Close Button
Newsletter Button

Sign up for our newsletter

The latest from Inc. Southeast Asia delivered to your inbox.

By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Why This Retired CEO Decided to Go Back to Work

I learned how much I miss being on the playing field

Share on
BY John Taft - 12 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

After a year and a half of retirement, I am going back to full-time work.

After retiring as CEO of RBC Wealth Management, I have been offered one of the most exciting opportunities of my 35-year career in financial services: to become Vice Chairman of Robert W. Baird & Co., an international wealth management, capital markets, asset management, and private equity firm.

I can't think of a better fit. Yet this isn't the outcome I expected when I mapped out a transition plan for navigating from a 35-year career in financial services into quasi-retirement.

My plan was to put together a portfolio of activities that would sustain me through the rest of my professional life. I was selected to join the Board of the Columbia Threadneedle Funds as an independent director. I became a Senior Advisor to Deloitte & Touche, LLP. I was slated to join a high-profile public company board in January.

In short, I achieved what I set out to do. But I wasn't fulfilled. I developed a hypothesis about what my life could look like following retirement. I tested that hypothesis. I found it didn't hold up.

But I consider the process a success, not a failure.

I have the opportunity I have today -- and, just as importantly, I have conviction around the fact that it is the right opportunity for me -- because I didn't lie on a lounge chair in my backyard after retiring. Well... at least not for very long. After a three-month summer vacation, I got busy creating something out of nothing.

I wrote down a statement of purpose, articulating what was important for me in this next stage of life. I asked myself questions like: Where do I go from here? What do I really want? What kind of person do I want to be? What will success look like in this next segment of my life? How will I measure it?

I developed and reached out to a list of old and new contacts, including executive search firms active in board placements, private equity firms, former colleagues in the wealth management, asset management and investment banking industries.

I talked to close to one hundred people about my career and life opportunities, people I admired and respected, who had walked the path of retirement and second or third careers before me.

I "tried on" numerous and varied roles to see how they might feel, from service on corporate boards and consulting work, to advisory work for private equity firms, to buying a specialty finance company, to teaching at a business school, to starting a socially responsible investment advisor, to running a not for profit organization and a governmental agency. To speaking and writing another book. To running for political office. Even buying into and managing an art gallery.

I have always been a "flow" person, doing my best work and coming up with my best ideas while talking to people, rubbing up against possibilities, bumping into things. And, in my case, I can definitely say that held true when it came to navigating this transition.

While I was out stirring the pot, I watched a former colleague almost completely withdraw from the working world to relax and focus on his family. It took only a short time -- less than a year -- for his contacts in business and his reputation to degrade. Now he is having real difficulty getting back into the game.

As I explored opportunities, I did my best to "be emergent," as Harvard Business School Clayton Christensen puts it, paying attention to how I felt as I explored new career possibilities.

What I found is that all the questions I was asking about purpose and meaning were continuously interrupted or drowned out by a persistent refrain, repeating itself over and over again in my head: "I'm not done yet. I'm just not done."

I discovered that I really missed working.

To use a sport analogy, serving on boards and in advisory roles is like sitting atop a football stadium, in a booth with the team owners, watching the game through a plate glass window.

I missed being actively in the game. I missed wearing a jersey. I missed being part of a team. I missed being on the field.

I didn't know that was how I'd feel when I started this transition process. But now that I do know, I feel focused and energized. I feel at peace.

And I can't wait to get down to the field again and help my new team win.

inc-logo Join Our Newsletter!
The news all entrepreneurs need to know now.


Uber’s Ousted CEO Travis Kalanick Will Not Be ‘Steve Jobs-ing It’

Read Next

How to Boost Your Productivity When You Leave for Vacation

Read Next