Lori Engel moved here from Charlotte, N.C., nearly six years ago to take an executive human resources position with Dobson Communications. She wasn't on the job but five months, and in her new home in Edmond 12 weeks, when AT&T struck a deal to acquire Dobson, signaling Engel's inevitable displacement.
The same recruiter who placed her in the Dobson job found her other opportunities in Texas and in her home state of Minnesota. But she turned down the former and, in the final round of interviews, pulled her name for the latter.
“It just wasn't in me to make another major move for a company that I wasn't sure wouldn't be bought out again,” Engel, 53, said. Over her long career, she'd moved from South Dakota to Iowa to Nebraska to North Carolina, where she worked most recently for a telecommunications company that was acquired seven weeks after she joined them.
AT&T kept Engel on through March 2008, after which she started her own company, Ultimate HR, which offers outplaced HR services — including handling mergers, workplace investigations and benefit audits — for mainly firms with 50 and fewer workers.
“Even after the economy tanked a few months later, I — with tenacity and networking — managed to make six figures in 2009, and have increased every year after,” she said. Engel estimates she staked $60,000 of her own money to “get started and to cover my mistakes,” which included hiring two workers before she had the clients to support them.
Engel is among the growing ranks of baby boomers who left traditional jobs to start over. According to a March report by the Herndon, Va.-based MBO Partners, boomers account for 30 percent, or 4.75 million, of all U.S. entrepreneurs. What's more, these so-called “boomerpreneurs” are expected to grow by 1.2 million over the next two years, researchers found.
Jean Newell of Orlando, Fla., was on the leading edge of the trend when she in February 2004 successfully pitched a personal utility pouch (the “PUP”) to QVC online shopping network. The $17 purse/personal organizer sold $1.5 million the first 18 months.
A career Realtor, Newell, 65, invented the pouch for herself and her on-the-run co-workers, who carried cellphones, pagers, lock box keys, car keys, business cards and more. She took out a $15,000 home equity loan to make and market the product (despite her QVC contract, banks turned her down for loans), which since has become her livelihood, following Florida's real estate bust. The “boomerpreneur” poster child also has a book in the works and teaches career transitioning seminars for displaced aerospace engineers and others in central Florida.
“I've done better at this than I ever did in real estate, and I was very good in real estate,” said Newell, who believes boomers make natural entrepreneurs. “Even at play, we used our imaginations and whatever resources we had available. We didn't have Barbie doll furniture; we had to take things and make it ourselves.”
Many Oklahoma boomers are tapping their own entrepreneurial spirits.
A 25-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, Jan Laub launched Twin Foods Inc. by happenstance on the heels of her last layoff and a few years after she'd started her own sales consulting business.
Laub, 53, of Tulsa, was frying okra for a 1970s gumbo recipe that called for one cup of bacon drippings.
“I didn't know how much bacon to fry, Googled ‘bacon drippings' and there were 5 million hits, including posts asking: ‘Can't I just buy this?,'” she said.
In August 2011, Laub — with the help of Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma Inc. and the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agriculture Products Center at Oklahoma State University — introduced Granny's Good Ol' Fashion Bacon Drippings, a refrigerated lower-fat, sodium-free product that provides cooking oil from some 3.5 pounds of fried bacon. The product, which is manufactured near downtown Oklahoma City, retails for $8.49 to $9.29 and can be found at Reasor's stores in Tulsa, some area Homeland stores and — thanks to a recent deal with AWG (Associated Wholesale Grocers) — soon throughout Arkansas and Missouri.
Laub said she so far has invested $15,000, including a $5,000 entrepreneurial award from Tulsa Community College.
Independent financial adviser Melinda Olbert worked 10 years as a lawyer before starting her financial consulting business 15 years ago. She recently rebranded her firm, naming it Cameron Financial Strategies after her younger son.
“I wanted to control my own schedule, be my own boss and not have to ask anyone if I could go to my son's baseball games,” Olbert, 49, said. She said she also wanted to help modest earners invest intelligently so they could achieve the long-term financial security her parents had.
With more than $1 million in gross revenues, Olbert said she is 17th in the nation among the ING Group's 2,500 advisers. She soon plans to move into her own custom-built office building at Britton and Kelley.
Karen Wicker, principal of newly formed Candor Public Relations, said having her own business has been a lifetime dream. As a girl at Putnam City High School, she ran a vintage clothing booth — “K.K.'s Kollectibles” — at an antique mall, earning about $5,000 for college, she said.
The vision for her full-service PR firm burned in her for a year before she started it in May, she said. She named it Candor because she sought to provide candid counsel to clients, said Wicker, who subsequently learned the Latin derivative for candor was “chandler,” her daughter's namesake and mother's maiden name, and “wick,” like her own last name.
“That was a goose bump moment that told me I'd made the right decision,” Wicker, 47, said.
Boomer Rob Martinek, 57, has yet to leave the traditional workforce. But he's already started his own business, for when he does.
A 23-year executive with The Bama Cos. in Tulsa, Martinek in June 2004 bought and merged two sheet metal companies to form Custom Metal Works Inc. The manufacturer, which employs five, buys stainless steel sheets and converts them into brackets and other parts custom-designed for a Tulsa client, who ships them to mostly oil and gas refineries and derricks worldwide.
Martinek said he ventured out, because of the unpredictability of the stock market.
“I was plowing money into my 401(k) and other investments, and then losing my shirt,” said Martinek, who estimates about $225,000 in losses.
Meanwhile, Custom Metal has about $1 million in annual earnings, which Martinek, for now, is reinvesting in the company.
“After retirement, I can see myself going there three or four times a week and piddling around,” he said.
Did you know?
According to a March report by the Herndon, Va.-based MBO Partners, 4.75 million baby boomers (Americans born from 1946 to 1964) are self-employed, working 15 or more hours weekly with average annual incomes of $77,000. Of U.S. entrepreneurs, 30 percent are “boomerpreneurs,” 83 percent of whom once held traditional jobs. Fifty-nine percent seek independence, while only 23 percent chose the path due to job loss. Sixty-six percent are college graduates and 53 percent are women. Boomer independents are expected to grow by 1.2 million over the next two years. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission's latest age-related data on Oklahoma sole proprietors and business owners was compiled in 2007, before the recession and accompanying boom in “boomerpreneurs.” As of July, there were 260,900 Oklahomans ages 55 to 64 in the labor force, including traditional and self-employed workers.