Published: March 28, 2023 | Updated: March 24, 2023

Some thoughts on retirement for small business owners

Linden A. Burzell

Linden A. Burzell

Having retired three times myself, and having coached a number of executives as they prepare themselves to leave the world of active business, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that for a great many Americans, and society as a whole, the current model for retirement is dysfunctional, serving neither the real interests of society nor those of the individual. It wastes human capital, undervalues accumulated wisdom, and marginalizes a whole class of productive citizens at a time when we as a society need all the help we can get. As in most fields, there is a lack of sound leadership in this area and we, as business leaders, need to step up to provide it, leading by example. Some thoughts:

1) Stay engaged — Retirement from business doesn’t mean retirement from a life of service to your community. If you think there’s an over-abundance of wisdom in today’s society, think again. Your accumulated knowledge and wisdom are crucial to solving the crises we face on so many fronts.

2) Set goals — American-style retirement to a life of leisure and recreation is contrary to your nature as a leader. You’ve spent the majority of your adult life setting goals, solving problems and leading others. Retirement is not the time to stop, but rather an opportunity to step up your game. Set some big goals for your life after business leadership.

3) 20 years, and counting — Expect to spend about two decades in retirement. There are no guarantees, but you’re likely to be vigorous and mentally acute for most of that time. Take the average age of your parent’s longevity and add five years. It could be the longest-running plan you ever executed.

4) Successful retirement is the plan — and the flawless execution of the plan. The financial planning piece is just the beginning. As in business, it’s what you do with your capital that counts. What will you actually do in retirement, given the assets at your disposal, that will serve as a worthy reminder to your community that you were ever here?

5) Set even higher goals for your retirement than you set for your business life. See retirement as a chance to achieve more than you did in business, not less. Any Broadway producer will tell you that the final act is what sets a really great play apart from an average one.

6) Plan to give back. Giving infuses life with purpose. And I’m not talking mainly about money. Unless you’re Bill Gates, your money is the least of your gifts. Charitable giving is important, but instead of simply handing out cash and retiring from active service, give of your knowledge, wisdom and life experience.

7) Plan flexibly. You never know which abilities you’ll lose first, so cultivate a variety of interests so your life has purpose regardless of your physical state. There’s a good chance that you’ll be a caregiver; plan for it. Devise options that let you discharge those responsibilities while staying engaged with the community.

8) Mentor the next generation. Mentoring is a form of story-telling. Your children and friends have already heard all your stories; tell your tales to a new audience. As a retired business owner in America, you’ve helped build the greatest and most resilient economy the world has ever seen. Pass on the knowledge and wisdom necessary to keep it vibrant.

9) Travel is not a plan for successful retirement. Travel without a purpose is just idleness with changing scenery. Travel with a purpose; organize travel around a passion. Some of the unhappiest retired people I know are those who retired to the beach; sand is over-rated. And you may not like modern travel at all; it’s nothing like it was 30 or 40 years ago.

10) Retire gradually; there’s no rush. Hand over some control, then step back. Ease into it. Set up a transition plan, then leave town for a month and see how they handle things. And know this: they won’t run things as you did, and that’s probably OK.

The experience of successfully leading a group of men and women in any kind of enterprise is a tough act to follow. Retire as you lived — active, personally engaged, accepting the challenges of leading. So long as you have the physical and mental capacity to lead and to serve, nothing short of active participation in the life of your community is likely to satisfy you. Good luck!

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Linden A. Burzell is a Business Coach at North Idaho College’s Small Business Development Center. The NISBDC offers resources and trainings, no-cost business coaching, and serves the five northern counties of Idaho. Its mission is to accelerate business in the community through business resources, trainings, and no-cost, one-on-one coaching in leadership development, strategic planning, financial management and more. Reach us at 208-665-5085 or