November 1, 2004
When Orange Coast College eliminated its community education department last year, it told George Blanc, the administrative dean, he could stay on as a classroom teacher.
Blanc, then 67, decided 29 years with the Costa Mesa, Calif., college was enough. He retired and immediately launched GEES & Associates, a businessconsulting practice.
Blanc joined a growing group of Americans who retire from a job and start or buy a business.
A 2004 study by Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., for AARP found that a third of selfemployed people over the age of 50 made the transition after their semicentennial birthdays.
The study also found that while the self-employed account for 10.2 percent of the U.S. workforce, they are 16.4 percent of workers over age 50. (The percentage is about 5 percentage points higher when owners of incorporated businesses are included, the Rand study said.) Two of every five self-employed people are over 50.
The Rand study doesn’t attempt to explore the reasons or ramifications of older self-employment, but the motivation and experiences of Blanc and others who start businesses after retirement are instructive.
These post-retirement entrepreneurs are mentally alert, physically active and enthusiastic about their lives.
They attribute it all to staying in the business world, and selfemployment gives them greater flexibility in the amount and type of work they do.
Blanc has a broad employment history in education and at his parents’ Los Angeles restaurant. He considered his job at the college to be entrepreneurial, starting the swap meet, managing courses and cultural offerings that people were willing to pay for, and providing business counseling and other services through the Small Business Assistance center, another of his creations.
He’s also a member of SCORE, which provides free business counseling sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Blanc estimates he already has counseled business owners more than 6,000 hours among SCORE, OCC and now GEES & Associates. (GEES is a combination of his and his wife Esther’s names.)
‘‘I am enjoying what I do so much,’’ Blanc said. ‘‘I’m a cheerleader, technician and matchmaker. I make a difference in people’s lives.’’
Although financially secure, he charges a fee because people tend to value less what they get for free.
Blanc can’t imagine retiring. He tells of one client, a retired engineer, who was considering buying a restaurant, even though he knew nothing about the industry, because he needed a reason to get out of bed each morning.
That sense of aimlessness among people who are living an average 12 years beyond retirement also strikes Jerry Bame, 70, of Huntington Beach, Calif., who closed his business-law practice three years ago to be an executive coach.
‘‘I see people who do nothing in retirement. Sad,’’ he said.
After 39 years of law practice, Bame didn’t want to take it easy.
‘‘I had things I wanted to do for business people that I couldn’t do as a lawyer, skills I wanted to exercise before I stopped working,’’ he explained. ‘‘I love working. I love being with people.’’
After analyzing the part of law practice he liked most, Bame started networking and telling people he was leveraging his MBA and law degrees to advise chief executives. A year ago, he added lawyer clients who wanted greater satisfaction from their work. This year he added executives in career transition.
He has eight clients and wouldn’t consider having more than 12.
‘‘My model is to coach every other week,’’ Bame said. ‘‘I need to practice what I preach. (In the off weeks) I do a lot of reading and take as many classes as I can. I travel. If (his coaching practice) is too much like work, I won’t achieve my goals.’’
Like Blanc, Bame said that financially he doesn’t need to work, ‘‘but I can’t retire mentally.’’
Both Blanc and Bame are typical of today’s over-50 selfemployment landscape, according to Rand. Two-thirds of this group are men, 89 percent are white non-Hispanics, 77 percent are married.
Barbara Samara, 55, of Mission Viejo, Calif., is more like the typical over-50 selfemployed woman: Younger and less financially selfsufficient than her male counterparts.
Samara was a sales and marketing executive for IBM in New York when she took a buyout in 1998.
‘‘My manager couldn’t believe I was going to leave,’’ Samara recalled. ‘‘I wanted to be a vice president and I didn’t see that happening, so I left.’’
The upfront cash wasn’t enormous and she didn’t immediately start drawing a pension, but the promised lifetime health-insurance coverage made her decision easier.
Samara needed some income, ‘‘but I didn’t want a 9-to-5 corporate thing again.’’
She answered an ad in the Pennysaver to become an independent contractor for Au Pair in America, to provide au pairs (foreign nannies) for families in southern California.
‘‘I have a weird schedule; 8 o’clock at night is like 8 o’clock in the morning. My phone is available to my families 24/7,’’ Samara said.
Yet her 30- to 40-hour week is about half her hours at IBM.
And she has plenty of time for a second project, developing a college-campus program for gifted children, plus volunteer work at a local hospital and SCORE.
Recently she added to her list teaching career workshops for human-resources provider Drake Beam Morin.
‘‘I never could imagine retiring,’’ Samara said. ‘‘I only do what I like. This is fun.’’