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Retirement: Time To Kick Back And Get A Job?

Personal Business


Six weeks into retirement in May, Jim Bronson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was vacationing in Maine and enjoying the view when the telephone rang. It was a manager from his former company asking if Bronson could come back for a few days to join a senior review team. Suddenly, Bronson, a specialist in technical design and improving production, was out of retirement.

"When I left the company the first time, I was feeling pretty ambivalent," he says. "I lost that feeling when I could contribute something that was of value to them and rewarding intellectually and financially for me." Bronson is taking the rest of the summer off, but he hopes to do more consulting work in the fall. "One of the nice things about retirement is you can pick and choose when you want to work."

Bronson, 59, is one of many professionals who are redefining retirement as a time when they can do the work they enjoy on their own terms. Not everyone steps back into the world of work as effortlessly as he did. But if you're finding that a life of leisure is a bit dull--or your savings aren't stretching as far as you had planned--it may be easier than you think to resume working.

At the same time companies are encouraging older workers to retire early as part of downsizing efforts, they are hiring them back on a temporary basis. Of 460 large corporations surveyed in 1992, three-quarters reported that they retain retirees as consultants or seasonal workers, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a philanthropic organization. All kinds of companies--not just fast-food chains--are seeking older workers for part-time jobs with flexible hours. And entrepreneurship among older people is increasing.

In fact, the biggest stumbling block facing retired professionals who want to work is their own self-defeating attitudes, says Anne Marrs Dorton, vice-president of Innovative Management Concepts in Prospect, Ky. "They are sitting at home saying, `I'd love to work, but no one would hire me,"' she says. She overcame those fears, eventually earning a master's degree at age 58 and joining her daughter's firm, which helps companies recruit older workers.

There are other hurdles besides psychological ones. Age discrimination is rampant and illegal, but it probably affects lesser-skilled workers more than it does professionals, says Patrick Burns, spokesperson for the National Council of Senior Citizens. Opportunities abound in consulting and teaching for former executives, as long as you keep current by joining professional organizations, attending conferences, and speaking and writing on topics related to your field.

Arnold Kriegler of Plano, Tex., started planning years before he turned 55, when he knew he would take advantage of Rockwell International's retirement program. By the time he retired in 1988 as director of operations in the commercial electronics division, he had identified a service he could provide--teaching other businesses how to bring their products to market faster. "I had developed an approach, and it was important not to leave without passing it on and helping other people understand it," he says.

PENSION PENALTY. AMK Associates was born when he sent out 80 announcements to business contacts and waited for the calls to come in. Kriegler, who turns 62 this month, has achieved his goal of working one-third of the year on his business and spending a lot of time with his grandchildren. "It wasn't very complicated," he says. "Had it been complicated, I wouldn't have done it."

About 12% of all retirees start their own businesses, and about half of those become consultants, says Gustav Berle, author of Retiring to Your Own Business. Many start by working for their former employers. If you want to make the transition to consulting, it's best to lay the groundwork before you leave by letting colleagues know you're interested in taking on projects. However, if your company lets you phase in retirement by working fewer hours, make sure you won't be penalized: Many pension plans calculate benefit payments based on earnings in the final years of employment.

CABINET POST. If you retired mainly because you were burned out, don't be afraid to try something new, says Berle. Retirement is a perfect time to launch a business if you have a fresh idea, experience, and a financial cushion thick enough to risk failure, he says.

The key to entrepreneurship is preparation, Berle says. While turning a hobby into a business is a great alternative, don't proceed just because you like the product. You won't know if it can turn a buck unless you research market prospects and operating costs. Buying an existing business or a franchise may be less taxing than starting from scratch. Berle suggests that older people avoid the perils of opening a store or restaurant unless they work with younger family members. Corporate refugees need to make sure their personalities are suited to taking on all aspects of running a company. "You have to be a generalist as well as a specialist," says Berle.

Mike Daniel of Mound, Minn., started a business with a partner after he was laid off from Honeywell four years ago, but the company failed. "All I can say is, if you are going that route, you'd better be able to wear all the hats," he says. After looking for work, he learned that Kuempel Chime Clockworks & Studio needed cabinetmakers. "For 45 years, I'd been woodworking as a hobby, and I'd never even considered it as a profession," says Daniel. He jumped at the chance.

Although he is making only about 20% of what he earned when he was an art director in Honeywell's publications department, he says his work is gratifying and he feels relieved to be out of a corporate environment where workers were demoralized by layoffs. "Most people try to get back in the same business they just came from," he says. Before you do that, "step back and take a close look at what your abilities are."

Older workers aren't used to doing the kind of self-promotion that any college graduate uses to get a job. But numerous workshops are available through seniors' groups that can teach you how to job-hunt or gain marketable skills. "The older you are, the more you have to sell yourself," says Burns.

WINTER WORK. Plenty of companies--like Kuempel, where the average age of craftsmen is 69--also target elderly workers. These jobs are often flexible and perfect for retirees who don't want the stress and responsibility of launching a business. Travelers, the Hartford insurer, runs a job bank where retirees can sign on to fill temporary positions. Along with clerical positions, Trav Temp taps high-level retirees for special projects.

Olsten, a nationwide temporary agency that places lawyers, accountants, and health-care professionals, as well as clerical staff, has programs to attract retirees. Clients can pick up a winter assignment in Florida or a summer job in New York, says Burt Slatas, director of marketing services. Many retirees don't realize that temps are required for professional jobs, he says.

Temporary agencies can also be helpful if you don't want to earn enough for your Social Security income to be curtailed. This year, people between age 65 and 70 lose $1 in benefits for every $3 they earn above $11,160. After age 70, benefits aren't affected by earnings. But Social Security income is taxed above certain levels, and special rules apply to the self-employed. Consult an accountant to learn how your benefits are affected by your earnings.

If you're not sure what you want to do or don't have experience in a field you are interested in, Berle recommends volunteering. Nonprofits, which often can't pay consultants' wages, need the business and professional skills retirees can offer. Retirees, in turn, can try out consulting work or get experience in a new field. "At age 65, you don't think of a stepping-stone anymore," says Berle, but that may be what you need to ease back into the workforce.

Berle turned a volunteer position as marketing director for the Small Business Administration's Service Corps for Retired Executives into a new career writing books and teaching about entrepreneurship. At age 74, he says he has retired three times but always gets restless and takes on new projects. "I can't stand it," Berle says of traditional retirement. With an untraditional approach, however, you may be able to find an ideal job just when you thought your working days were over.


American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Its Work Force Programs Dept. offers job-search workshops throughout the country. To get a free copy of How to Stay Employable (D14945) and Returning to the Job Market: A Woman's Guide (D14952), write AARP Fulfillment, 601 E Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049. For general information on AARP programs call 202 434-2277

Your state or county division on aging or depart-ment of labor These agencies may provide training workshops, job banks, and volunteer opportunities. Your local board of education should be able to direct you to vocational, technical, or adult-education classes.

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) Operated by the Small Business Administration, this program links retired execs with small-business owners who need advice. Retirees function as unpaid consultants in 750 offices. Call 800 634-0245. The SBA also operates a desk (800 8-ASK-SBA) that provides general information on SBA programs if you are interested in starting a business.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is one of three programs in the National Senior Service Corps. RSVP places older people in volunteer positions as tutors, museum guides, and hospital aides. Call 800 424-8867.


Retiring to Your Own Business by Gustav Berle ($14.95) Puma Publishing

UnRetirement: A Career Guide for the Retired... the Soon-to-Be Retired... the Never-Want-to-Be Retired by Catherine D. Fyock and Anne M. Dorton ($17.95) Amacom

Working in Retirement ($4.25), Your Social Security Benefits ($3.75), The 50 Plus Resource Guidebook ($14.95). All from 50 Plus Pre-Retirement Services (212 366-8852)


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