“Déjà vu All Over Again?”: A Case for Staying in the Game

By Bill Colaianni
EVP and CMO, Wal-Mart Central America

When Clyde Lowstuter asked me to contribute to the new R | L website, the Paulson and Bernanke financial bailout plan was dominating headlines, market indexes were down over 30%, and personal finance columns were grimly reporting that Boomers were going to have to keep working until they dropped.    While the scale of the crisis may be unprecedented, the “bad news for Boomers” is pretty familiar stuff if you’ve been paying attention to your portfolio and the financial press over the last ten years.

Regarding your portfolio strategy, I have no idea if we should double down in equities or stuff gold Maple Leaf coins into mattresses.  What I do know is that delaying retirement makes a lot of sense for a lot of people—regardless of their financial circumstances.   And I speak from personal experience.

I have known Clyde and the R | L team for a decade now and he has guided me through the early retirement discussion twice—once when I was actively seeking to leave a role and once when I was impacted by a global reorganization.  What he has helped me to realize is that retirement is hard and not necessarily rewarding work.   Remember, you can’t beat something with nothing, and vague notions of starting a business, teaching, doing non-profit work, or “managing your portfolio” are no substitute for what you leave behind.  And what, besides stress and organizational politics, might that be?  Well, a lot, actually—here’s a short list.

• Problem-solving with the benefit of a lifetime of experience:  chess Grand Masters, like great executives, don’t analyze each move so much as tap into pattern recognition capabilities built up over decades.  You’re faster and better now.  Isn’t that fun?
 Mentoring a new generation:  your children may not listen to you, but bright Gen-X and Gen-Y’ers are all ears.
• Leadership and camaraderie:  all country club, all the time, gets very old, very fast.
• A fitness center for your brain:  if you’re disciplined enough to do aerobics and weights, why would you let your mind turn into bean dip?
• A happier spouse:   no explanation necessary.

 In 2005 I left early retirement for an expat assignment as a corporate officer heading up Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club business in Puerto Rico.   The change of industry and corporate culture was like a brain tsunami and left me happier, smarter, and more engaged.  I’ve since moved on to a senior role with Wal-Mart’s Central America business and live in Guatemala in a house with a view of four volcanoes—not to worry; only two are active.

Speaking of physical fitness, if you’re looking for a playlist for your iPod  you might check out Last Man Standing—a great album where Jerry Lee Lewis teams up with Ringo Starr, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson,  Eric Clapton, and others.  Great for the treadmill—and why should classic rockers have all the fun?  Not an early retiree in the bunch.

Here’s another fun Yogi Berra quote:  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  For me that means that a deliberate choice—in this case, to prolong your career—is much better than passive acceptance.  There is much more at stake than your pocketbook.



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