We recently asked 200 top leaders in the Valley area several personal questions, including this one: At what age will you retire? The answers to that question really stood out.
Why? Because the most common answer, by far, was …Well, let’s turn to the always-succinct David Fleming, who, at 82 is among the oldest of the leaders, to speak on behalf of the group. His answer to the query about retirement: “Never,” he wrote.
In fact, a majority of those who answered that question expressed a deep reluctance to stop working. The main reason: they like what they do, and they appreciate where they are at in their lives.
For example, Jake Jacobs, of the accounting firm Rose, Snyder & Jacobs, said he had no plans to retire even though he’s 68 and past the traditional retirement age. “A person needs to retire to something, not from something,” he explained. “I really enjoy my work/life balance.”
Even those who projected a specific retirement age said they still see themselves transitioning into some other career or activity.
For example, John Yu, 53, of ImmunoCellular Therapeutics said he would retire at 70, “although I’ll probably still be engaged in activities that interest me.”
Likewise, Colin Donahue, 52, the chief financial officer at California State University – Northridge, said he would retire “officially” at 65, “but I will never totally retire.”
A few dismissed the question with humor. Mike Panesis of California Lutheran University’s Center for Entrepreneurship said he was too busy to think about retirement, then added: “At this point, I’d settle for a weekend without email.”
The single best answer came from Karen Gabler of the LightGabler law firm. “I retired years ago,” she deadpanned, “just have to catch up on my emails before I go.”
This query about retirement was part of a questionnaire given to those who were included in this year’s Valley 200. That is a book profiling the 200 most influential leaders in the Valley area, and it was distributed to paid subscribers in the Oct. 16 issue. Since we didn’t want that book to be a compilation of résumés but snapshots of real people, we asked a few personal questions.
You’ll learn, through those questions, that “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” are popular movie comedies among our 200 leaders. And I learned that many people are nostalgic about their first car and would love to have it back. “I have been searching for it for the last 40 years!” said Rickey Gelb of his long-lost 1959 Chevrolet Impala.
But it was the question about retirement that stood out, since 90-some percent of respondents expressed some reservation about hanging up their careers.
Why this reluctance? I looked it up, and several experts pointed out that improving health and longer lives have a lot to do with it. I have to agree. When I was a kid, it seemed to me that a lot of men in their 60s walked with a cane. Now, 60-somethings are just as likely to pump iron in the gym.
Some others pointed out that careers today are extended because of the change to service- and information-based economies; fewer people are toiling in backbreaking jobs. Billionaire Carlos Slim a few years ago was quoted as saying that if you work in the knowledge industries and not doing physical work, it was “foolish” to retire at the traditional age. “You are (at) your best in your 60s,” he was quoted as saying.
Finally, and this is just my opinion, it’s always occurred to me that baby boomers – and I am one, as are many of the leaders in the Valley 200 – define ourselves by what we do for a living. We are what we do. Since we have always found meaning in our careers, we want to extend those careers.
You might recall that about 10 years or more ago, there was a surge of articles lamenting the coming wave of baby boomer retirements. The first baby boomers would hit 65 in 2011, those articles warned. Workplaces would surely be depopulated in the years thereafter.
I shook my head at those articles. The problem would not be that baby boomers will abandon their workplaces. The problem, if you want to call it that, would be that baby boomers won’t leave. They’ll grip hard onto their desks, hoping to stay on into their 70s. Or 80s.
If you want evidence of that, look through the Valley 200 and count the number of folks who expressed a real longing to retire, who are looking forward to a life after work. By my count, it was zero.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.