May 5, 2013 57of 65
Since graduating from law school in May of 1974, I have never been unemployed. I was already working for the firm of Carroll, Bradley & Ciancio, where I remained for another year. Then I was either a solo practitioner or a partner in a law firm for a little over 15 years. After that, I practiced law part-time and was president of Clear Creek-Gilpin Abstract & Title Corp. for about three years, after which I devoted my full time to the title company for seven more years. I left that company to start a new one called Gilpin Title. Within another five years, I had sold that company to First American Heritage Title Company (which I will refer to as “Heritage”), and began working full-time for Heritage.
I never received a day of unemployment compensation or of workmen’s compensation – or any amount from any such program.
My wife Cathy has also been blessed with steady employment. Since she moved to Colorado in 1974, she worked at University Hospital, then Rose Hospital, then Rocky Mountain Hospital, and at Lutheran Medical Center since 1982. Like me, she has never received money from any kind of government program for any period of not working.
In short, we have spent our entire adult lives practicing our belief that if we are to have the resources to support ourselves and our children and pets, we must go out and earn them. It is difficult to modify a fundamental belief that has been validated through many years of experience. Consequently, it has been difficult for me to think about the concept of retirement – which implies supporting oneself without going out and earning money. Nevertheless, most of us reach the point where we begin to entertain those thoughts.
For years, when people would ask me if I thought I would ever like to retire, I said I was still tired from the first go-around. I couldn’t even think about re-tiring myself. Now, though, I find that I am semi-quasi-partially-retired. How did that happen?
Until I began working for Heritage, I had only worked in a very small business environment, never having more than 15 employees. My business philosophy had an egalitarian bias and I had sometimes made more money than my employees, and sometimes less. It all depended on the state of our business. My rule was that I took nothing until everyone who worked for me had been paid in full.
I knew, though, that the world of big business was less egalitarian. It is estimated that in the early 1950s the CEOs of S&P 500 companies made about 20 times more than the average worker. By 1980, that ratio had more than doubled to 42:1; and by 2000 it had nearly tripled from there to 120:1. The most recent figures have put the ratio at more than 200:1.
Heritage was certainly not an S&P 500 company. It was actually a subsidiary of a larger corporation called Mercury Companies. The CEO of Mercury Companies and his wife each made $1 million per year. Although I didn’t make that much – and no one I worked with at Heritage made that much – it did not affect me. I still had the same office as when I was running Gilpin Title. I was still working with the same customers in the mountains of Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties. Eventually I was also doing the title work for commercial projects in Boulder County. Ginny Johnson, the President of Heritage, and Terry Williams, who was in charge of the title operations, were both knowledgeable and creative business people. Nearly all my co-workers were experienced professionals who cared about our customers. I enjoyed what I was doing and did not give much thought to our parent company.
I should have paid more attention. Besides its title companies in Colorado and New Mexico and Arizona, Mercury was trying to expand quickly in California. That attempt ended in a disagreement with its lender and a hurried bankruptcy.
My co-workers were upset and asked me if there was anything they could do to protect themselves. I advised them to buy lottery tickets.
Within a short time, a deal was made in bankruptcy court and all of Mercury’s operations were purchased by Fidelity National Financial, which, among its other businesses, was (and is) the world’s largest title insurance underwriter. Now my company really was part of the S&P 500.
Fidelity was (and is) a huge organization with more than 5000 employees and a CEO whose average daily compensation is much more than the average yearly income of a typical employee. I wondered if my egalitarian views would fit in the new business environment.
Actually, things did not so much change as become stable after the Mercury Companies’ debacle. I continued to enjoy my work, but within a few months, Ginny Johnson announced her retirement. Not too long after that, Heritage was restructured so Terry Williams became a regional vice president in Southern Colorado, while still being in charge of title operations. I didn’t have much contact with him anymore.
My main office (when I wasn’t in Boulder) had moved to Idaho Springs. A woman named Sue Ovington, a divorced mother raising two high school age daughters, also worked there. She was the so-called “escrow manager.” She was the only closer in the office, so she only had to manage herself; and she did that well. I was also working with another title examiner, Susan Adams, to help with mountain properties when I was tied up with work in Boulder.
Then came the “Great Recession” and a drastic downturn in the real estate market. Heritage eliminated all employee overtime and instituted mandatory unpaid days off. Those measures helped us maintain profitability, but they were only a start. The title department was reorganized so that most of the searching and examination for all of Fidelity’s Colorado companies was done from a centralized facility. Although my job was not affected by the change, Susan’s was. Her position was eliminated.
I made some inquiries and found an opening at another title company that needed someone with her skills. She applied for that job and was hired within two weeks after leaving Heritage.
The corporate reaper was not finished, though. I was soon told that the company had decided to lay Sue off and use a closer from another office to cover what would have been her closings.
I argued that the financial analysis used to reach that decision was flawed. I also said it was immoral to terminate a woman who was the sole support of two children when Fidelity could save more than enough to pay her whole year’s salary if the CEO would simply take an unpaid day off.* However, nothing I said could change the decision.
I made some inquiries to try to help Sue find new employment, but she opted to go to work for our chief competitor in the mountains – which was my old company Clear Creek-Gilpin Abstract & Title. I advised her not to do that, but she did not listen to me.
With Susan and Sue both gone, my work load increased significantly – still with the mandatory unpaid days off. I was working those days, plus evenings and weekends; though I was doing it for “fun,” and not pay. I was not “authorized” to put in those extra hours.
Actually, it was not fun. The market improved and there were not so many unpaid days off, but the way I viewed my job had changed. It seemed like it was just that – a job. It was no longer fun and challenging.
My personal life became challenging, without being fun. My parents passed away within 100 days of each other in 2010. A few months after that my brother began facing serious health problems.
When I went to work, I would think, “This isn’t fun again today.” Eventually I started thinking, “If this isn’t fun, maybe the Universe is trying to tell me something.” Finally, I thought, “I guess I should listen to the Universe.”
In March of 2011, I let Heritage know I had decided to retire, I just didn’t say when. It took me several months, but finally chose January of 2012.
When that time came, I left Heritage – but fortunately I had lined up some consulting jobs to keep a little money coming in. About eight weeks later, my old manager called me and said the arrangements they had made to replace me were not working out, and asked if I would come back part time – not enough that I would qualify for any benefits, mind you – to help with some of the new orders.
I did that for a few months, along with consulting and contract work for some other companies, and I trained someone at Fidelity’s centralized title plant to more adequately do what I had been doing. I continue to do some part time work for Heritage and some consulting. It is probably about time to cut back even more and thank the Universe for letting me ease slowly into this process of becoming re-tired.
The CEO of Fidelity is just about my age. I hope he is still having fun in his work. If not, perhaps he will do the egalitarian thing and join me in my adventures away from the office. He could come over and we could pitch horse shoes or something.
*I knew that suggestion would never work. So many people were laid off in Fidelity’s subsidiaries that the CEO would need to take most of the year off if he was to personally cover their salaries.