Bob Adams retired as a veritable youth at the tender age of 61. The transition didn’t happen because he was ready to head out to pasture.
He’d watched the business world turn in the 1980s, when personal computers changed the landscape of technology. The educational equipment company he and wife Lois founded in 1976 grew with the market.
“I was timely, and I got lucky,” he said.
A persistent potential buyer won him over in 1994. The Adamses sold their business and took stock: What next? For both of them, life in retirement became a steady series of new, “semi-pro” philanthropic roles that paralleled their experience in the working world.
In an interview with the Town Crier, Bob Adams offers his take on working after work ends and the business of volunteering.
Q: How did you measure your readiness to leave your company? What’s the “why now”?
Adams: I stayed on for about a year to help the buyer transition, and eventually I felt like I could leave. I probably could have gone any time, but you want to be the watchdog – the guard. I was in Rotary at the time, and I became president of Rotary the next year. That’s when volunteerism grew into a big part of my life.
Being the president of Rotary was the peak of what I really loved doing, because you’re working with so many people and so many different projects, both internationally and locally.
I enjoy being with people so much, and that kind of volunteering keeps you engaged. You don’t go about it thinking it’s going to keep you healthy and make you live longer, but there’s probably something to that.
Q: You’ve become known in the community for your longtime advocacy for Partners for New Generations, the tutoring and mentorship program that matches adults in the community with students who could use a boost. How did you pick that as your next “business,” on retirement?
Adams: We started Partners for New Generations in the mid-’90s through Rotary. During her presidency, Marge Bruno started a tutoring program, and we decided we wanted to continue it to the high school level. It has grown to tutor 200-250 kids a year, and we mentor 80-100 kids a year. We have a little payroll now, and four employees. It’s been fun to watch it grow.
I’m going to have lunch with my mentee today – he’s finishing finals at De Anza. I’ve been seeing him for five years, which is pretty special. We’ve watched him grow up. The irony of life is, you’re working with your kids, and all of a sudden you go over the curve. You’re wrapping up in age, and your kids are coming to the top – you were taking care of them and then they’re taking care of you.
Q: You didn’t limit yourself to one program. I’ve seen your name associated with causes across the region.
Adams: At the turn of the century, I got involved with El Camino Hospital and walked the precinct when we were voting to build the new hospital. I served on the hospital foundation board, and I’m now an “ambassador” for the hospital. I just felt that El Camino Hospital has great merit in our community and is a great asset.
The YMCA is also very near and dear to my heart, especially the El Camino YMCA that I’ve belonged to for so many years. I’ve collected money for their after-school outreach program.
Q: You’ve now been (non)retired for as long as you ran your company – 18 years. And you’re still inspiring (or even badgering!) other local professionals to take a page from your book. What’s your angle?
Adams: Some people say “I’m too busy” when it comes to taking on new “jobs,” and I love to engage them and challenge them on that. I’ve been in sales all my life, starting with IBM, and I’ve always loved people. It can be self-serving as heck when you’re selling, but that’s part of the joy of doing it professionally. You’ve got to knock on a lot of doors – it humbles you.
Part of the salesmanship is constantly talking about what you believe in. I’m not talking about religion, but a kind of spiritual engagement – just a “give back” sort of an attitude. I love meeting new people, finding out their interests and trying to find a place where they might fit into society differently than they’re doing now.
Q: Do you have an exit plan? Do you ever want to try a “traditional” retirement?
Adams: Sometimes I feel like I’m running scared for fear of having nothing to do. Life is still fun – I think I just really enjoy doing things I feel are productive.
When you get older, you’re afraid that you won’t be of the value you once were. You try to be smart about this. Maybe you can’t be as much positive help as you once were – but that might be nonsense, too.
As an example, with Partners for New Generations, I really feel that I want to turn the leadership over to people, and I know that’s happening. I’m probably on six committees, and sometimes subconsciously I think I hear them saying, “Adams, why don’t you back off?”
We’ve been transitioning to sustainability. Financing is ever more important, and I think we’re going to grow into an executive directorship. We’re becoming more of a professional organization, bottom line. I try more and more to keep my mouth shut and listen to people and see where they’re going to take it. The way I did things in the past wasn’t necessarily right – it was just survival.
Q: Speaking of survival, you golf and bike to stay fit enough to keep working (at volunteering). Outside of golf, do you do any other “traditional” retirement activities?
Adams: Family is a big part of our life, and we love family vacations – we get the whole family together once a year. That connection is the common denominator that keeps this whole thing together.
Friends and family are really important. I love being in a men’s group that meets once a month, and I’ve got two poker groups that are delightful to be with. My wife understands this – she’s got her own bridge groups and social groups. It makes you both better mates to do your own thing. You learn more and you have more to talk about, which gives you more in common. We’re going on 59 years in August. There are so many ways you can screw up a marriage – find out ways that you don’t screw it up. One is the commonalities that you have, and the freedom that you have. Everybody who’s married has an individual life, too – even though you two are one.