The Wurst of Times by
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(28 Stories)

Prompted By Retirement

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“Everything has an end, but a sausage has two.”  So sayeth Papa Kulz, protagonist of a second-year German reader I studied years ago.  Retirement is certainly an “end”, and I had two so perhaps my retirement is a kind of sausage.

First there was the retirement that wasn’t, observed by many, and then there was the retirement that “was”, observed by almost no one. And midway between them was a short-circuited retirement, a retirement that “wasn’t” also observed by almost no one. The end.

First there was the retirement that wasn’t, observed by many, and then there was the retirement that “was”, observed by almost no one.  And midway between them was a short-circuited retirement, a retirement that “wasn’t” also observed by almost no one. The end.

But perhaps you would like something more than the Twitter version.

I retired on March 29, 2002 at age 53.  More accurately, I was retired that day, a Friday. Good Friday.  Good?  Ha!  Truth was I was pushed out.  I referenced, it briefly in There and Back Again  a couple weeks ago, but here’s the skinny.

I had been CEO of a subsidiary of an investment management conglomerate, head of the institutional line of business for the parent and a member of its management team.  I was in Chicago.  The other members were in Hartford, the parent’s location.  I had taken over two years previous to clean up a mess left by my predecessor in Chicago that resulted in an SEC enforcement action.  A great challenge that I embraced and succeeded in pulling off.  But now friction had arisen between me and the Hartford folks.  Just after New Year’s I was summoned to Hartford where the parent CEO made it clear that I was to leave.

The financial terms of my departure were negotiated, including participation in an early retirement plan to push a part of the cost onto the pension plan, and an end-of-the-first-quarter date was agreed.  The experience was surreal.  I had no intention of true retirement but I found myself an unwilling participant in a shadow play orchestrated by Hartford to make it look that way.  The management committee planned a farewell party for the last week of March in Hartford, and on the eve of that occasion, from Chicago, I had a contentious phone call with the head of HR over the final details of the financial agreement.  I told her I was not interested in making the trip without appropriate assurances that we had wrapped everything up, and she promised me that all was in order.

I arrived in Hartford next day to find that she had misled me.  I believe she was trying to demonstrate for the CEO just what a great negotiator she was, and she was trying to wring some concessions from me.  I was furious.  I marched down to the CEO’s office, found he was unavailable, and told his assistant to relay to him that we had no deal and that I was headed back to Chicago.  He came to Chicago the next day and we settled everything in five minutes.  That was Thursday the 28th.  But the retirement celebration fell victim to circumstance.

I left the next day with no fanfare. If this was retirement it sure didn’t feel like it.  That Sunday, Easter Sunday, my wife and I entertained our company auditor’s engagement partner and his family, good friends, and we made a bit of an occasion of it, but that was it.

As I reported in There and Back Again, my subsequent efforts at reemployment failed and I embarked upon a solo consulting venture.

In midsummer 2010, after seven or so years of consulting I was worn down by the effort of growing a business and said to my wife one morning, “you know, I think maybe I’m done.  Maybe I should just call it a day and we live a simpler life in South Carolina” (where we had purchased a home with an eye to retirement).   She snapped, “don’t you think you should talk to me first?” to which I replied, “I thought I had just started that very conversation.”  She turned on a heel and walked away.  Next day she announced that she wanted a divorce.  And that was that.

The reality of a late-in-life divorce is the scrambling of finances and financial plans.  I had to set aside any thought of retirement and get back to consulting.  Which I did.

By 2017 I had recovered financially, pretty much and decided to begin to wind down my business.  By the end of the year I had informed my clients that I would wind up my practice at the end of the first quarter of 2018.  As February turned to March I began the process of winding things up, looking to close up shop on Friday March 30th.  By coincidence this was Good Friday again, or as I viewed it, Very Good Friday.  By Thursday of that final week all tasks had been completed, but I felt it appropriate to stand by just in case a client had a last-minute question.

The reality of solo consulting is just that: you’re it.  There are no work buddies.  No water cooler around which to gather and shoot the breeze.  So, on that last day, there I was, by myself.  My partner, Barbara, was away visiting her daughter in Texas.  Precisely at 5 p.m. she sent me a text, purely of celebratory emojis.  I responded, “you can say that again”,  which prompted her to send a fresh batch of the same emojis.  And that was it.  Anticlimax.

I won’t pretend great disappointment.  I had finally retired, after all.  But it made me think of a retirement, years earlier that seemed to me the epitome of a grand farewell.

When I moved to the Adirondacks, in the fall of 2004, the head basketball coach of the University of Vermont men’s team, Tom Brennan, had just announced that this would be his final season.  He had coached there for twenty years or so, and had done well.  Several conference championships and trips to the NCAA tournament, the so-called “March Madness.”  But he had never won a tournament game.  That final season his team did well, and they found themselves in the tournament.  This time, however, they pulled off a monumental upset of highly-ranked Syracuse.  They went no further, but that was enough; Tom had his tournament win.

Now the University of Vermont is in Burlington, which is also home to ice cream purveyors Ben and Jerry.  In honor of Brennan, they produced a limited-edition special flavor for the local market.  The flavor?  Retiremint.  What a way to go!

 

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Ben & Jerry’s Retiremint ice cream and Suzy’s bon bons, here’s to a sweet retirement to you Tom and to us all!
    Take that, OK BOOMER!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You have had your ups and downs, Tom. Can’t imagine how that conversation with the HR person in Chicago went. Consulting is a difficult life. My husband was a management consultant (though not a solo practitioner) and that was grueling. Hope you are enjoying life now.

  3. Marian says:

    Your retirements have had so many twists and turns, Tom. I’d been consulting most of my career, then took a company position for 11 years, and now I’m back consulting. Maybe it’s my different energy level, but I’m finding it not at all trivial to build (re-build?) the business again. I’m on the fence about packing it in. We’ll see what the next turn is.

    • More power to you, Marian. For me it wasn’t energy it was the competitive environment. There are few solos in my former line of work and too many eight hundred pound gorillas. I did well while I did and enjoyed many of the aspects of it.

  4. Suzy says:

    You’ve certainly had your woes with retirement, Tom. That first time in Hartford must have been dreadful, and because of the HR head’s duplicitousness, you didn’t even get to have your party. And then your retirement from consulting with no fanfare at all. Too bad you didn’t get that Retiremint ice cream in 2004 and save it – but maybe it wouldn’t have tasted that great 14 years later.

    • No need for the ice cream. I didn’t dwell on the absence of celebration at all. The day after my “final” retirement, a Saturday, I did as I often do and went for a long walk in neighboring Beacon. A great trail system and a glorious, bright sunny day. One of the things I enjoy about it is the chance encounters with other walkers, runners, cyclists, etc. That day was particularly good.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Love that sausage analogy, Tom. I retired twice from the preschool I founded. Each time, they threw me a huge party. I bit embarrassing looking back at it, but it was an all-female environment and that’s how we do things!

  6. A great description of a how the sausage of retirement is not always kosher.. I understand that in Spanish the word for retirement is “jubilado”, but unfortunately many retirees are far from jubilant and often experience a rocky path. I wish you well (and also wish that folks would use emojis appropriately and sparingly! )

  7. Tom, I’ve heard of starter marriages…but you had a starter retirement. And then a reretirement. Maybe not a great flavor but, in my book at least, ALL ice cream is good! (Okay, not garlic ice cream. Which is actually a thing.)

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