What to do

Winter 2012

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Advice for the Retiring CEO

Expect to lose “friends” and admirers.

Some people wanted to be around you only because you had the power to make things happen in your organization. Not anymore. (Heard from multiple ex-CEOs)

Research “life-after” opportunities ahead of time.

You may think you can teach at your local college. Until you actually make some phone calls, you won’t know if that’s an option. (Barbara Braham, Mendoza executive coach)

Don’t relocate in haste.

Always dreamed of moving south? Visit first and see if you actually like the Sun Belt environment and lifestyle. Realize you might have to make all new friends. And what about your children and grandchildren? (Barbara Braham)

Don’t be surprised if your family isn’t happy to see more of you.

In your absence, they’ve created lives of their own. After Paul Charron retired as CEO of Liz Claiborne, he wanted to meet his wife for lunch nearly every day. She told him bluntly that she’d married him “for better or worse, not for lunch.”

Lean on your values.

Joe Haggar III (’73), retired chair of the Haggar Clothing Company, said his priorities as CEO were always, in order: his religion, his family, the Haggar company. “Nothing really changed in my life when I retired except my third priority, so I never noticed a lot of difference.”

Don’t overvalue wealth.

James J. O’Brien Jr. (’65), a long-time senior-level retained executive-search consultant in Boston, recalls a couple of high-tech entrepreneurs for whom he conducted executive searches about 20 years ago. They left their CEO positions after taking venture-capital investment or being bought out by another company. “So now they’re sitting there, fat, dumb and happy, with a ton of equity worth zillions of dollars—and bored out of their minds,” he says. “They came back to me and said, ‘We’ll take anything. We just want to be busy.”

Understand that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone—pre- or post-retirement.

Former Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was 56, in excellent shape—literally working out a health club—at the moment she suffered a stroke in 2010. It nearly killed her. It forced her to retire. Now doing well in rehab, the former workaholic who famously retired as president of Pepsi-Cola North America in 1997 to spend more time with her family says, “You can’t postpone balancing yourself or postpone things that are important to you, because you might not have them. You can’t say you’re going to spend time with the kids later, because you don’t know if you will be able to later.”