Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

‘I gotta do it now’: for some older adults, retirement means chasing a new ambition

Among the more striking economic and social trends in the past several decades is the rise of the second-act entrepreneur. The catchphrase captures older adults who retire from their primary career later in life and start a new business in their next chapter.

People who are 55-64 years old account for about a quarter of new entrepreneurs in recent years. These entrepreneurs include everyone from the solopreneur to the ambitious founder launching an enterprise with several employees. Whatever the size, scale and scope of the small business, second-act entrepreneurs add to the dynamism of our communities.

MPR’s senior economics contributor Chris Farrell has long reported on the economics of second-act entrepreneurs. He interviewed Courtney Burton, who is running two businesses in her encore, and joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer to talk about what he learned.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Among the more striking economic and social trends the past several decades is the rise of the second-act entrepreneur. The catch phrase captures older adults who retire from their primary career later in life and start a new business in their next chapter. Folks who are 55 to 64 years old account for about a quarter of new entrepreneurs in recent years.

These entrepreneurs include everyone from the solopreneur to the ambitious founder launching an enterprise with several employees. Whatever the size, scale, and scope of the small business, second-act entrepreneurs add to the dynamism of our communities. MPR's Senior Economics Contributor Chris Farrell has long reported on the economics of second-act entrepreneurs.

He recently talked with Courtney Burton. Courtney is running two businesses in her encore. Oh, my gosh, Chris, he's here to talk about not one but two businesses Courtney Burton is running. Oh, my goodness, introduce her to us.

CHRIS FARRELL: OK. So like many people who are doing this encore career, you want to bring in an income but also doing something that you're passionate about, that gives you purpose. So as you mentioned, two gigs, so one is career coach.

COURTNEY BURTON: And my coaching practice is for individuals that are looking for career development or changing careers or potentially retirement so life transitions.

CATHY WURZER: OK, that's fun. And the other?

CHRIS FARRELL: OK. I'm going to answer this slightly differently, Cathy. Let me answer that question with some music.

[GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA, "IMAGINATION"]

COURTNEY BURTON: (SINGING) Imagination is funny. It makes a cloudy day sunny.

CATHY WURZER: Wow, wow. So is her other business being a singer?

CHRIS FARRELL: That's right. So she's singing the 1940 hit "Imagination," and that's with the Big Beasley Band. And she has a regular gig with the band. It's a group of musicians that play classic, big-band jazz from the '40s, the '50s, and the '60s. And the band was founded in 1991 by the late Chuck Beasley, and he recruited her to sing for them some two decades ago.

COURTNEY BURTON: I never thought I'd land in the big band world, old school, jazz standards. That's my sweet spot. I have become an advocate for keeping this uniquely American art form alive. I had mentors in that band, including Chuck, who they were World War II vets.

They lived this music the first time around or were taught by people who were there at the very beginning of big band. And so part of it is to keep their legacy alive. But also the more I listen to the music, learn the nuances of the music, it just doesn't get any better for me.

CHRIS FARRELL: And, Cathy, I just want to add she's also creative director and lead vocalist for her jazz ensemble Court's in Session.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, my God, that's so cool. OK. So what was her main career way at the beginning?

CHRIS FARRELL: OK. So most of her career was in retail. I mean, she was a merchant for several big retailers, Target, CVS, Albertsons. The last 11 years of her career, she worked as a broker.

And she was representing small companies selling private-label products to Target. And her side hustle was mostly singing jazz. In 2018, age 60, she decided to make a big change, to take a leap. She retired from retailing, although, you know, Cathy, I don't think retirement is quite the right word for her next chapter.

COURTNEY BURTON: And I decided I was going to be-- I didn't want to be that 60-year-old in the office. I'm up on things. I'm technically savvy. I do all that.

But I know there comes a point in any group where you're that person. And I was, like, I'm going to go out on my own accord. We were also dealing with some family issues. My mother was at the end stage of her dementia journey at that point.

So 2018 was my exit plan year. 2019 was my first year on my own. And I thought, oh, I'm going to do my music full-time finally.

I still have my voice. I don't know how long this is going to last. I got to do it now.

CHRIS FARRELL: So she figured out, well, why not. Let's turn my passion into a small business.

CATHY WURZER: OK, so I get the passion for music. Where does the coaching part come in?

CHRIS FARRELL: OK. So the idea was music would be her main business, and coaching would be her side hustle. Now she had always enjoyed mentoring people, help them figure out their career path. But it was the music that drove her encore, that is until the pandemic of 2020.

And like many entrepreneurs, Cathy, she had to quickly pivot. So she took advantage of the time to create an infrastructure for her music business. She relied on coaching to bring in an income.

COURTNEY BURTON: I had people coming to me that were, like, I don't know what the heck just happened. I need support. So I've never actually advertised my coaching practice. People have found me word of mouth.

CHRIS FARRELL: [INAUDIBLE] and music, they're about equal, half and half. So she's taken her passion for mentoring people, her passion for music, and built two small businesses, which I think is really cool.

CATHY WURZER: It is cool. So the transition, though, as you know, from side hustle to full-time business, kind of difficult, to say the least.

CHRIS FARRELL: Oh, yeah, and we talked about that. I mean, look, she had savings. And her financial planner told her if she brought in an income, the transition would work out monetarily.

She also worked with a coach who told her she was emotionally ready to make the move. So she tapped into her skills that she had developed earlier in her career, such as a willingness to sell. And her music business has evolved into a portfolio of offerings, such as events.

COURTNEY BURTON: I love creating nurturing, safe spaces for people to experience humanity, whether it be their own or someone else's. I do that in the coaching practice. And that's really the essence of my music business.

So one of the things that I've done is started to work with a lot of event planners, moving to the event space. And what we do is the perfect background music for events. And so I can leverage then all my years in corporate America, my sales, because I go into an event planner, and I say, I have a service business, and that service is music. Let me help you make this event something that's absolutely memorable.

CATHY WURZER: Now that's unusual. I like that. Is she busy with the holidays? Is she singing for the holidays? Where is she so we can listen to her?

CHRIS FARRELL: Absolutely, she is very busy. So probably the quickest thing to do is go to her website, courtneyburtonmusic.com, and then you can get more information about where she's singing. Now, Cathy, I thought we should end our conversation a little bit differently but with Courtney singing. This is the 1952 song, "That's All," with her jazz band.

[ALAN BRANDT, BOB HAYMES, "THAT'S ALL"]

CATHY WURZER: Excellent, thank you, Chris.

CHRIS FARRELL: Thanks a lot.

COURTNEY BURTON: (SINGING) And a promise to be near each time you call. And the only love I own is for you and you alone. That's all.

CATHY WURZER: Ooh, nice, nice. Chris Farrell, of course, is MPR's Economics Correspondent. He always has such great conversations with people. What an interesting person Courtney is.

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