7 Insights for Retired CEOs Returning to Work


Twenty years have passed since I sat in the corner office of a multinational consumer goods organization. Seven years ago I removed my consulting shingle from the home office wall. Am I happy in the CEO afterlife? You bet. I’m busy pursuing other dreams that are inspirational and meaningful. So why, you might ask, would I come out of retirement and accept a temporary assignment in the C-suite of a business in America.

Some might say the idea of living on the beach in southern California in place of the chilly Canadian winter was simply irresistible. I’ll gladly admit that this was the tipping point. But I must also confess that I could not resist the challenge and the opportunity to make an impact.

No matter one’s age, there are plenty of ways and means to stir the senses.

I finished my 9 month assignment in the spring of 2012 and I’m back in the CEO afterlife. For retired executives considering returning to the fast lanes, I offer 7 insights on my experience.

1. You’ve still got the juice. Oh yes, the times have changed, but the inner drive that helped me motivate others, and propel organizations to excel, quickly bubbled to the surface. No matter one’s age, there are plenty of ways and means to stir the senses.

2. Cutting to the chase. Despite the anomalies of a different industry (this one was fresh food), I was able to assess the situation in short order and define a course of action, always mindful of understanding the company/industry’s key success factors before leveraging them for marketplace differentiation.

3. Technically, you may be woefully inept. I expected to be out of touch with technology and this was glaringly obvious. But as an acting C-Suite executive, I managed to stick to proven leadership and strategic principles while seeking the technical counsel of others in execution. Thankfully, the age gap wedge never reared its ugly head. The millennial generation was keen to help.

4. Strategically, you are in the game. All this talk about the new economy, the social network, and how business is different today hasn’t devalued the need for smart strategic thinking. Strategic thinking and strategic focus has never been more important, but sadly, in 21st century business, it is taking a back seat.

Strategic thinking and strategic focus has never been more important, but sadly, in 21st century business, it is taking a back seat.

5. Don’t forget that business is 24/7. This was my biggest shock. The business issues were with me as I dozed off to sleep, when I woke in the night, even on the glorious California weekends. I’d forgotten that. Conclusion: this comes with the territory.

6. Therapy for the mind. Like most things in life, change (with a purpose) is good for you. In this particular case, I had the opportunity to teach, to learn, and to grow. For that, I am truly thankful.

7. You will be happy to be back in the CEO afterlife. The experience was immeasurable, but my days of calling the shots are over. In my business life, I was at my best in my forties. Having lived the CEO afterlife for 7 years now, I’ve discovered new horizons, and I’m pursuing them with the same passion that motivated me to pound my competitors on the corporate battlefield.

The bottom line? On a temporary basis, there is little downside to retirees re-entering the work force. So, if you wish to re-instate your career, be aware that you are not the person you were in your heyday, in fact, in most ways you’re BETTER, and you’ve still got it in you to further your legacy and the legacy of others.

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Image credit- peshkova / 123RF Stock Photo

John Bell

John Bell is the author of Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. A retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world's most respected blue-chip organizations, his periodic musings on strategy, leadership, and branding appear in various journals including Fortune and Forbes. John has served as a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. He can be reached at his blog http://www.ceoafterlife.com/

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