Death by Retirement

Mike Drak

I LED A RETIREMENT seminar some years ago at a large manufacturing company. During the question-and-answer session that followed my presentation, a 60-something welder told the group he’d never retire. I asked why. His response: All his friends who’d retired before him were already dead, and he didn’t want to follow in their footsteps.

What he said resonated with me—because I knew someone who suffered a similar fate. Gino was a client back in my banking days. I really liked him because he was both street smart and salt of the earth.

It was difficult to find work in the small Italian village where Gino was born, so he emigrated to Canada in his late teens. He lived with some relatives initially and eventually found work at a small manufacturing company. He worked hard for the owner, who took a liking to him because of his work ethic and caring attitude.

One day, the owner asked Gino if he’d like to buy the company from him, and Gino—happily surprised—said yes. The owner looked upon Gino as family and wanted to help him, so he struck a favorable deal.

Gino never forgot the kindness shown to him by the former owner, and he used the business to help others, just like he had been helped. People back home in Italy knew that, if they wanted to move to Canada in search of a better life, they could always find work at Gino’s.

Everyone worked hard. They were one big, happy family and, as luck would have it, Gino found his future wife working on the production line. Funny how love works.

Gino didn’t flaunt his company’s success. He didn’t live in a big house or drive a fancy car. He reinvested most of the profits back into the company.

Because he and his wife couldn’t have kids, Gino spent most of his time working at the company. He would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. You could find him there most weekends.

All the employees loved and respected Gino. Every year, there was the annual summer barbecue and bocce ball tournament, as well as a Christmas party with gifts for all of the employees’ kids.

Gino had a standing arrangement with the bank to open accounts for all new employees, and he’d encourage them to start saving. If employees wanted to buy a home and needed help getting a mortgage from the bank, they knew Gino would be there for them.

Gino never thought about retirement. It was the furthest thing from his mind. But one day, things changed. Gino had lunch with the CEO of a large, overseas competitor. The CEO told him out of the blue that he wanted to purchase his company.

When the CEO asked him to name his price, Gino gave a number that was way more than he thought his company was worth, thinking that it would never be accepted. The CEO told him he’d get back to him. Gino laughed it off, thinking it would never happen. But things changed when the CEO called a few weeks later and said he wanted to do the deal.

Gino felt stuck. He really didn’t want to sell the company, but felt obligated because he was old school and, for him, a deal was a deal. Suddenly, Gino was a rich man and, for the first time in his life, had a lot of free time on his hands.

That first year, he and his wife visited Italy for the summer. Then they bought a vacation home in Florida, where they planned to spend their winters.

People who knew him well began to notice a change in Gino. He was no longer the happy, high-energy person he used to be. It seemed like the fire inside had gone out and, despite all the money, he seemed sad.

Because Gino used to work all the time, he’d never developed any outside hobbies. His work was his hobby. He tried joining a prestigious golf club, but didn’t enjoy playing the game and never went much.

Gino missed his company. It was his passion and purpose in life. He missed his employees. They were like an extended family to him. Despite all the money, Gino didn’t have anything meaningful or fulfilling to do. It ended up costing him. A few short years later, he died.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the co-author of Longevity Lifestyle by Design, Retirement Heaven or Hell and Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to Check out his earlier articles.

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