November 2007 Issue
Retirees find new challenges as mentors.
Travel, leisure, time for whatever comes along. These perks of retirement are the ultimate rewards for a life of hard work. But leaving the 9-to-5 grind behind doesn’t have to mean losing sight of skills acquired and honed on the job.
Meet four Ohio business professionals who are technically retired but have never officially stopped working. Instead, they’ve opted to use their expertise to help others advance up the career ladder.
They all volunteer for SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business, a nonprofit organization partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration that offers free advice and training to business owners around the country.
For these mentors, the road to career satisfaction is definitely a two-way street.
As executive sales director for Merck & Co., Mary Caracci spearheaded sales and marketing plans for the company’s pharmaceuticals in 15 north-central states and directed a staff of 140. But Caracci’s favorite part of the job was an extracurricular one: mentoring talent as they rose through the ranks.
“It wasn’t a requirement, but it was something I devoted a lot of time and effort to,” the Port Clinton resident says.
“Here were men and women who were young, but had the potential to lead in the future. I would meet with them periodically to make sure they had a good developmental plan in place and that they were executing it.
“When I began thinking about retiring, I realized that the thing I would miss most was not the day-to-day work. It was mentoring these young people.”
When Caracci retired in 2004 at the “ripe old age” of 56, she was ready to continue helping members of the workforce.
“It’s my personal belief that when you’re lucky enough to be able to retire at a young age, you have an obligation to give back,” she says. “You have all this experience –– whether it’s in business or other disciplines of life –– and now you have the time to give back to others. Although I had a lot of business experience, I had not developed myself as a volunteer because I was too busy working on my career. So the first thing I wanted to do in retirement was line myself up with a meaningful volunteer opportunity.”
SCORE provided the missing link, and Caracci created a new branch of the organization in Port Clinton. With its lakeside ambiance and thriving tourist seasons, the area was ripe for new business owners like Mercedes Wise, owner of Miss Mercedes, a women’s clothing and accessory store in Lakeside.
A special-education teacher in Genoa, Wise opened her store 10 years ago to fill idle time during summer vacations.
“I come from a family of workaholics, so I knew I would not be spending my summers doing nothing. I wish that were within my personality,” the 33-year-old says with a laugh. “Unfortunately, it is not.”
For seven summers, business boomed. But two years ago, sales slowed and too much inventory remained at the end of the year. Wise contacted SCORE.
“I needed someone from the outside to help me return to profit,” Wise says. “Mary was, and still is, an invaluable resource. She completely changed my whole attitude about the store, reinvigorating my energy.”
To help remedy inventory issues, Caracci recommended hiring a certified public accountant to coach her in business, and suggested restructuring the company into a limited liability corporation, separate from Wise’s personal finances. Wise is also in the process of instituting a computerized system for inventory control, which will let her see at a glance what’s selling well, what the profits are and if items need to be discounted to move off the shelves.
“Mary has been a phenomenal role model professionally, as well as personally,” Wise says. “She’s helped me take the store to a more serious level than being just a hobby. Mary broke the to-do list down into very manageable baby steps and helped me overcome my fear of numbers. She is the ultimate professional, providing an invaluable wealth of knowledge across the board.”
For Caracci, it’s a success story that’s a cornerstone of personal achievement.
“I’m so proud to see Mercedes grow and develop,” Caracci says. “I take more pride in that than anything I accomplished in my business career. I got the satisfaction of contributing to her success and putting my knowledge and experience to work helping someone else. And I had the chance to continue using my problem-solving skills and analytical ability in a real business environment.”
Facing the Music
Business owner would like to take his company to the next level. Please help.
Sharon Township resident Gary Sutherland is used to complying with such e-mail requests. For three years, the SCORE volunteer — a former Goodyear senior financial executive –– has answered questions from small-business owners in northeast Ohio about topics ranging from sales and marketing to product acquisition.
But the request from Rich Siebert was music to his ears –– literally. The owner of Beach Boyz Entertainment, a disc jockey service based in Cuyahoga Falls, was ready for some business advice.
“The stress of the job and dealing with 40 employees was really getting to me,” Siebert says. “The business has changed so much over the past 20 years. Back when I started, I spent about $60,000 on my music. Today a kid can download tunes on an iPod, spend a couple thousand dollars on speakers and be all set. That’s a big challenge for us.”
Sutherland and Siebert have been working together for eight months, developing training programs for new hires and incentive plans for those loyal to the DJ firm.
“We all have our strengths and weaknesses in business,” Sutherland, 60, says. “Often, the first thing relatively new entrepreneurs do is chase every opportunity that comes along. That doesn’t always work –– in fact, people often spread themselves too thin.
“I’ve found sharing my experiences with clients to be very rewarding. It keeps me up-to-date and involved. Mentoring has truly been a learning experience. And I’m somebody who’s very, very geared to continuous learning.”
For Siebert, it’s also been an education.
“Meeting Gary was one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made,” he says. “He doesn’t sugarcoat his advice, and is very emphatic about the fact that to stay on the right path I’ve got to work hard and focus. He’s become a friend who has no other interest in my business other than helping me to succeed.
“That’s really priceless.”
On the first day of the rest of his life after retirement Brien Hope quickly realized a key matrimonial fact that had eluded him on the job.
“After working for 43 years, you suddenly show up at home in your wife’s domain. You quickly discover you’d better find things to do outside also,” the Cincinnati resident says with a smile.
“My wife and I promised we’d be together for better or worse, in sickness and health, in richness and poorness,” he adds, “but not for lunch.”
The former General Electric engineer had spent 20 years traveling the globe, sealing deals for the corporate giant, so the notion of relaxing at home was far from appealing.
“I was always very active,” Hope says. “I found it hard to sit down even on vacation. So when I saw retirement coming, I knew I had to do something.”
For the last 15 years, that’s included working on 47 Habitat for Humanity homes, reconditioning computers for area schools and counseling more than 400 new business owners registered with SCORE.
“I think success on the job should result in a bit of give-back to try to help other people be successful,” Hope explains.
Christopher Young, 37, is grateful for that philosophy. For 17 years, the Cincinnati resident worked for other people in restaurant businesses ranging from Starbucks Coffee to Jamba Juice. Two years ago, he realized a long-held dream by opening his own franchise, Tropical Smoothie Café, in Dayton.
“I looked at the few opportunities that were out there and decided the smart thing to do would be to plug into a franchise,” Young explains.
His biggest dilemma? Coming up with the working capital to purchase it.
That’s where Hope came in.
“Brien was instrumental in helping me crunch the numbers,” Young says. “He made sure buying the business made sense for me. He made countless lists of questions to dig deeper into how those numbers added up and ensured their accuracy. It was a valuable asset to have his eyes behind those numbers.”
When it comes to mentoring, Hope believes in pulling no punches.
“If it’s not going to work, it’s important to steer somebody away from quitting his job and taking all of his life savings and blowing it,” Hope explains. “When people come to me with a business plan, I pose questions to them about their goals. After talking about the answers, some of them decide they’re not really ready to start a business, that they haven’t thought it through, that they don’t have the resources.
As his smoothie business ebbs and flows, the young entrepreneur becomes more appreciative of Hope’s expertise.
“The restaurant business is not the same as it was just a couple years back,” Young explains. “Labor costs have gone up. Minimum wage has gone up. Fuel costs have increased. So have dairy and produce costs. Obviously, this has had a direct impact on the food business, which has always been a tough one, but it’s even tougher today.
“Brien showed me how to maximize the profit margin while lowering the costs. He doesn’t hesitate to reach out to me once or twice a quarter to see how I’m doing.
“It says a great deal about his character that he stays in touch.”
Paving the Way
Clare Duncan Clemens remembers how hard it was to forge a career in what was then a man’s world. It was 1961, and newly divorced with three young children, the Bellville resident became an insurance agent. Although the job came with the crucial perk of flexible hours, Clemens recalls that success was an unrelenting uphill battle.
“No one in my family had owned a company, so I had no idea what it took to make one fly,” Clemens, 75, explains. “I’d go to conferences and the guys would give me the cold shoulder –– they were just furious that a woman was in the business. I figured out later that the problem was they felt it demeaned them because they were in a career a woman could do. They were ticked off about it.
“But I had launched this, and, like Alice in Wonderland, was on my way down the rabbit hole.
“It was a day-to-day learning experience to do the job right.”
When Clemens retired in 1994, she was determined to pave a smoother path for other women because, she says with a laugh, “I knew all the things that could go wrong.”
At a Euclid Chamber of Commerce meeting, Clemens met Sallie Sylvester, president of Sallie’s Wholesale Construction Supply. Her Mansfield-based business provides pipes to the building industry.
The two women clicked almost immediately.
“Clare understood the problems I was having in a male-dominated industry,” Sylvester recalls, lauding her mentor for helping her craft a financial business plan that would be amenable to the loan officer at the neighborhood bank. She also praises Clemens for her insight into hiring practices and her expertise in helping shape long-term goals.
But, she adds, the most rewarding aspect of the relationship was Clemens’ gift of time.
“Clare didn’t hesitate to accompany me to the bank on a Saturday morning to help with any questions I might have,” Sylvester says. “She shared her knowledge with me and calmed my nerves.”
The return has been mutual.
“I admire the fact that Sallie had the guts and ability to get her business going despite the fact she had the same naysayers I once had,” Clemens says.
The pair’s next goal is to host a series of workshops for fledgling women business owners.
“Although we started out as being an unlikely pair of friends, the more we talked, the more we realized how much our lives parallel each other’s,” Clemens says. “Here we were, two women that nobody would have ever thought could amount to a hill of beans in business, yet we were able to survive and each do something we think is meaningful.”