Photo: Daniel Portnoy
Marjorie Weber helped Freebee expand.
Back to business: Volunteering in retirement
For many retired senior executives, the drive to contribute never ends.
Advertising-supported ride company Freebee was off to a good start. The 3½-year-old company wraps large open-air electric vehicles in advertising and offers free rides around South Beach, Brickell and downtown Miami. The company was doing well enough that founders Kris Kimball and Jason Spiegel dreamed of going national. But first they needed more vehicles in Miami, their pilot market, and to develop an app so that riders could order a lift from their smart phones instead of flagging down a passing Freebee.
For that, they needed money. Someone suggested they talk to Marjorie Weber, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at Florida International University. Weber, 80, has a couple of lifetimes of experience in finance. She went to work helping Freebee.
For Weber and many retiree-age people like her, retirement brings the realization that they have lots of business drive left. For the state, that realization is an economic development asset. “70 is the new 50 these days,” says Robert Strandberg, a retired executive who now is president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of South Florida, which draws on retired executives to mentor young businesses and works with Fusion Pointe, a Naples organization that draws on southwest Florida’s “incredible” wealth of retired entrepreneurs and executives.
Retirees get back to business through different avenues. Some join the Service Corps of Retired Executives or angel investor networks. Former leaders of Fortune 100 companies simply continue to pursue opportunities that excite them.
SCORE has 925 volunteers in Florida, about 8.4% of its national total. Generally speaking, Florida ranks poor in volunteerism [“Senior Volunteerism,” page 76], but when it comes to SCORE, the state pulls its weight. Florida’s 8.4% of SCORE’s national volunteers compares favorably with Florida’s share of the nation’s population 65 and older (8.2%).
Strandberg, 58, at the South Florida EDC and Fusion Pointe in Naples, also recruits retired executives to match with young companies. Strandberg’s resume includes founding central Florida printer company Datamax. He was CEO at another central Florida company, Lockheed Martin spinoff Xytrans, and a director at a third, filter company Sawtek. Strandberg looks for CEOs suited for mentoring and advising — not all are — and with the particular skill set a company needs. He gives CEOs executive summaries or pitch sheets about prospects and lets them select what interests them.
Some Florida startups that haven’t landed their first customer have access to an executive who has been landing million-dollar contracts for years, he says. “The entrepreneurs are getting just worldclass assistance. That’s one of the key assets I see in the state of Florida. We have this population of the best and brightest who retire here.”
There are considerations for both sides in making a match. A CEO spending the summer traveling or in the Hamptons may not be accessible enough for a given company. A CEO who wants a board fee or too large a piece of a company might be a mistake for a young business. Retired Fortune 500 CEOs mentoring, meanwhile, want a company where they can create value and with a model that can scale; they’re not interested in advising a single-shop dry cleaner about a direct mail campaign.
Freebee, the Miami ride company, definitely wants to scale. Weber, the SBDC consultant, “really took us under her wing,” says founder Spiegel, “got us a good-size loan.” In October, it launched its app. At the time, it had 22 vehicles and planned to add 20 to 30 as a prelude to going national.
“It’s a great service because nobody wants to take a car and spend $20 on parking,” Weber says. “It’s a fun company to work for.”
Since establishing a Florida residence, former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley, 76, has taken an interest as an investor, director and mentor in such Florida companies as Boca Raton mobile marketer 3Cinteractive, West Palm Beach sleep disorder diagnostic and therapy company SleepMed, Sunrise telehealth company MDLive and Tampa restaurant chain PDQ.
Sculley “personally has been a valued business partner and mentor to me over the past 10 years when I started and sold my first digital health company, PDSHeart,” says Sean Heyniger, who met Sculley at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2005.
Shortly after, Sculley invested in Heyniger’s West Palm Beachbased PDSHeart and took a board seat. Within two years of Sculley’s involvement, they sold PDSHeart for $57 million. Sculley and Heyniger went on to co-found Watermark Medical, now known as SleepMed, MDLive and Florida investment firm South Ocean Growth Equity.
“I know his thirst to find a better consumer experience helps the business operator and entrepreneurs he mentors make the hard decisions easier,” Heyniger says.
David Taylor, a native of the U.K., spent his career as a chartered accountant and executive, an expert in financial analysis, for RCA in England and then in about 16 countries for Mobil. Setting up a service center for Georgia-Pacific brought him to Jacksonville in 2000. He retired at 63 in 2005. After taking a year to see how he would spend his time, he joined SCORE, which provides free advice to businesses and up-andcoming entrepreneurs.
Corey Black, founder of Green Light Group Tours in St. Augustine, turned to SCORE two years ago and was paired with Taylor. Taylor has provided regular financial statement analysis, helped value an acquisition and expanded Black’s understanding of his business’s financial position. “David has been an invaluable asset to both my business and my own personal growth as a small-business owner. Through his guidance, we have established critical relationships with financial institutions, giving us the capital to support our growth,” Black says. “As I have learned, you simply do not know what you do not know.”
C-Level Help for Non-Profits
Some Florida organizations recruit retired executives and managers to help non-profits. Impact Broward, through its Executive Service Corps, matches semi-retired professionals with non-profits in need of top-level expertise. “When they first come in, they’re thinking, ‘What the hell am I sitting here for? I should be on the golf course,’ ” says John Gargotta, president and CEO of Impact Broward, which uses volunteers to meet various needs for non-profits in Broward County. But after their first successful involvement, “they come back and say, ‘When’s my next project?’ Volunteering is a win-win.” He has approximately 25 consultants in the Executive Service Corps.
Florida ranks low among the states and Washington, D. C., in its rate of volunteering (48th), and volunteering by seniors is no exception. At a 20. 2% senior volunteer rate, Florida ranks 43rd, close to the bottom, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service, the federal agency that oversees Senior Corps and AmeriCorps. Part of the reason can be seen in two states that score even worse — traditional Florida feeder states New Jersey and New York.