A New Balance

Today's CFOs are planning a different kind of retirement.

When Martin Welch left Kmart in May 2001 after the company’s chief executive decided to bring in a new CFO with more retail experience, Welch expected to land a new position soon. But with the economy in the doldrums, few opportunities presented themselves. Welch realized he would have to come up with a new plan.

Since then, Welch, 56, has worked as an interim CFO at an automotive-parts manufacturer, and today he serves on the board of two private companies. “People ask me if I’d ever go back and be a CFO at a big company again,” he says. “I never say never, but I’m not really putting energy into trying to track down CFO opportunities.” Instead, Welch is enjoying the flexibility of his schedule and the new balance of life and work. “If I could line up four or five of these board positions I’d be working three-quarters of the time, and that would be fine with me,” he says.

Welch is not alone in rethinking the second phase of his career. Many finance executives are exploring opportunities besides full-time work as they enter their 50s and 60s. And while many have been financially successful enough to retire outright, few are making that choice. A February Merrill Lynch survey of a random sample of more than 3,000 baby boomers found that just 17 percent of respondents planned to stop working entirely in retirement; 42 percent said “cycling between work and leisure” was their ideal vision for the next stage of life. “What people are hoping for is a new blend of work and leisure,” says Ken Dychtwald, CEO of consulting firm Age Wave and a collaborator on the study.

Jeff Redmond, president of the Boston-based executive coaching firm New Directions, says he is working with an increasing number of finance executives to help them develop plans for that next stage with a so-called portfolio approach. “A lot of people we talk to may want to go for one more full-time assignment,” he explains, “and then, while they’re doing that, they’re planning for a portfolio of activities to come later.”

A Variety of Options

Earl Baucom, who was the controller at John Hancock until Manulife Financial Corp. bought the insurance giant in 2004, is pondering such a plan. He was asked to stay on at Manulife to help implement Sarbanes-Oxley at the combined company, but he said he would “rather do something different.” Although he has worked in financial services for the majority of his career, at age 58 Baucom is considering full-time positions in other industries, including consulting and construction. He is also investigating part-time CFO jobs, as well as volunteering. “The ideal might be three days a week,” says Baucom, “working 8 to 10 hours a day with a day in there to play golf.” But he admits the transition to part-time work could be difficult. “I’d have to really focus and stick to the three days,” he explains. “I can be something of a workaholic.”

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