No time to retire
By Naomi Carniol
OTTAWA — When Denis Colbourne started a consulting company just months after retiring from Nortel, his friends thought he was crazy.
As the former chairman of Shanghai Nortel and vice-president of Nortel Semiconductors, Colbourne had more than enough stock options for a comfortable retirement. After 33 years with Nortel, he didn’t need to work. Colbourne wanted to stay busy. "My idea of a good holiday is a four-day weekend," he says.
In 1998, at age 57, Colbourne opened DC-Technologies Ltd. Since then, the company has evaluated more than 30 startup companies for venture capital firms. It’s been fun, Colbourne says. "To me, work is a hobby. I pick and choose what I’m going to do so I really enjoy working. It’s much less stressful than working for another company."
Colbourne is part of a growing number of Canadians opening their own businesses after they retire. ‘I’ve seen people who swore they wouldn’t go back to work, change their minds. There’s just so many days you can lie on the beach.’ A recent report by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce examined this trend.
"The number of firms run by individuals age 55 or over has risen by 30 per cent since early 2001, four times faster than growth among entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 54," wrote Benjamin Tal, a senior economist at CIBC World Markets.
Some of these seniorpreneurs, as CIBC calls them, don’t start businesses for purely financial reasons. After retiring, people often miss the working world and that motivates them to open a business, says Brian Pascal, publisher of the human resources website www.workplace.ca.
Back to work
"I’ve seen people who . . . swore they wouldn’t go back to work, change their minds. There’s just so many days you can lie on the beach," Pascal says.
Pam Dobson knows that first-hand. Dobson worked at a clothing store for years. In 1995, the store changed owners and Dobson retired. That lasted just four years.
"I was bored to tears sitting at home," she says.
Dobson started working for a woman who ran a cat-sitting business.
"It gave me something to get up for in the morning," she says. "A lot of people when they retire stay in bed until noon because they have nothing to get up for. That’s not me. I have these pussycats waiting on me to feed them."
A year later, the owner of the business retired. She offered Dobson a chance to buy the list of 25 clients whose pets Dobson looked after.
Dobson won’t reveal how much she paid to buy that list, but in 2000, Pam’s Kitty Kare was born. At age 65, Dobson became an entrepreneur.
Retirees start successful businesses, says Stephen Daze.
Stephen Daze is the executive director of the Ottawa Entrepreneurship Centre, which advises those interested in starting new businesses.
About 20 per cent of the centre’s clients are at least 55 years old. Of the retirees who visit the centre, most are between 55 and 65, says Daze .
"The prevalence of the government sector here in Ottawa lends itself nicely to people getting early retirement packages and at 55 year old people don’t want to be completely disjointed from the working community," he says.
Many seniorpreneurs have the same questions as younger entrepreneurs.
"The only difference is that older people typically have better access to financing so they aren’t as concerned about financing," Daze says.
A high success rate
A lot of the businesses opened by people after they retire are successful.
"In many cases, because people having worked their entire lives, they usually have some good financial capacity behind them, good contacts and . . . good management skills," Daze says.
In five years, Dobson’s cat-sitting business has grown to 97 customers from the original 25. In total, those clients own about 150 cats, Dobson says.
To attract new business, Dobson tried advertising.
"Nothing came of it. So I started putting my business cards into vets offices."
Dobson also handed out business cards to people she spotted buying cat food in pet stores. "They know I’m there if they have to go out of town," she says.
‘Only certain people have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. You need to have a skill, trade, product or service and you need access to clients.’ On average, Dobson visits six houses a day to care for cats. Four staff members look after the rest of her furry charges.
Dobson wants to continue growing her business. "I’d like to go a bit bigger," she says.
As for Colbourne, DC-Technologies clients have included municipal, provincial and federal governments. In one case, Colbourne worked with all three levels of government to develop a new model for commercializing intellectual property.
DC-Technologies also counts the World Bank as a client. Colbourne helped the bank evaluate semiconductor companies in China. Based on his advice, the bank invested in at least one Chinese company.
DC-Technologies’ success surprised Colbourne.
"I didn’t think I’d be so busy and I didn’t think it would be so interesting," he says. Entrepreneurial life isn’t for everyone. Not all seniorpreneurs are as successful."Only certain people have what it takes to be an entrepreneur," Daze says. "You can’t just retire and decide to start a business. You need to have a skill, trade, product or service and you need access to clients."
Having the right personality helps when you open a business, Kearns says.
It also helps to have some specific personality traits, says Alan Kearns, founder of the Ottawa career-coaching firm CareerJoy.
"Certain people by nature are risk-takers so that kind of personality is more suited for taking the kinds of risks needed for opening their own businesses."
While many retirees start new businesses, some don’t stick to the entrepreneurial path.
Three and a half years ago, Rick Dalmazzi was president and chief executive officer of Certicom Corp., a company based in California’s Silicon Valley. When the board of directors decided to move the company’s headquarters to Toronto, Dalmazzi retired. He was 47-years old.
After retiring, Dalmazzi founded Attivo Capital Management Inc., a company involved in consulting and angel investing.
‘I just got back to paying attention to the family after many years of craziness, of travelling and busy hours.’ At the moment, Dalmazzi works with three companies. "I act as an advisor to the board and to the CEO," Dalmazzi says.
As an entrepreneur, Dalmazzi created a less hectic schedule for himself. "I just got back to paying attention to the family after many years of craziness, of travelling and busy hours," he says. At the time, his daughters Laura and Lisa were 12 and 14 years old. "It was a great time for me to be around and get reconnected in their lives," he says.
Heading to Ottawa
In 2003, Dalmazzi and his wife Linda moved to Ottawa. "We felt it was the right size community and it had a lot to offer for our daughters. We also have some family here," Dalmazzi says. As his own boss, Dalmazzi had time to help his family settle into their new home. While he enjoys his flexible schedule, he misses working in a busy office environment and he is considering going to work for another company.
"I got an itch to get back into the game," he says. "I’ve discovered what really turns me on is the operational stuff. It’s what I am – an operating guy.
Dalmazzi juggles the appeal of working for a larger company with the freedom of being his own boss. "My next move would be to run a middle-stage technology company as CEO and essentially do the same kind of thing I did with Certicom. Take a company that had a little bit of
revenue and grow it so it had significant revenue and if conditions are right, potentially, take it public," Dalmazzi says from his office on York Street near the ByWard Market.
Dalmazzi will miss the freedom of being his own boss. "When you’re the CEO of a public company your day is pretty much laid out for you. It’s harder to decide you want to take a few days off or work a half-day," he says.
Despite the busier schedule that comes with working for a larger company, Dalmazzi’s family supports his decision to change careers once again.
"They enjoyed a number of years where dad was hanging around, but they understand dad working full-time is the norm," Dalmazzi says.
His daughters are also older. "They’re off doing their own thing more often than not," Dalmazzi says.
Dalmazzi hasn’t decided which company he’ll join. "If I go back into a larger company, Attivo will probably go into a state of suspended animation," he says. "But the nice thing is if I decide I need another career break, I have Attivo to go back to." Dalmazzi doesn’t think it will be difficult to revive. "Although it’s called Attivo Capital, people associate it with me so as long as I remain reasonably high profile and visible . . . my small company will benefit from that same visibility."