Retirement a concept retreating into the future

With people living fitter, healthier lives for longer, 65 is rapidly becoming just a number as many could-be retirees extend their careers for personal and financial reasons.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

With people living fitter, healthier lives for longer, 65 is rapidly becoming just a number as many could-be retirees extend their careers for personal and financial reasons. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Richard Graham-Leigh, founder of the West Cork Biscuit Company set up his business at 57. He is now 70 and only began to scale back his work hours when he reached this milestone birthday last year.

“I want to work because I still get pleasure from it,” he says. “I’d find it very difficult to give up completely as there is always something exciting and invigorating coming along. Right now we are completing a major rebranding exercise as well as launching new products. We are exhibiting on the Taste Cork stand at the big international food and drink event in London in March where we hope to give Walkers [a big name in biscuit making] a run for their money with our new all-butter shortbread.”   

Starting a new business in one’s late fifties is unusual, but a passion for work among those over 60 is not.

“Sixty is the new 50 and 70 the new 60 they say and if you’re fit, interested and able then why not?” asks Graham-Leigh, whose early career was far removed from making biscuits.

He worked for years in retail management, specifically at Hamleys toy shop in London.

“When I eventually got tired of retail, I retrained in food. I was an executive chef in the City in London before moving to west Cork, a place I had fallen in love with as a lad while on holidays in a horse-drawn caravan. I started making biscuits and French patisserie and selling to local shops and at the Clonakilty farmers’ market before ‘getting serious’ about the business in 2007.

“Yes, you do have to make provision if you’re an owner/manager and I began that process a few years ago by setting up a small management team so I know the business is in good hands. ”

Living longer

With people living fitter, healthier lives for longer, 65 is rapidly becoming just a number as many could-be retirees extend their careers for personal and financial reasons.

Pension shortfalls and the fact that many breadwinners found themselves in debt or too strapped to save during the recession have made staying in work an imperative for some. And the numbers are going to go up as the qualifying age for the old age pension rises to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. Indeed it may go even higher as retirement age is being monitored in line with changes in life expectancy.

Mind the Gap, a report commissioned by Aviva from Deloitte in 2010 and updated last year, says the size of the pensions gap here is such that the estimated two million people currently working but due to retire between 2015 and 2057, will need to save an additional €12,200 (gross) per annum to have an adequate standard of living in retirement. Meeting that level of commitment is likely to prolong working lives.

 Financial concerns were not the driver for Donal Lamont (67), who changed job for the fifth time in his career in January 2015 when he joined ASL Airlines as technical compliance manager. The company, which employs about 550 people, flies for customers such as DHL and FedEx.

Lamont has spent his entire career in aviation, initially in the Air Corps before joining Aer Lingus as a pilot in 1977. While with the airline he ran the cadet training programme and completed a BA in business studies followed by an MBA and became part of the company’s business strategy group.

Lamont retired from the carrier in 2004 and has since worked in operations management with City Jet, with a start-up airline in the Caribbean and with the Irish Aviation Authority.

 “I work roughly 70 per cent of a year which keeps me up to speed with what’s happening in the industry while giving me enough time for holidays and leisure,” he says. “I have no plans to retire. I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing and my passion and enthusiasm for aviation is as strong as ever.

Redundancy package

“It is mentally stimulating to be working with a young, dynamic management team and I think they benefit from having someone with a lot of hands-on experience who can act in a mentoring role when needed.” 

 Brian Crowley (60), a former career banker with AIB, also intends working well into the future. Crowley took a redundancy package four years ago and could have given up work completely at that point. However the prospect of “doing nothing” was anathema to him.

“I was done with banking but I certainly wasn’t done with work,” he says. “Over the years, I developed a keen interest in coaching and completed an IMI diploma in executive coaching in 2009. When the opportunity came to leave AIB, I already had a new career teed up. I also became a member of TAB, the alternative board [which brings the owner/managers of non-competing SMEs together to act as unpaid advisers to each other] and am thoroughly enjoying that.

“I am a great admirer of owner/managers and it’s a source of great personal satisfaction to help achieve their visions for their businesses. I don’t want to contemplate retirement. I have great variety and freedom in what I do and I find engagement with my business owners and executive coaching clients invigorating. I might feel differently if I had a bucket list but that is not the case.”

 The OECD says the assumption of retirement at 65 or before is simply not viable with an ageing population living longer.

“These practices are relics of a bygone age and are unsustainable at a time when population ageing is straining public finances and holding back higher living standards. If there is no change in work patterns, the ratio of older inactive persons per worker will almost double in the OECD area over the next decades, from around 38 per cent in 2000 to just over 70 per cent in 2050.”


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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