July 2, 2007
Not out to pasture yet
The Orange County Register
Ygnacio Nanetti/Orange County Register/MCT
When Marge Ball retired in 2002 from Coast Community College District in Costa Mesa, Calif., she planned to spend her time traveling, not for leisure but for business.
The 55-year-old converted Marge's Tours in Mission Viejo, Calif., from a side business to a full-time enterprise, offering group trips to local and far-flung destinations.
Ball is one of a growing number of Americans retiring into businesses rather than porch swings. The number of self-employed Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 grew 29 percent to 1.85 million in the past five years, and those over the age of 65 increased 18 percent to 756,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Would-be retirees in their 40s, 50s, 60s – and even 70s are better educated, healthier and more tech-savvy than previous generations, said workplace expert John Challenger of the outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. He predicts this group will lead an explosion of business startups.
"Many baby boomers, either out of desire or necessity, will work beyond the 'retirement age' of 65," he said. "What some employers may not have expected is that a growing number of these baby boomers are abandoning traditional employment for self-employment."
Many of these retirees have some pension or Social Security income, as well as reduced expenses, so they don't need as much income as they did when buying houses and raising children. A small business gives them some income, flexibility and opportunities to use their skills in new ways.
Bob Moore of Tustin, Calif., spent most of his adult life starting and growing companies. He retired in 2000 after taking Massachusetts-based GenSym Corp. public in 1996.
He and his wife moved to Orange County to be near their grandchildren, but Moore wasn't interested in the activities often associated with retirement.
He became active in Tech Coast Angels, a group of professional investors in young ventures.
While studying whether to invest in Vigilistics, a Mission Viejo process control software company, Moore saw similarities to his experience and education in automated controls. He invested and became the company's chief executive.
"I enjoy working [but] I couldn't just go and work for a big company; it had to be entrepreneurial," Moore said.
Moore didn't need money. He didn't even draw a salary until Vigilistics raised $2.2 million in equity capital.
Vigilistics' software tracks every activity in dairies and food-processing plants. If a food-safety problem arises, the software can instantly identify where it happened. It can also spot inefficiencies that can save food processors millions of dollars a year.
"I can't think of any activity that would be as much fun as this one," he said.
Few working retirees have Moore's financial security to work without pay, but with careful planning, they can have some flexibility.
Tour planner Ball spent 20 years financially preparing to run a retirement business.
She considered starting a travel business with her dad in 1978. "But I realized you had to be married to a rich person or retired to afford to do that," said Ball.
So she made a 20-year plan to work at the college district to build a pension. She actually worked 22 years before retiring when the financially strapped district offered extra incentives plus health insurance until age 70.
"Without a pension I would never, ever be able to do this," Ball said.
During those two decades, she worked with a financial planner, completed a certificate program in travel management and planned trips both for the district's community education division and on the side to gain experience.
"I'm no risk taker," she said, "and I didn't want to make a lot of money. But I wanted to own a business to have the freedom to run tours the way I wanted."
Unlike Moore and Ball, Lisa Neyer never considered starting a business during her 30 years as a special-education teacher. When she retired at age 53 in 2002, she took three years off.
Her husband, Nelson, is a consultant with FranChoice, which helps individuals find the right franchise to buy. He thought one, Bark Busters dog-obedience service, was a good fit for Lisa.
"I never thought I would have a home office and run a business," Lisa Neyer said. Then in 2005, "one day I woke up and said, 'Hey, let's do it.' "
Many retirees lacking business-management experience buy franchises in order to get proved operating systems. Bark Busters gave the Neyers a system, database and program for marketing to pet shops and veterinarians.
Lisa Neyer found that her work skills in computers and teaching transferred to the new business. And she loved the flexible schedule.
"In our first year," she said, "we grossed more than my teaching income."
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