February 7, 2013

Bridging the Generation Gap to Older and Younger Partners’ Benefit

I recently got the following email, which raises an interesting issue, especially with more people holding off their retirement these days: “After many broken promises in the extremely ephemeral business of networking technology and systems software, I am working to start a life insurance practice at age 68. Thankfully, I have sound health and a ready willingness to learn. Any advice you can cast my way is heartily appreciated. And, please don’t forget to acknowledge the growing number of us who are working very hard to get in—and get profitable.”

 I have to admit that I haven’t run into many situations like this before, but it’s coincidental that I got this email when I did. Just the other day I was talking to my father-in-law about his business. He, like the advisor above, was frustrated with his prior career when he retired at age 65, and started his current business. He is now 78 and has a very successful small business, which produces a very nice living for him. The business he created had little to do with his past working experience, so he essentially started over.

After a long conversation about all the challenges he faced (my father-in-law likes to talk!) I asked: “Looking back, what is the one major thing you did that made the business successful despite your age?” He answered: “I partnered with Jon [a younger gentleman] who also wanted to learn the business.” This struck me as excellent advice for anyone who looking to start an advisory firm or any other small business as a second or third career.

Here’s why: The way my father-in-law divided up the responsibilities in his new company, Jon did all the selling, networking, marketing and business development. My father-in-law ran the business, negotiated the contracts and oversaw the production of their products, approved the contracts that Jon negotiated with their customers, and ensured they were profitable, all while drinking coffee at McDonalds and/or playing golf with his retired buddies. The bottom line? They learned and built the business together, while creating a company that could endure. My father-in-law made money and more important, was able to continue using his hard-earned knowledge, and in Jon, was training a successor who would eventually buy from him the remaining shares of the business.

On my end of the spectrum, I know a lot of young people (like Jon) who’d love the opportunity to learn from the life and working experiences of someone who is willing to pay them to do it—and to help build a financial services firm that they will eventually own and run. The key to my father-in-law’s success and the success of other older “entrepreneurs” is the same as all great business owners: to recognize their own limitations, and bring in others to fill those gaps.

Older folks tend to be loaded with experience and knowledge, but are often a bit light on the kind of get-up-and-go it takes to launch a new business. Partnering with someone younger, who has the energy and the drive to succeed, can be a winning combination. 

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