For the Year of the Boomer -- 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 -- Huffington Post's "Post-50" section is running my career reinvention series profiling 50 Boomers who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.
Following my recent post on Pat and Mary Sculley and their Exercise Coach franchises, I became even more intrigued by how they are working together as a team -- this is the first time in their over 40-year relationship that they've actually been in business together. What lessons can other potential couples learn from their career reinvention, and what are the pluses and minuses of working with your spouse when you've never done so before -- particularly in your sixties?
I spoke on Skype with Pat and Mary from their Dallas office at one of their three Exercise Coach franchise locations.
Interestingly, while they had never worked together in the same business, they had always shared a "partner" desk in their home office. Their careers were spent in corporate America, where Mary worked as an HR executive, and Pat was an Account Leader, so their work never overlapped, and the discussions they would have across the desk were to support one another in their respective jobs.
That has changed since going into business together in the fall of 2012, when they acquired their Exercise Coach franchise. Now, they are on the same team, and are learning how to manage their business and their business relationship. Working together has brought out their differences, but they are making these work for them. Mary is by nature faster to make a decision and wants to act and move on. Pat is more considered, and likes to think things through. While this might sound like an obstacle or a source of friction, their are making it work for them, finding a balance in the middle that they both can respect and profit from. As Mary says: "We've certainly gotten to know each other better, which I think is what relationship is all about." Pat adds: "Because we know each other so well, we can go so much faster."
This positive attitude is part of the key to their career reinvention, but is it a pattern that other couples can replicate, even if they have little or no experience in starting a small business. For the Sculleys, the answer is a resounding "yes." As Pat says, "It's a mindset. Anyone who has got some basic good experience in life can run a small business." In the process that led up to their decision to go with the Exercise Coach franchise, they encountered successful late-career business owners with a wide variety of backgrounds. For Pat, success has more to do with determination and the willingness to stick to your decision and see it through.
Good research and planning have to be the place to start, however, and the Sculleys took their time before making their decision. When they moved back to Dallas after ten years in semi-retirement in Arizona (Pat had been volunteering in the non-profit world, Mary had continued to work in corporate HR), they knew they wanted to do something together. Pat says he never really thought much about "retirement" -- he had never seen himself giving up his professional status. In that sense, he represents the majority of Boomers, who say that they have no interest in merely kicking back and "recreating" for the rest of their lives. Clearly, we are a generation that understands the meaning and value of staying engaged, and finding our meaning through work.
The question for the Sculleys was "what to do." Initially, they thought that they would simply acquire an existing small business, and they had a price range in mind for what they could spend (versus a particular field or business focus). What they found was that most if not all of the available businesses they reviewed did not have enough upside to warrant the investment. They realized that every business needs an exit strategy, and none of these businesses had developed sufficient intrinsic value to be a good bet.
The business broker they were working with introduced them to a broker who deals exclusively with franchises. Mary says that she had previously dismissed the idea of a franchise, but that the broker opened their eyes to the various levels of franchise ownership, and the range of businesses that were available. The broker asked them to undergo an intensive 3-month assessment process to help determine what kind of franchise business would work best for them, their goals and their lifestyle. After narrowing the field, they spent time getting to know the franchisors under consideration, talking to franchisees, reviewing research data, and visiting the franchisors' corporate headquarters. By the time they had settled on The Exercise Coach, they felt that they knew more than enough to make a good "go" of it.
For Pat and Mary, their business is an opportunity to create value on multiple levels. First, of course, they are building a business together and creating equity. Second, by choosing to go with a relatively new franchisor that is still growing its business, they are able to help establish the Exercise Coach brand, and make contributions towards the future of that brand. Finally, by choosing to work in the health and wellness industry, they are providing a service that is important to their generation. As Mary says: "Our attitude is, we're going to live longer than our parents, [so] we want to live better lives. It's a quality of life issue." This was a very important factor in their decision, and the timing seems to have been perfect: Pat and Mary are looking to open a fourth Exercise Coach franchise by the end of 2014.