Magazine

Not All Senior Workers Are Created Equal


As I was reading "Old. Smart. Productive" (Cover Story, June 27), I got a call from my 74-year-old father. He is a retired Army officer and insurance claims handler who says he wants to go back to work. Normally I would have been stunned by that news, but your article highlighted the resources that this group represents. His need is emotionally based -- to be useful and productive.

I thank you for your timely article.

Mark Labourdette

Novato, Calif.

Peter Coy missed an important arena that needs to heed his call to discard "the outdated rules, practices, and prejudices" faced by seniors: corporate boards of directors. In its 2004 report on board practices, Spencer Stuart Management Consultants reported that 79% of companies surveyed had a mandatory retirement age, up from 66% the prior year. What's more, a company gets a better "governance score" if it has such a policy. It is noteworthy that of the 44 members of the BusinessWeek 50 that participated in the Spencer Stuart survey, 14 (nearly one-third) did not have mandatory retirement ages for directors. By the way, The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP) -- BusinessWeek's parent -- requires retirement at age 70.

Frederick D. Sturdivant

Cincinnati

The "Optimistic vision of aging in America" is one to which I enthusiastically subscribe. I would like to add another perspective that I have found to be precious beyond measure: the wonderful opportunity and privilege of mentoring young co-workers. This subtle and deeply humbling value came refreshingly to light when a fledgling co-worker left this note on my desk: "I will carry your lessons with me throughout my life."

Evanne Geltzeiler

Mountainside, N.J.

Your cover story is determinedly optimistic -- but relies almost entirely on anecdotal evidence, not solid statistics. It's very easy to find examples, such as the six you cite, of persons over 65 doing high-level work. Your forecasts frequently refer to "people over 55." This takes the 55-64 group, who are more vigorous and employable, and mingles them with those aged 65 and over, whose situation is far more adverse and stubborn. The article concludes that "the solution to the demographic shift is staring us in the face." But even if the working percentage of seniors over 65 would speed up a lot -- say from 15% now to 25% over the next 10 years, this is no solution: Some 75% of the over-65 will be retired dependents, burdening everyone else! The only visible offset is the savings that better-paid workers can, and should, accumulate for their old age.

Edwin Reubens

Weston, Fla.

Editor's note: The writer is emeritus professor of economics at City University of New York and is 91 years old.

I'm 55 years old and have been working since I was 16. I would retire today if I could. I take umbrage at the insinuation that retired people are leeches who contribute nothing to the economy. I guess once one retires, one no longer needs to eat, buy clothes, travel, visit restaurants, buy gifts, or pay home expenses.

John Scaglione

Hardyston, N.J.

One thing I noticed was the people you featured had jobs and didn't have to go out and find new ones. I was laid off almost two years ago from a management job. Over the next 12 months, I sent out 1,000 r?sum?s, joined networking groups -- and had two interviews. My problem as I see it? Age! I will be 60 in July. Since no one wants to hire my knowledge and experience, I will go into business for myself.

During the past nine months I became a licensed insurance adjuster, worked the Florida hurricanes, and am now working on my license to become a home inspector. My advice to others in my age group who have a job: 1) Make sure you have a large nest egg of savings, 401(k)s, IRAs, and investments so that when you are laid off you can survive; 2) Think far outside the box about something you can do to become self-employed, something you have never done before; 3) Look for money that is available -- Sallie Mae lends money for career training as well as for education.

Dan Lane

Frisco, Tex.

Two years ago, at age 55, I "retired" as an audit partner in a national CPA firm -- a position that, after 33 years, wasn't fulfilling any longer. My retirement has consisted of entering a PhD program so I can use those years of experience to educate and to research and write about the many issues involving accountants and businesspeople in general. I have now completed over half of the program and I recommend this for anyone seeking a challenge and wanting to maintain a youthful outlook.

Ambrose Jones III

Richmond, Va.

Your excellent article has given me hope for a long, constructive future! However, it is absurd to suggest that Timothy Leary meant "turning on the TV" when he said, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out." As most boomers know, he was referring to turning on (and tuning in) to the fantastic psychedelic experience, before dropping out (of the workforce). In any case, times certainly have changed, and we now seem to aspire to just the opposite (staying in the workforce as long as possible)!

Bill Beers

Kobe, Japan

As owner of a local magazine company in a small market, we get requests from advertisers almost every day to "do a story on us" ("An onslaught of hidden ads," Media Centric, June 27). Lexus is just a little bit more sophisticated in wording it. Most magazines and newspapers, unlike almost all other media, rely on their editorial personality as the main lure to attract readers. This personality would quickly disappear if manipulated by the winds of paid product integration. The readers would leave soon after. Already when I encounter an advertising supplement in BusinessWeek, I skip past it to the next editorial page. If I want to know what Lexus and other marketers think about their own products, I can go to their Web sites and read their brochures.

Brad Hughes

Fanfare Magazine Group

Winnipeg, Man.

Certainly it's interesting to hear that Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) has "gone public" in requesting product integration proposals from prestige publishers. And yes, of course, there are plenty of examples of brand product placement in other media categories. But I suspect that if Jon Fine had dug a little deeper, he could have found evidence of product integration in many magazine media. Years ago it may have been a simple offer to mention a beauty product in a magazine's regular product testing feature in exchange for regular ad support. (We media planners called it "added value" at the time.)

But nowadays the concept has simply become more sophisticated and more subtle as advertisers move away from basic and rather overt interruptive planning techniques to engagement planning, subtly infiltrating key aspects of their target's daily lifestyle to get their name and product across. In 2005 the difference is that you and I just don't notice the really cleverly executed deal -- we just read our magazines and consume the messages people want us to see, ads or otherwise.

John Farrar, CEO

Farrar Media

London

"Beaming in on nano gold" (Investment Guide, June 27) mentions that for investors, buying nanotech stocks is more like black magic than science. Early-stage nanotech companies require a different environment to foster growth, one that traditional investors may be unfamiliar with. Unlike technology startups that can hatch and grow out of a garage with the help of venture-capital money, nanotech innovation requires an extensive pool of resources, including research facilities, talent, materials, and collaboration. Much of the truly innovative discovery happening right now is taking place in academic institutions around the world, not commercial labs and not start-up companies.

Nanotech investors should be looking for a business model that supports university research and helps transition that work into the commercial world by creating partnerships between researchers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs.

Magnus Gittins, CEO

Advance Nanotech Inc.

New York


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