By Rodney Brooks
“Of 76 million people above 50 and nearing retirement, about half have interest in entrepreneurship,” said Jean Setzfand, vice president of financial security at AARP. “And many want to give back to their communities.”
Sitting at home through a 20- or 30-year retirement is no longer an option for an increasing number of baby boomers.
Some are looking to do something else because they have to for financial reasons. But, increasingly, boomers are embarking on entirely different “encore” careers after retirement.
“The reality is people are living longer, healthier lives, and when they get to the point when the need to make a change - they retire, are laid off or sell their business - they are 60 years old, and they say ‘I still have another 10, 15, or 20 or more years and I want to do something,’ ” said Nancy Collamer, author of “Second Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.”
“It’s out of financial necessity is some cases, but it’s lifestyle in other cases,” she said.
Take Linda Lombri, 65, and Virginia Cornue, 68, both of Montclair, N.J. In their post-retirement lives they have reinvented themselves as mystery writers, even though neither had written fiction before. They began an e-book series, the “Sandra Troux Mysteries,” which is sold on 10 websites, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iTunes. The first in the series, “The Mystery of the Ming Connection,” was published last year under their pseudonym, Crystal Sharpe. Their second in the series will be out this spring; the third in the fall.
Both fans of the Nancy Drew series when they were young girls, they have re-imagined her into a trio of female baby boomer characters. “Not only are we reinventing ourselves, we have our characters reinventing themselves as well,” Cornue said.
Pushed out at 62
Lombri had careers as a home economist and a marketing executive. She was forced into retirement at 62 when her job was eliminated - when she had a daughter who was a high school sophomore. “I was ready for (retirement) emotionally, but not financially,” she said.
Cornue said she has already reinvented herself several times. She started out as an actor in New York City, became a director of nonprofit organizations and ended up a cultural anthropologist. She still teaches part time at a local college.
Then there’s David Roll, 72, who ended his career as a Washington, D.C., lawyer 10 years ago and embarked on a new one as an author, historian and founder of Lex Mundi, a nonprofit agency that finds pro bono lawyers for social entrepreneurs around the world.
But it’s the nonprofit legal agency, which has taken him around the world, that occupies most of his time: “I love it,” he said. “It has its frustrations, because you’ve got to raise money to keep it going. But to have created something that is having an impact. ... Not every social entrepreneur is changing the world, but they are some doing amazing things.”
Yuval Zaliouk, 74, is co-owner of YZ Enterprises in Toledo, Ohio. He retired from a career as conductor of the Toledo Symphony in 1989 and decided he didn’t want to move his family to take another conducting assignment.
The answer was his dream: to make and sell cookies based on his grandmother’s recipe, starting out in his kitchen.
The Almondina cookies now sell 12,000 cases a day, ship to all 50 states and can be found in supermarket chains such as Trader Joe’s and Publix. Oh, by the way, the co-owner of the business is his wife, Susan, a former ballerina with the Royal Ballet Company in London, where they met.
“Only in America,” said Zaliouk, a native of Israel. “There is a lot of mobility in this country. It’s not like Europe, where if you are not fired, you stick with a job for life. Here you are free to start things. It’s a different atmosphere.”
Marc Freedman is founder and chief executive officer of Encore.org, a San Francisco-based organization that helps Boomers start that second career. Its focus is getting them involved in nonprofit agencies.
Freedman spent 15 years working with children in low-income neighborhoods. He has long had an interest in mentoring, so he made his second career into a job that helps baby boomers step into their second careers.
“The larger aspiration behind the organization is to tap the human capital and population moving into their 50s and 60s,” Freedman said.
Zaliouk has advice for budding boomer entrepreneurs: “In one word, courage.”
“It really is a question of courage, making up your mind to do something - courage, tenacity or stubbornness,” he said.
HELP FOR ENTREPRENEURS
The U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP are involved in helping retirees into encore careers, as entrepreneurs. They are jointly promoting April as Encore Entrepreneurial Mentor Month, featuring one-on-one instruction, classes, mentoring programs and help writing business plans.