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Entrepreneurs After Age 50

Here are two individuals and a couple who retired from one career only to launch another

(page 1 of 4)

Forget about retirement, gray hair means it’s time to launch a business

What is it about people over 50? Just when they peek at that no-more-9-to-5 horizon, many do crazy things like travel the world, self-publish books or enroll in college.
Some even start their own businesses. Haven’t these encore entrepreneurs heard about Hawaii’s terrible business climate? Are they gluttons for punishment, dewy-eyed optimists or simply people with dreams? As the profiles over the next five pages indicate, the answer is All of the Above.

Bruce Bottorff, AARP’s 56-year-old director of communication in Hawaii, says they are part of a different generation than their parents.

“Probably the biggest difference I see between the current group of 50-plus-ers and our parents is that I, for one, am not really looking to slow down via conventional retirement. We’re living longer, healthier lives, technology has radically changed, and the capacity for reinventing ourselves from one life stage to the next seems more realistic than before.”

There’s a financial component, too. “Many of my generation haven’t saved enough to retire and don’t have defined benefit plans and other forms of financial security,” he says. Add in the past five years of recession and slow growth.

Asked what defines encore entrepreneurs, Nancy Ginter-Miller says, “passion.” The business consultant with Hawaii Small Business Development Center in Kailua-Kona says money is a factor, “But you have to have passion and drive. You hit the brick wall if you don’t.”  

People who advise new entrepreneurs say another element is crucial: A solid business plan.

“It isn’t this academic thing that sits on the shelf. You look at it all the time,” says Jane Sawyer, Hawaii district director of the federal Small Business Administration. “Also, as your business grows, you need to be able to share those ideas (in the business plan) with the people you bring in and hire and train.”

Joseph Burns, Oahu director for the Hawaii Small Business Development Center, says studies have shown that businesses started by older people tend to last longer or be more successful than those started by younger people.

“But ... it’s not that simple, because while older entrepreneurs have more discipline in their lives, more experience, maybe more contacts, more financial resources, on the other hand, they sometimes tend to be stuck in their ways, maybe not open to new ideas.

“Young people … may be more flexible and (can leverage) all the technology and social networking that we have going on.”

Burns offers another note of caution: “Don’t start a business if you want to relax. It’s a lifestyle change/commitment. And if you think you are just going to sit back and let the profits roll in, well, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn.”

From Courtroom to Kona Coffee Orchard

Dave Bateman looks over the coffee farm that he and his wife bought in 2005 after long careers in law and nursing on the West Coast.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

In casual shirt and shorts, Dave Bateman eases himself into a chair on an Island-style porch overlooking the 37.5-acre coffee plantation in Kona he and wife now call home.
Before we talk coffee – or have a cup – he fills me in on his history, from the early days practicing law in California and later as a judge advocate general in the Air Force during the Vietnam era to founding his own law firm in Olympia, Wash. In private practice, he had to educate himself on everything from business and real estate to construction and estate planning, because, as a general practitioner, “You have to be good at everything that comes in the door and continue to perform. There’s no time for introspection.”

Then he comes to the point: Why he’s here on a sun-shaded lanai overlooking his own coffee farm in Hawaii.

One day in 2005, Bateman says, when all the responsibility of the law practice and his life had just about burned him out, a perceptive client put himself face to face with Bateman, stuck an index finger in his chest and warned, “You are killing yourself. You have got to change your life!”

Bateman continues, “I knew he was right. Life was so stressful.”

At this point, I glanced toward the kitchen, where Trudy Bateman was brewing cups of their award-winning Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee to offer us both before returning to the roasting room to fill orders. I wondered what THAT day was like in their household.

Turns out it may have been the best day of their lives.

They took the forthright client’s suggestion and booked tickets to Hawaii Island to check out the Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee Farm. It didn’t take long to make their decision. Feeling a natural attraction to the people and the land, they bought the farm, quit their jobs and moved to Kona.

Settling in on the new venture they didn’t know “beans about,” they discovered something else. For years, he’d been the can-do litigator and she the dependable emergency-room nurse. In their separate worlds, both were used to being The Boss. Rather than worry about it, they forged a partnership.

They asked for help and got it from kamaaina farmers, including Tom Greenwell and Kraig Lee, and soon the Batemans hired an orchard manager.

“We began to feel comfortable,” Trudy admits, adding, “This (coffee farm) has been kind of an ‘aha’ moment!” Before, “We rarely saw each other.”

“I’ve done every job on this farm,” Dave says, and you know that Trudy has too, from taking visitors on tours to raking, pouring, hefting enormous burlap bags filled with green beans, storing, roasting and filling orders. You can’t help but wonder if the former ER nurse and workaholic attorney ever just sit on that deck high on the hill and sip a cup of their Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee.

Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Dave Bateman’s tips are a mix of his experiences in law, business and sailing on Puget Sound:

  • “You have to be able to adjust your course.”
  • Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk. Follow your heart! If you don’t have a passion for what you are doing, get another career.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Look with foresight into the future. “I typically set one-, three-, and five-year business plans,” Dave Bateman says. “When you look back, ask yourself: Did you hit your goals? Did you have fun?”
  • As to landing in a new state, culture and business, with new neighbors, customers and friends, he says, the quickest way to adapt is to “get involved.”

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