Senior entrepreneurs: Ditching rocking chairs for the boardroom hotseat - CNBC Africa

Senior entrepreneurs: Ditching rocking chairs for the boardroom hotseat



Susan Maake, pictured, dreamt of owning her own business since she was a kid. Photo: Motlabana Monnakgotla

A new generation of retirees are turning their backs on their pension funds and embracing entrepreneurship. Their age is a small number compared to the profits they’re making. This is their story which first appeared in FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen [email protected]

While most at his age spend the twilight of their lives relaxing, 75-year-old Rob Jordan is not content to sit around and do nothing. Although well into his retirement years, Jordan keeps himself busy by playing golf. When he is not on the greens, he is out in the streets, ferrying passengers around Johannesburg by driving for Uber. 

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“I retired for the first time when I left the industrial chemical industry. I bought a franchise in printing in Pretoria, from 1990 to 2008. I tried to retire again when I sold the business, but both my wife and I were, and still are, in good health and felt we were too young to sit and do nothing,” says Jordan.

Jordan, a soft-spoken and tall grandfather of five, is not alone. He says he does not have a single fully-retired friend who does not have a job or a hobby to keep themselves busy.

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“They have all retired but have some sort of secondary interest in life, where it is money-generating or doing something else. Nobody seems to be able to sit,” he says.

They are part of a growing group of pensioners that want more from life after they retire.

Fifty-seven-year-old Susan Maake is a former nurse who, despite approaching an age more suited to leisure, turned to the difficult but rewarding life of an entrepreneur.

“I have always wanted to own a small business. That was my dream since my youth, so I didn’t want to go on retirement because I was still strong to do something else,” says Maake, also a church bishop.

She was in the health sector for 20 years but decided to start her own business, with a friend, in 1998. She didn’t have enough savings so had to use her pension from her nursing job. She managed to invest R3 million ($215,000) to buy an OBC Meat & Chicken store in the outskirts of Phalaborwa, in Limpopo province.

There are others, besides Maake, benefiting from this.

“If senior citizens are economically active they will contribute to a growing economy and will not withhold opportunities from others,” says Christo Botes, the Executive Director of Business Partners Limited.

Maake comes from a poor rural family; they used to go to bed with empty stomachs most nights. It might have come late in her life but Maake is proud to now be responsible for many families being able to put food on their tables every day.

Economist Vuledzani Ndou says most older citizens possess invaluable experience in their field, which can be shared.

“For example, a retrenched or retired engineer can start a business where he hires undergraduates with no experience,” she says.

Those that start their own business at such a late stage often use their life savings or retirement funds to get running. It is a risk that only the courageous will take. Sometimes they don’t have a choice.

“A second source of income, besides their life savings through a retirement fund or living annuity, is often needed to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and/or to help others, often family, to make a living,” says Botes.

Due to improved medical care and healthy lifestyles, life expectancy is increasing. These days, retirees can have high energy levels and some are looking for a second career, where they are in control and able to help younger people get started in business. 

In the first quarter of 2015, Statistics South Africa recorded a growth of 5.4 per cent of entrepreneurs between the age of 60 and 64.

“It all boils down to hard-earned experience. Older individuals often find themselves being somewhat conservative, because they have been hurt a few times through the business experiences they have previously gone through. They normally love to share their experience,” says Botes.

Experience is something 62-year-old Nana Ditodi has plenty of.

Ditodi, who ran a hair salon in Mabopane township, near Pretoria, moved to Johannesburg in the early 70s and worked in the fitness industry, beauty industry and food retail before finding her niche in mining and property.

By networking with the right people, she got a dream opportunity.

“You would not believe what I was making… I was making what every women loves, openly or secretly, chocolate.”

She ran Ditodi Chocolates for around five years until she sold it to her partner. Soon after, she enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand and completed a mining course. Ditodi became involved with Tharisa, a European headquartered mining group, specialising in chrome and platinum.

“I have been in mining for 10 years but I am more of an investor than being hands-on,” she says.

Not being hands-on allows Ditodi to focus on Redhouse, a conference venue that hosts events, such as weddings. They also provide accommodation for students that study at the Midrand Graduate Institute (MGI) in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

Unlike Ditodi, Susan Elizabeth Swart, a businesswoman from Richards Bay, about two hours north of Durban, is relatively new to the world of business. In 2007, she swapped house chores for entrepreneurship when she started Day And Night, an aluminum casting company. It closed last year due to there being no market in Richards Bay.

Not deterred, 52-year-old Swart opened her new business, J&S Day & Night Engineering, in July this year.

The mother of six decided to venture into business nine years ago because her children were growing up. Since she had helped her husband, a boilermaker, she gained skills and knowledge.

“After a while I decided to give myself a new challenge. Never think you are too old for anything,” she says.

Swart says her day-to-day schedule involves giving quotes, getting new clients, keeping in touch with old clients, giving assignments to laborers, and pitching in herself when necessary.

Swart’s biggest challenge in the industry is dealing with the male clients. 

“Not all men can understand, or accept, that women can also work, and have their own business in engineering,” she says.

She won’t let them deter her though; she loves the new direction she has taken in life.

“Of course it is hard work, mentally and physically, but it also gives me purpose. The bonus is that it makes me feel younger,” she enthuses.

There can’t be many better reasons for retirees to start their own business than that.