When we first started Unretirement Project, we were very fortunate to interview friend and business leader Joyce Maroney on her unretirement journey. Her story continues to resonate with people. It’s one of our most popular articles. I hope you’ll check it out when you have a chance.
Joyce’s story speaks to many because she works for an organization. So, what happens if you’re self-employed? Well, I’ve been having this off-line conversation with someone who is doing exactly that. Bill Kutik has been a very successful technology analyst and writer for 30 years. He’s well-known for starting in 1998 and still being the chairman emeritus of the HR Technology Conference® & Exposition and the host of the video program Firing Line with Bill Kutik® for the last five years. He’s also beginning his unretirement journey, so I asked Bill if he would share his insights with us. Thankfully, he said “yes”.
Bill, you’ve been very active in our industry for many years. How did you decide to start thinking about unretirement?
[Kutik] If you’re lucky enough to have enough money saved for retirement, which means you probably loved working, your mission after retiring is to find worthy causes that can benefit from the skills that helped make you the money in the first place. Finally, in 2019, I am getting into a working retirement, which to me means taking my talents – honed razor sharp from being self-employed for 30 years – and redirecting them elsewhere to benefit someone other than me! At least that’s my mission, which is starting to bear fruit.
Tell us about the unretirement projects you’re working on these days.
[Kutik] The Aspetuck Land Trust preserves open spaces still left after a century of suburbanization of the farmlands that once comprised Fairfield County, CT, which includes Westport, where I live, Greenwich and Darien. The executive director immediately recognized that a guy who sold $1,500 tickets via direct mail and email for 16 years (while programming all the content and building the HR Technology Conference & Exposition into the largest in the world) might be useful for selling memberships.
Plus, I’m finally getting involved in local politics, which has pulled me for decades. Eight minutes from my home in the next town of Norwalk is a four-screen movie theater, built in 1918 as a vaudeville house, showing foreign and independent films. Imagine a cultural resource like that in the leafy suburbs which exist solely for the raising and schooling of children?!? I’d have to move back to Manhattan if it ever shut down.
Suddenly it looked like a developer was going to do just that, demolishing it for his subsidized apartment house – for parking! Happily, I knew a thing or two about political maneuvering after reading the 5,600 pages of Robert Caro’s four books on LBJ and one on Robert Moses (all the first time in their publication years and a second time in the last few years sitting on the beach during consecutive Junes); my favorite course at Harvard by Prof. Richard Neustadt on “Presidential Power“; plus covering the Board of Selectmen as managing editor of The Provincetown Advocate on Cape Cod.
I’ve been helping opponents turn the town’s Common Council against the plan. We got a reprieve from what was considered the certain death vote in July 2019 with a postponement. I won’t tempt fate to say we’ll have won by the time you read this.
There’s certainly no shortage of worthwhile projects. How did you decide that those projects were the right ones to give your time and talents? I think a lot of people struggle to figure out where to spend their time.
[Kutik] In my case, I was still being selfish. I moved to Westport 21 years ago when the Aspetuck Land Trust was finishing it’s crowning achievement: acquiring 1,000 undeveloped acres 20 minutes from my house and developing it as a wilderness park called Trout Brook Valley. The late Paul Newman, a long-time Westporter, was the public face of that fund-raising effort.
Being brand new, it was so unspoiled, I hiked there every weekend, started giving money to the Trust in lieu of admission, raised the amount as the years went by and I had more, until I finally came to the attention of the executive director who sent a board member to “develop” me as a major donor. Instead I offered my direct marketing services to the executive director.
As I said, I love the Garden Cinemas. When I lived in Manhattan, there was another four-plex opposite Lincoln Center that showed the exact same films! The attempt to tear it down had actually been going on for a year, but since it was in Norwalk, not Westport, I didn’t notice until the Monday morning before the Tuesday evening Common Council vote that would have sealed its fate.
So I just spent Monday on the phone reporting the story, as I had done for years on small town weekly newspapers, The New York Daily Newsand briefly for The New York Times. It only took four interviews to discover that the linchpin to save the theaters was another real estate developer who owned a second parking lot that would do just fine!
So I attached myself to him, acted as his PR advisor, and got him to give his first polite presentation to the Common Council in three years! While they were stunned to hear him apologize for past shenanigans, they actually postponed the vote because a leading opponent started a petition on change.org, got 5,000 signatures in six hours, and now has 15,000! I love this.
Last question. For individuals like you and I, who are consultants, it can be hard during our working years to volunteer or do pro bono work because we’re busy making money (for our unretirement). How do we find time to build relationships with worthy causes and projects?
[Kutik] I’m continuing to work: writing the column and producing the TV show. But since I’m not working nearly so hard developing new business, I have plenty of time to build relationships with the worthy causes. For me, the process is remarkably similar to work.
The Aspetuck Land Trust has an ‘administrator’, one of only two paid employees who basically does everything from maintaining the membership database to writing their direct mails to get new members. How is this different from HR Tech? The marketing department there was burdened with four other shows, and the 24-year-old assistant who didn’t know an HRMS from a mainframe was delighted when I started making her copy better. As was her boss and the administrator at Aspetuck.
At HR Tech after two years, I ended up writing every single marketing word that went out for 14 years, including a 7,000-word brochure, a dozen print ads, 100 direct mail letters and much more. I don’t plan to do that at Aspetuck.
At the Garden, getting tight with the real estate developer who had the answer to the problem was no different than chatting up a prospective client, except there was no money involved. I showed him the value I could add to obtaining his goals, which happily we shared, and just kept in touch. That situation is volatile beyond belief and far from over. We’ll see if in the end Norwalk paves paradise and puts up a parking lot.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Bill for sharing his unretirement story. Whether we work in a corporate environment or as a consultant, I think many of us can relate to the challenge of focusing on our career and thinking about our retirement future at the same time.