PROFILE: SOME PATTERNS JUST NEVER CHANGE
When you listen to Robert talk about his career, you hear a whole lot of stories—as he moved successfully from one endeavor to another when he “got bored” or something different came along that interested him. Diversity, change and a commitment to community service are the hallmarks of his career. So, it was no surprise to me when he talked about his seemingly seamless shift from his working career to his “retirement career”. He just figured out something else he wanted to do and never looked back. And to that I’d say…there’s a whole lot of people who would just love to have that skill.
I suppose that at the bottom of his wanderlust was the fact that he was a trained lawyer…but didn’t particularly find the practice of law…well…for him…that stimulating. After several years working in his father’s law firm, he got restless and took up a friend’s offer to set up motorcycle dealerships across the country–which is about as far from the law as you can get, I’d say. And then after returning to the law again when he’d sold enough dealerships, he hitched his star to an insurance business. And that expanded to his own firm which provided all manner of financial services—pension management, insurance writing, actuarial services and estate planning. You’d think that responsibility, in addition to numerous civic and board obligations, would keep him in one place. And you’d be wrong.
Instead, he convinced his wife that there was both opportunity and enjoyment in Florida. So off they went. No…he didn’t come to retire; he was far too young. He came to seek out new opportunities and as he said, “I knew I would figure something out.” After working within a financial services practice similar to the one he had managed in his prior life, opportunity came knocking from a law firm looking for an attorney with business skills to grow the firm by acquisitions. And so he went around the country doing that—growing the firm from 300 to 1600 lawyers. He liked the work and the combination of law and business suited him well.
But, as so often happens in business, the shoe was about to drop. This job came to a crashing halt when the firm’s senior partner, who had hired him, decided to move on from the law firm. Without the backing of that partner and his vision to keep growing the firm, Robert’s job dissolved into thin air. As he said..”One day I was running around the country…and the next day…it was over. There wasn’t time to prepare or think about it. I was just o-u-t.”
And there he was, in his mid-60s in Florida, the land of Retirement and effectively put out to pasture….retired…and not of his own choice. “How did you react to that bombshell?”, I asked. Not surprisingly, he shrugged, “I was ok…I was proud of what I had done and figured that this was just another thing going on in my life.” On filling the void, he did admit that others might have gone into some kind of depression…but “I didn’t want to do that…I’ve just never been the depressed type.” He saw friends who were retired to a life of tennis and golf, who were content with that life…but that wasn’t what he wanted. “I just wanted to move on.”
I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised at the brilliant and fulfilling idea that he came up with…because clearly, he’s a creative thinker who isn’t afraid of forging a new path and venture for his “retirement career.” With incredible modesty, he told me about his idea to reach out to people he knew at Legal Aid to get them together with the CEO of the Urban League to set up a new social services organization in an extremely poor farming community (think sugar cane) that would provide legal aid and other social services to people who were otherwise totally unrepresented. I mean, how many residents of Palm Beach County are aware of a community within an easy drive west where the average annual income is around $14,000? These are people working very hard to earn very little who face issues of unemployment, seasonal employment and severe under representation. And this organization provides a broad range of health and human services, training, education and legal services to this population.
Robert targeted this community for his new initiative, devoting his business and legal skills to create an organization that had real potential to make a difference in people’s lives. As he explained it, “I saw a need and then came up with a concept to address it”, noting that he didn’t do any sophisticated analysis, planning or polling beforehand. He just moved forward. “Sometimes”, he quips, “You just have to follow your imagination.”
Over the years, he has reduced his involvement to 2-3 days a week, given some health issues and he’s no longer running the show. But he still finds this work totally rewarding both because he is truly helping people who need help and because the work is interesting. He admits that he doesn’t want to try cases (remember…he never loved practicing law). But he brings in cases which are then tried by Legal Aid Attorneys.
He stresses that throughout his career, he always felt that it was important to have a social conscience and to “do some good” and he talked again about his community involvements over the years. Basically, he always followed a wonderful motto: “Do Good and Be Fulfilled”. His career and his retirement certainly exemplify that. No wonder he always has a smile on his face.
As we complete our conversation, I ask if he has any regrets—“I only wish I could do more”. And that says it all, doesn’t it?