organizations up there are working on it.
Answering the "Why?"
If you're wondering why the entrepreneurial bug is biting people at an age traditionally correlated to retirement, the reasons are many.
In some cases these people have been laid off. In other cases they don't like the idea of abandoning the social interaction of the workplace. Or it could be the little voice inside their head that says, "I always wanted to do 'X,' and it's now or never."
Or, like Marge, it could be that as retirement looms, they notice that their projected retirement income is not going to give them the lifestyle they thought they were going to have.
No matter the reason, the entrepreneurial spirit is growing among seniors. And why not? It is central to the human spirit to be creative.
Marge's personality is a neat blend of fun combined with methodical spunk, and she's already enjoying a steady level of success.
"I'm not as successful as others might be in my position," she said. "I could have grown faster and could have made more money, but I've built a solid business and I'm going to keep on building it."
Hats off to you, Marge. I think you're providing us a true example of workplace excellence.