September 27, 2012
Is There A CEO Afterlife?

Those who follow my personal blog ( have an idea of how I’m spending my time as a retired CEO. I’m working – not for money, for fun. Beyond my recreational life (weapons of choice being a tennis racquet or a golf club – on a good day I use both), I’m writing about business leadership, branding and life. I’ve also written a historical novel, although I’m still trying to find a publisher who isn’t afraid to invest in a newbie, grey-haired writer in a market going through drastic change.

Bottom line, I love a challenge and I’m every bit as goal-oriented as I was thirty years ago. Fortunately I don’t take myself as seriously as I did in my business days; I no longer fret about my insecurities or fear the political animals lurking in the hallowed hallways of the Zurich head office.

Looming retirement can be awfully daunting to a CEO, especially to those who define themselves by their jobs. Think about the personal and behavioral characteristics of the stereotypical CEO. He (97% of Fortune 1000 companies are led by men) is:

1. Performance-Driven
2. Energetic and tenacious
3. Passionate and disciplined
4. Visionary
5. Resourceful

In addition, he enjoys his leadership role and the power that goes with it. Imagine how difficult it is for him to keep his ego in check. These 5 characteristics plus ego and power are the very traits that motivate ex-CEOs in their afterlife. Many find satisfaction using their influence to help others. They get behind philanthropic causes with all thezeal and determination they exerted while rising to the top of the corporate ladder.

The former CEO of sports apparel maker Russell Corporation, Jack Ward, puts his time and money into helping inner-city kids. Warren Staley (Cargill) supports Habitat for Humanity with a hammer, a saw and a wallet. GE’s Jack Welch divides his time consulting with companies, travelling, golfing, and lecturing at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and donating time and money to business education.

But, not every CEO follows this trodden path. Some find happiness pursuing interests that evaded them during the demanding years in the executive suite.

At one time I worked for a hard-driving chap who was prematurely pushed out of the corporate cockpit. He was 62, a golden parachute strapped to his back, but no hobbies or interests beyond business. Worried for his mental well-being, his wife bought him paint, canvas, easel and lessons. Painting wasn’t the answer. But the notion of artistic discovery inspired my former boss. He embarked on creating life-size, caricature stone sculptures of people he knew. He became an excellent sculptor and a much happier man than he ever was in the executive suite. You could see it in his eyes whenever he spoke of his work and his desire to improve. His face glowed.

There are so many wonderful examples of former CEOs finding exhilarating second lives in their golden years. And in each and every case where the retiree has unleashed a new passion to help others, there is an endless line of beneficiaries from students to sick kids, from young entrepreneurs to lovers of art (as was the case with my former boss).

To those of you nearing the end of an era, do not fret; a world of challenge and discovery fills the souls of your retired brethren. Join the campaign.

John Bell
John Bell is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard, now part of Kraft. As a strategy consultant, he has counseled some of the world's most respected consumer goods companies. He is a contributor to Fortune Magazine and currently seeks a publisher for his first novel. John can be reached at In the CEO Afterlife.

Other Articles by John Bell:

CEO Presence Isn’t Style. It’s Substance

Panhandler Lessons For CEOs

5 Ways HR Is Just Like Marketing

Why Great CEOs Aren't Always Great Leaders

These Giants Should Just Admit Their Strategy Is Clout

Why Great Brands Lose Their Way

Why CEOs Should Do Less, Better

CEOs Should Stop Using The “C” Word

Here's Why Strategy Is So Misunderstood

In Beer Marketing, Image Is Still Everything