Second acts for executives
The pattern of our working lives is changing. In the past, the vast majority of people worked full-time until they reached state pension age (65 for men, 60 for women) then retired and devoted themselves to golf, gardening and grandchildren.
Now, according to the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, only 40% of workers follow the traditional model of staying in one job until 50+ and then retiring. Increasingly, people are working longer, often remaining in paid work into their 70s. People aged 50 and over are almost twice as likely to be self-employed as younger workers and the biggest growth in part-time self-employment over the last 15 years has also been amongst this group.
The push towards longer working lives has been driven by many factors, but especially demographic changes, including the ageing of the baby-boomer generation, increasing longevity and a trend towards better health outcomes. The 2017 report, Fuller Working Lives, sets out government policy aimed at encouraging older people to remain in work, and is backed by regulatory changes.
Significantly, we saw the abolition of a compulsory retirement age in 2011, together with the equalisation of state pensions and increases in the qualifying age (age 66 for both men and women in October 2020, rising subsequently). Flexible working has also been encouraged and there are more options around how and when people can access their pensions.
The result of these changes is that people looking to move beyond the corporate world now face much more varied lifestyle choices that can combine flexible, part-time working with personally rewarding activities, such as mentoring and volunteering.
When you expect to live a much longer healthy life, it makes little sense to adopt the limited horizons of traditional, cliff-edge retirement. Better by far to engage in the world around you – or the bits that appeal – and to be active; all the evidence suggests that this promotes good physical and mental health and prolongs wellbeing.
For individuals looking beyond the corporate world, making the right decisions is not simple. It is a process, and there are many case studies to show that a planned approach can deliver solid benefits for all involved.
Written by Geoff Ellis, March 2017
Set your own work-life balance
With great foresight, management guru Charles Handy popularised the term ‘portfolio career’ in his 1989 book The Age of Unreason. Since then, multi-strand working has grown to make up a significant part of the jobs market.
Portfolio working makes sense as it suits businesses and individuals, especially those who can bring a range of skills and experience to the market. A portfolio worker can combine part-time employment, temporary work and freelance assignments with a personal business and still make time for contributing in the community.
For people who have substantial expertise from the corporate world, it offers the chance to operate as a project-based contractor, possibly in the same or a related sector where you have solid experience. This chimes perfectly in our increasingly on-demand economy where companies prefer to hire a freelance specialist rather than creating a permanent role.
Developing a clear, coherent vision based around your expertise and experience will help you get started. Do you have a core skill that is applicable across a range of businesses and industries? Make sure what you offer is explicit on your business card.
Contacts and networking are key to creating a successful portfolio career. We all know that in any business the cost of making sales and finding new business is crucial. So before leaving your regular, full-time employment, spread the word. Refresh your contacts – let them know your plans and remind them of your skills and experience. Use social media and don’t be shy.
Finding work that you want to do is a major challenge. You will need to be confident, optimistic and, above all, resilient to make a successful and satisfying portfolio career. It puts a premium on good people skills and building relationships wherever and whenever opportunities arise. Seize every chance to develop your contacts. Hone your elevator pitch.
Juggling several job roles requires good organisational and time management skills. You will have to be organised and flexible, as you will likely have to balance competing demands to meet deadlines. It helps to compartmentalise your activities and to have simple, efficient systems to help you keep on top of different tasks and deadlines.
If you are currently looking beyond the corporate world, you can kick off your portfolio career by moonlighting. Take on a separate project alongside your existing work. Go part-time, take holiday, whatever it takes to make it work for you.
The key in all this is being flexible, and that is for your benefit. It means you can design your own work-life balance. And develop your own opportunities to keep learning in the way that suits you.
Balance your portfolio career
Written by Geoff Ellis, March 2017
The characteristics of success
Changing the shape of work in later life is proving a successful strategy for executives in the US. With longer active lives, older generations are increasingly launching new businesses and have better-than-average success rates. This is also is evident in the UK.
Almost a quarter of start-ups in the US are headed by people over-50, who make up the fastest growing age group among new entrepreneurs. Most US workers who change their careers later in life are successful, especially if they are able to use their transferable skills, says a 2015 report by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER).
Based on a survey of 2,000 people aged 47 or more who transitioned to new careers, the study found that people who enjoy successful ‘encore careers’ have resilient personalities and choose roles that allow them to use their existing skill set.
The AIER research pinpointed experience and strong networks as key factors and identified distinct patterns among those career changers who were successful.
Identify your expertise and use it to launch a business or to operate as a consultant. Alternatively become a trainer or trainer in the same field.
Following your dream might sound good, but you have to back it up with a clear-eyed vision of your abilities.
The most successful career changers had encouragement and feedback from friends, relatives and colleagues.
Other US studies have found ‘encore’ workers are keen to find work that has deeper personal meaning. Research from 2011 suggests many executives are now rethinking what it means to retire. The data suggested that corporations would benefit from retaining older workers and that this can be achieved by allowing them more flexible patterns of work.
The research identified four principles that can be helpful in guiding people through their late-career journeys:
Few managers make a cliff-edge leap from full-time work into retirement. The final phases of corporate careers often follow unpredictable timetables. Few of us will exercise total control over how and when our careers end, so we should all be prepared to improvise and adapt.
Executives use a wide variety of metaphors for exiting corporate structures. Liberation, downshifting, renaissance and transformation are just a few examples. Yet how they saw this process often changed – people who initially described leaving work as ‘liberation’ could later characterise it as ‘personal renaissance’. The research revealed that people who make a flexible response to events and are able to change or refine their thinking over time are more able to develop the lifestyle that suits them best.
Rather than retiring, professionals are making deals to remain at corporations with less intense schedules or responsibilities. Phased retirement and contract or consultancy work with the same organisation are becoming more common. Not all businesses respond to such approaches but there may be more room for manoeuvre than you think. And you can consider making similar proposals to other organisations if your employer does not respond positively.
When you can expect to enjoy many years in good health, it makes sense for older people to harness their knowledge, expertise and talents to make a difference in the community or in the wider world. In later life, many of us have the chance to experiment, explore and to engage in activities we value.
Written by Geoff Ellis, April 2017
For anyone with high-level experience of business, becoming a non-executive director (NED) can be a logical move. Once you have stepped off the treadmill, becoming a NED can be a highly fulfilling role, although remuneration varies widely.
All the evidence suggests it is not easy to become a non-exec. You may well benefit from specialist training and you will have to be persistent. For one thing, you will have to resist the temptation to bang off a standardised CV and application letter. You will need to research, prepare the ground and tailor every application. If you aspire to be a NED, you better prepare yourself for some hard work and for rejections along the way.
The 2003 Higgs Report to the Government on the role and effectiveness of NEDs stated that non-executives ‘should be sound in judgement and have an inquiring mind. They should question intelligently, debate constructively, challenge rigorously and decide dispassionately. And they should listen sensitively to the views of others, inside and outside the board.’
In short, non-execs should act as a ‘critical friend’, protecting a company’s long-term health and fitness. Shareholders are usually only interested in short-term results; executives come and go and their priority is often their own careers. Independent NEDs, acting in the interests of all stakeholders, are a company’s real custodians.
A background in the right sector can be an advantage but is not essential. The NED role centres on the ability to probe for weaknesses and to ask awkward questions, especially about risk, governance and financial issues. One experienced observer suggests non-execs should put being respected above being liked. How will you address the issues that the board is facing, while remaining positive, tactful and friendly?
Predictably, the single most important area of expertise is financial. If you are not practised at critically analysing a balance sheet, get some training. With SME businesses, sector knowledge is desirable and possessing a bulging contact book can swing the position your way. It is suggested that some non-execs at smaller businesses often function as a part-time business development director or even sales director. Recruiters report that this style of appointment can work extremely well with a part-time director adding significant value to a SME or privately-owned business.
There’s much talk of promoting women and minorities in the boardroom, but much of it is window dressing. ‘Organisations simply aren’t trying hard enough to recruit a diverse mix of people at board level,’ according to Women on Boards MD, Fiona Hathorn.
‘Nominations committees and HR specialists acting for listed companies sometimes haven’t felt the need to even advertise NED positions. Add to this the fact that everyone feels “more comfortable” with people they know and you have a recipe for the incestuous cross-holding of board seats,’ Hathorn said. Her organisation suggests that, of all sectors, Government appointments tend to have the most transparent NED recruitment processes.
As with a first-time job hunter, the hardest part of becoming a NED is securing your first board position. Some NED roles are heavily over subscribed, others struggle to find strong candidates. Sometimes, a board is looking for a specific skillset but does not necessarily broadcast this in its advertising or application pack.
A remarkable wealth of advice and guidance is available on the topic of ‘how to become a NED. See Resources on our web page for initial reading. When you have completed your basic research:
At this point, you can start to look for a post. Do not underestimate the importance of networking – many posts are never advertised. Let appropriate people know you are seeking a non-exec post. Join a reputable NED directory, contact specialist recruiters and use them as sounding boards.
As there are many more candidates than there are vacancies for paid NED positions, consider applying for a non-remunerated post as a stepping-stone. These are generally found in the public sector – for housing associations, charities and community groups.
Becoming a trustee for these types of organisations is an effective way of developing governance experience for your CV. It can also enhance your profile and credibility in other activities. As a charity trustee, for instance, you could expect to develop your experience of governance, strategy, finance, compliance and leadership.
How often boards meet and what duties they are required to perform varies between organisations.
Workloads vary but usually require at least a commitment to attend monthly meetings – and these will usually require significant preparation time for reading reports.
The role brings benefits to other project work because clients will tend to applaud someone who understands strategic needs, as opposed to operational pressures. Seeing both sides of the coin, improves a NED’s ability to communicate with all key stakeholders.
Taking on a board role as part of a portfolio career can be a tricky balancing act, but can also be very rewarding. Being a non-exec opens up possibilities for extending your knowledge and skills, as well as your network. All can bring significant personal, professional and business benefits.