Lending A Hand after Retirement

By Ruel, Susan Rita | Chief Executive (U.S.), April 2005 | Go to article overview
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Lending A Hand after Retirement

Ruel, Susan Rita, Chief Executive (U.S.)


Volunteering in distant lands may be more satisfying than golf.

In his wildest fantasies of retirement, John Anderson never pictured himself crouched in a half-bow and clapping three times as he approached an African king with advice on tourism and economic development.

But Anderson, former chief executive of Enterprise Florida, a government and business partnership for economic growth, insists the joys greatly outweighed the surprises during his stint as a volunteer with the International Executive Service Corps. For more than 40 years, IESC has been functioning as a Peace Corps of sorts for ex-CEOs. It has offered its business acumen to help build economies from Bulgaria to Sri Lanka, and from Peru to Vietnam.

Anderson, who with his wife, Maggie, recently returned from an assignment in western Zambia, one of Africa's poorest countries, found the transition from the corporate world to volunteer work liberating. "It's great to be freed from multilevel, complex corporate governance structures and to deal directly with clients," he says. "Maggie and I both enjoy the hands-on nature and immediate impact. It's up close and personal, and you can see some results very quickly."

Their project in Zambia involved assessing the tourism potential of the kingdom of Barotseland, home of the Lozi people, and recommending an initial development plan to the king and his royal cabinet. Their first 10 days were spent doing "product assessment." That meant riding around in an open pickup truck normally used to transport bulls. (Maggie sat in the cabin up front.) Repeatedly, the truck crossed the great Zambezi River on pontoon ferries.

Sometimes, chief executives who volunteer find themselves on the periphery of geopolitical hot spots. Donald Van Stone, former CEO of First City Bancorp of Texas, last year carried out a two-week IESC assignment in Jordan, helping to teach a course to 14 Iraqi hankers who had traveled there by bus from cities such as Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit. "The road goes right through Fallujah!" he says of the violence-torn city in central Iraq.

Van Stone feels gratified to have made "a contribution soon after arrival" that involved presenting "a career full of lessons in a few words and in a short time." His wide-ranging life experiences, from the Vietnam War to Harvard Business School and from bank CEO to high-ranking executive with MasterCard, gave him a broad perspective. "My career actually prepared me perfectly for this kind of work," he says. "We lived in nine countries during my 30-year career. I learned to hit the ground running, which is exactly what a volunteer must do. You can't take two weeks to get adjusted on a 14-day assignment."

IESC has been putting ex-CEOs like these to work overseas since its inception as one of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. Started in 1964 by David Rockefeller, then chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, and Sol Linowitz, then chairman of Xerox, IESC has been led over the years by former chief executives of Lever Brothers, General Dynamics and Exxon. Ex-CEOs on the board of directors today include John Torell III, once chairman of Manufacturers Hanover Bank, and George Vojta, retired chairman of Bankers Trust.

IESC has managed 24,000 "volunteer interventions" in 120 countries and takes credit for creating more than a million new jobs, donating $800 million in services, and facilitating the purchase of more than $3 billion in U.S. goods and services by clients overseas. The program also proclaims that it spreads American values, such as democracy and the concepts of a market economy. The average age of volunteers is 60.

In addition to the IESC, there are a number of smaller, younger volunteer organizations. A year ago, IESC joined a consortium of 11 groups called Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance. The others, however, draw largely on volunteer pools that include fewer retired CEOs and more middle- to senior-level executives in mid-career.

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