Mind your own business: 50-plus Canadians show entrepreneurial flair
For over 30 years, John Wiggins carved out a successful Toronto-based business in the rough and tumble world of advertising. However, by the time he reached his early 50s, he was running on empty.
“When you’re doing a couple of 48-hour days – if not a half-dozen – in an average month, you get a little older. It sometimes wears on you. And that was before the days of Internet and even faxes,” Wiggins points out. He adds, “I was at a stage where I was suffering from arthritis quite badly. I was running back and forth between Toronto and our home in Creemore [about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto], and the tension helped aggravate the disease. I felt I should get a little stress out of my life.”
So he parcelled off most of his clients to other agencies and headed home for a slower pace. But it became an interlude and didn’t last long.
“I still liked the idea of income and I didn’t see sitting in a bloody rocking chair in my late 50s,” says Wiggins.
So Wiggins, then 54, started what turned out to be a two-year planning project, which eventually resulted in the establishment of a premier microbrewery. Wigins wrote a business plan, attracted investors and brought on one of the big five chartered banks.
“I started off by saying this world does not need another beer – this world needs a better beer – hoping like hell there was a market that would relate to that,” said Wiggins, who also sold some real estate holdings to fund the new company.
Creemore Springs Brewery opened in 1987. The product was praised by beer experts and served in fine restaurants. When he reached 70, he sold out to his other partners, who subsequently sold out to Molsons several years later.
Wiggins is part of the growing 50-plus demographic who are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit. According to a 2001 Statistics Canada study, workers 65 and over were almost four times more likely than those aged 15 to 64 to be their own boss. The proportion of working seniors who were self-employed rises with age – from 40 per cent of 65- to 69-year-olds to 54 per cent of those aged 75 and over.
“Most people are increasingly doing it out of choice … to have a balanced life,” says University of Toronto economics professor and author David Foot. “To go golfing when they want to go golfing; to work when they want to work.”
The right time in life
“Self employment is very stressful when you are in your 30s and 40s because you’ve got to pay off mortgage, raise kids. Self-employment isn’t so stressful when you’ve paid off the mortgage and you’ve got financial freedom. It’s actually liberating,” says Foot.
It certainly was for Greg Peterson of Oakville, Ont. After 25 years in sales and general management, Peterson had had enough of working for others so he set up his own corporate consultancy for small businesses called Growth Advisors.
“I felt that I had worked for other companies enough. I had done well in my career but I was really looking for more flexibility. Semi-retirement maybe the best way to describe it … I didn’t really want to work for anyone,” says Peterson.
And his timing was right. His kids had grown up, and he and his wife had built up substantial savings and, at this point in their lives, enjoyed a high net worth.
“We knew we weren’t going to starve. We had resources that we could draw upon if necessary,” says Peterson.