29 August 2017

Charlie Hoffman is Managing Director, HSBC Private Banking, London. He has more than 20 years’ experience working with business owners and their families.

Some people see their 50s as a time to start slowing down, maybe cutting back their working hours. Others see it as the right time to take on a new challenge and start their own business.

In fact, with many people enjoying good health and an active lifestyle far beyond traditional retirement age, it is an increasingly popular choice. In the US, for example, an estimated one-quarter of all starts-up are headed by people between the ages of 55 and 64, according to the 2015 Kauffman Index, a nationwide study into business activity.

The aspirations and attitudes of older entrepreneurs are often subtly different from those of younger entrepreneurs. For example:

  • Business owners over 50 value independence and flexibility above all. The most common reason older entrepreneurs give for starting their business is to be their own boss, according to research from HSBC Private Banking. Our Essence of Enterprise 2017 report (see box) suggests that some are looking to create a role that fits around their lifestyle, with flexibility over their hours and opportunities to work from home. Others are in it for the love of what they do, working on tasks they enjoy in a sector they feel passionate about.
  • They have a different style of leadership. Older business owners tend to be less concerned about raising their personal profile. Millennial entrepreneurs are several times more likely than over-50s to say that they started their business to become influential, according to our research. The fact that older entrepreneurs don’t need to prove themselves may be a strength. Secure in themselves, they recognise talent in others without feeling threatened by it. They tend to be comfortable delegating responsibility and building high-performing teams.
  • They have enduring ambitions. But it would be wrong to think older entrepreneurs want to take life easy. The majority who responded to our survey are focused on the future, on building their business and achieving their goals. Some choose to compete in cutting-edge, high-growth sectors. One in 10 surveyed runs a start-up in the technology sector.
  • Their experience is valuable. Older entrepreneurs have a wealth of experience and wisdom, as well as the bumps and bruises accumulated over a career. While a few are starting out as entrepreneurs for the first time, many have set up and sold successful businesses in the past. They come equipped with a set of contacts that their younger counterparts would envy. If they need to raise finance, find partners or reach new markets, they know who to talk to.

Over the next decade I think it’s likely that we will see more and more people choose to become entrepreneurs later in life. Not everyone who tries will succeed, but those who do will be creating jobs and driving growth at the same time as achieving their ambitions. That will be hugely rewarding for them, and good news for the wider economy.