It’ll Never be Time for the Pipe and Slippers…

Friday September 23rd. And after today, only 11 weeks of the year left. So yes, any minute now I’m going to start looking round the TAB boardroom table and suggest you start making plans for next year.

The time of year for looking ahead is approaching – but for some TAB members, ‘looking ahead’ is starting to take on a slightly different meaning. And it’s no surprise…

It’s more than six years since I started TAB York. As I check the boardroom tables, I see plenty of people who’ve become lifelong friends – but I also see rather more grey hair: or – in some cases – significantly less hair…

Yes, the thoughts of some members are turning towards exit strategies, what they’ll do when they’re not building a business and – ultimately – their legacy.

Well, maybe we should take a leaf out of Charles Eugster’s book…

Charles is 97, and holds the indoor and outdoor 200m and 400m world records for men over 95. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and – despite a small pause in his 80s – has never stopped working. He still goes to the office in Zurich every day, before training in the afternoon. And Charles comfortably wins my ‘Positive Thinker of the Year’ award:

Even at 87 I wanted an Adonis body, in order to turn the heads of the sexy, young 70-year-old girls on the beach.


Dr Charles Eugster (87) who has become one of the worlds oldest wakeboarders today when he was given his first lesson at the Ten-80 Wakeboarding School in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Credit: Shaun Fellows / 25/5/2007

More seriously Charles Eugster says that he is “not chasing youthfulness. I’m chasing health.” Retirement, he says, “is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe.”

In many ways this was one of the most interesting articles I’d read all year – and I’d add ‘psychological’ to ‘financial’ and ‘health.’

The sentiments chime with what so many of my friends and clients are saying, and echo an underlying theme from the TAB Conference in Denver.

“I’m not intending to retire any time soon, Ed, if at all,” is a phrase I hear over and over again. No-one, it seems, is thinking of their pipe, slippers and Bake Off.

“I’m going to do a lot less in the business and a lot of other things,” is the consensus – with ‘other things’ covering charitable work, non-executive directorships, and mentoring students and start-ups.

I’ve just finished reading Finish Big by Bo Burlingham: ‘how great entrepreneurs exit their companies on top.’

Burlingham talks about entrepreneurs being defined by their place in the world: specifically by how they see themselves in the community. Unsurprisingly, 66% of entrepreneurs who exit their business “experience profound regret afterwards” – and a large part of that is the feeling that they’re no longer making a contribution.

Back to Charles Eugster and his Adonis body. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s using his vanity as a motivating factor. And why not? Feeling that you’re valued and appreciated is an integral part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s no wonder that 66% of entrepreneurs experience profound regret. They’ve built a business, they’ve a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge and now suddenly – unless they plan for it – nobody wants to talk to them. Despite all they’ve achieved, they’re no longer defined by their business, they no longer feel valued.

So TAB York is not only about you and your business, or your work/life balance as you’re building the business. It’s not just about immediate problems and next year’s plans – it’s about what comes afterwards as well. It’s about leaving a legacy – for yourself and for the community.

PS I’m sorry, I had to check. Charles Eugster’s time for the 200m is 55.48 seconds. That’s three times longer than Usain Bolt’s time – but it’s roughly 8 minute mile pace. Well, well, there’s a challenge and an interesting ice-breaker for a few TAB meetings. Bring your shorts, ladies and gentlemen; let’s see who’s slower than a 97 year old…

Time to Hang up Your Boots

I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for the radio. No idea what to write about this week? No problem – there’s an hour’s drive to the first Board meeting. Stick Radio 4 on, listen to the Today programme and somewhere around Monk’s Cross, Malton or the motorway the problem will be solved.

So it was this week, when the sports news was dominated by talk of retirement – specifically, David Haye and Sachin Tendulkar. Haye’s retirement has been prompted by a shoulder injury and he described it as “a crushing blow.”

The little master on the other hand, simply decided that enough was enough. The years had taken their toll, he didn’t feel he was quite the batsman he once was and, he said, “it was time to put my feet up and watch some cricket.”

Radio 4 had a sports psychologist on the programme. He was taking about David Haye, but he might equally have been talking about Tendulkar or any of the thousands of sportsmen forced to retire – or who choose to retire – each year.

His self-esteem is going to suffer. Boxing defines him. It’s what he does. Nearly all his friendships will have come from boxing – and nothing is ever going to give him that same high ever again.

Ditto for Sachin Tendulkar. Never again will he walk out in front of 66,000 adoring fans at Eden Gardens. Never again will he face Jimmy Anderson in fading light with only the tail to come…

So retiring is hard – whatever the reason. It’s no wonder that sport is littered with recently retired players suffering from depression. But as I listened to the sports psychologist, it struck me that you could quite easily cross out the word ‘boxing,’ substitute ‘business’ and the sentence would still make perfect sense.

Virtually all of us are going to have a ‘Tendulkar moment:’ a time when something clicks and we realise we’re not enjoying it any more, we’re not quite as sharp as we once were and that maybe the time has come to hang up the iPad.

At that stage there are two considerations: financial and psychological. Hopefully the finances have been taken care of: hopefully your accountant and your IFA have been advising you along the way and – even if you didn’t get quite the price you wanted – there’s enough in savings to allow you to walk onto the golf course without worrying about losing a few balls.

But the psychology of it is a different matter. How many of us secretly love it when we’ve a last minute deadline and we’re really up against it? What’s better than finally winning the big order you’ve been working on for months? And what’s going to replace the simple fact that the buck absolutely stops at your desk? ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’ as the saying goes. Well, sorry, not any more…

So far, none of my Board members have reached that stage. None of them have sold up and headed for the sunshine. But it’s going to happen sooner or later (and between you and me there’s one particular Board where they seem to have aged dramatically…)

When it does, I hope TAB has done its work. Because as we stress repeatedly – and to paraphrase Bill Clinton – it’s not just the economy, stupid. If work has been your sole reason for existing – if you’ve lived to work – then David Haye is right: retirement will be ‘a crushing blow.’

That’s why I’m always at pains to stress work/life balance – that life is every bit as important as work. Work should not define you. Yes it’s a cliché, but no-one ever did lie on their death bed muttering ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’

Above all, if you get the work/life balance right now – and keep it right – then your eventual retirement is going to be successful, financially and psychologically. And if there’s anyone out there who still thinks a business meeting is more important than their child’s Nativity Play, give me a ring. I could do to let off steam…