Mission, Vision, Purpose

5 paths CEOs consider once they retire

five career paths for retired CEOs

Throughout their careers, CEOs work, learn and innovate. Most don’t want to stop after retirement. Why, then, are retired CEOs often seen as those who leave work behind? Perhaps it’s because of expectations extant since the invention of retirement.

When retirement was first adopted as government policy — German chancellor Otto Von Bismarck established social security in 1883 when he forced Germans at age 65 to retire and receive a state pension — the average lifespan was about 40 years old.

Nowadays, U.S. citizens have a lifespan of nearly 80 years old.  And just as the average lifespan has expanded, so too must the way CEOs consider retirement.

“We added all these extra years,” said Vistage Chair Jerry Cahn, who started the community platform Age Brilliantly to help people live more fulfilling lives. “Then all of these conversations came up about how to fill that extra time, which is to miss the point that our life expanded.”

An expanded life means time to launch your next self, Cahn said. This launch takes planning — CEOs must think deeply about how they want to spend their time.

Here are five possible paths CEOs should consider taking after retirement.


1. Writing books

In the age before blog posts, Vistage Chair Greg Bustin was sending 800-word articles, by mail, to clients and prospects of his consultancy.

After a few years, he realized that these articles could be a book. That book became “Take Charge! How Leaders Profit From Change.” His next book, “Lead The Way,” came from materials at a workshop on leadership he was leading.

Eventually, Bustin was introduced to an agent by a fellow Vistage speaker. That led to his book “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture,” which still sells well, Bustin said. 

Bustin writes because it brings him joy. He doesn’t have to work 60-hour weeks anymore, but he loves working toward a goal and passing on insights that can help younger professionals.

“Part of the equation ought to be the question, ‘What brings me joy?’” Bustin said of CEOs planning retirement.

2. Volunteering

In the process of selling his company, Colorado Lining International, John Heap and his wife volunteered to help the KEGO Orphanage in Kenya.

Once his company was sold, the couple started their own nonprofit, Rippling Waters Charity, which purchased land near the orphanage for a soccer field and a water well.

“Rippling Waters donated the pumps and piping to deliver water to the school and the town of Onjinyo,” Heap said. They also rebuild the orphanage’s kitchen and shipped desks and chairs for the classrooms, among other improvements.

Early in his career, Heap had no idea he’d be giving back. But he loves the opportunity that retirement has given him to help others.

3. Teaching

Cahn loved teaching ever since the first time he gave a lecture as a Ph.D. student. Now, amid a schedule filled with coaching and working, Cahn still teaches as an adjunct professor at Baruch College in New York.

“What I love about teaching is that you’re on the line,” Cahn said. “It’s just like being a CEO: You can’t BS. Students will say, ‘I didn’t get that.’ I learned to think through my thoughts better.”

Teaching is a way of giving back, staying young, and rethinking all the concepts you though you knew well, Cahn said.

4. Serve on boards

Serving on boards — whether public, private or nonprofit organizations — can be a great way for retired CEOs and executives to share their knowledge.

Nonprofit boards will be the easiest seat to secure, as Kiplinger reports that the vast majority don’t pay. Even so, serving on an NPO’s board can be a fulfilling way for executives to use their knowledge to help causes they care about.

Private and public companies typically pay board members, but getting a seat takes networking, research and time.

Julie Daum, the North American board practice leader at Chciago-based leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart, told Kiplinger that those looking to join boards should ask themselves what they want to do, why they want to do it, and what they can bring to a board.

5. Executive coaching

Retired CEOs typically want to use retirement to give back, Cahn said, but he believes that more retired CEOs should give back their knowledge.

“Some people want to become a docent at a museum or a big brother,” Cahn said. “That’s an acceptable position, but it’s not preferred. I’m saying to them, ‘Why not help build companies? Why not help young people understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur?’”

This is one of the big reasons why Cahn became and still works as a Vistage Chair. He loves coaching smart people to become even more successful in their businesses.  

Bustin, too, continues his work as a Vistage Chair because he feels that it’s part of his purpose, something he’s found that most successful people maintain for life.

“You can only ride your bike so often or take so many trips to play golf,” Bustin said. “Ask yourself, ‘If I devoted a few hours every day to this, that bring me joy? Would it help other people?’ I think that’s what it’s all about.”


Related resources

The 6 Essentials for a Fulfilling Life [Age Brilliantly]

The Benefits of Serving on a Board in Retirement [Kiplinger]

Life After the Sale [Vistage Perspectives]

Leadership Books by Greg Bustin

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