Ruminating on retirement

This short note is for general managers and other senior managers over 50. If you do not meet these two criteria, please discontinue reading right now. On second thought, this serves as a great heads-up for anyone of any age in the business.

Having reached the prime age of 60 last month, I am told by many that “60 is the new 40” or “60 is the new 50” — not very reassuring, as the aches and pains of every sports injury of my youth reacquaint themselves with my joints.

Many friends of mine have retired and are urging me in this direction. Still others have left their employers of many years and are starting new businesses or consultancies with a vim and vigor that defies their age. These folks are passionate about their new work, their clients and their relationships, and are determined to do great work.

It used to be that by age 65, a manager would be proffered a shiny gold watch and proverbially sent out to pasture. I can recall when my grandfather retired from the railroad at this milestone. To me — at the time, I was a teenager — he was old, outdated and obsolete!

But now, that’s only five years away for me — the ravens of ironic foreshadowing hungrily perched on the telephone wire outside my office window.

Today there appears to be no real age when you can retire, or choose to do so. Those who are in senior positions often have the luxury of choosing the date to step down, and can do so if their business lifecycle and finances allow them to. For those who have a corporate pension plan, the financial side of the equation is usually simplified.

However, in canvassing the senior clients I work with, surprisingly, most do not have a very strong pension program. Thus, financial issues are a critical factor in their retirement decision.

Getting your own financial plan in order

Most GMs are experts at planning and executing multiple budgets for their operations — revenues, expenses and capital budgets all seem to be managed with empyrean acumen. But I am wondering how many of these individuals have the same command of their own financial state of affairs. In discussions, I have heard descriptors of personal finance as “scary,” “not enough” and “not sure” far more often than positive remarks. The 2008 U.S. property meltdown did not make things any easier. I find this tremendously disconcerting.

If you are managing a luxury property, you are surrounded by guests who likely rake in more than you do. It probably never ceases to amaze you how money can be spent with frivolous abandon. Separate yourself from this influencer and recognize that your fortunes are somewhat different than your guests. You don’t know their circumstances, so don’t let their spendthrift husk dictate your outlook.

This is not a matter of whether you want to retire or may never retire. Rather, it is a case of management. If you are in control of your financial house, you are in control of your destiny. Use the skills that you have honed in running your property to run your own finances. The relationship between revenue and expense has to be understood. Often, difficult compromises must be made. Capital expenditures (your mortgage, car and major home improvements) need to be effectively balanced. You know what to do — set the plan and stick to it.

If you are currently in dire straits, your primary goal is debt reduction. I’m not a certified financial planner, but it’s self-explanatory that increasing your debt is generally not the solution. You should always secure help in this regard.

Finances are in order — now what?

For those who do have the wherewithal to make the retirement decision, be aware that this is not easy. Remember, you’ve been working in a high-stress environment. You cannot easily move from this to only playing golf every day. (I said easily, as some will find this transition to their liking.) Still others will be looking for something to keep their minds active and their “fingers” in the business, at least on a part-time basis. Again, planning a stepped approach of emeritus involvement may be prudent. Volunteering with a local charity may also make good sense.

Then there is the issue of when. A good friend of mine, who also just turned 60, said he would give it another 10 years: five years full-time and another five part-time. He has no real financial impetus to continue, yet likes the stimulation of his work.

Several other friends have segued into consulting. One friend even bought a company so he could work as its CEO. He was just that bored with golf. Yet others, all my age, have fully retired and are enjoying not having to follow schedules or respond to bosses or other stakeholders. For all of these individuals, none have to work to make ends meet — it’s a personal decision to persevere and never stop dispensing their expertise to the community.

In my own case, I am privileged to have a great team and belong to some excellent hotel consultancy groups. I am also told that writing is one of those skills that only improves with age (fingers crossed). All good news, as retirement for me is not on the immediate horizon. Another 10 years in the business or maybe another 20 — I haven’t decided yet, and frankly, I think that’s a good thing.