Older and Wiser: It’s a Great Time to Switch Careers

Feb 27, 2020

By Marc Rayfield

Despite what the adage claims, mature dogs can learn new tricks (note I did not write ‘old.’)

According to the Committee on Economic Development, mature workers outscore younger workers in managerial, sales, educational, and legal professions.

Roughly 40% of those over 50 are employed, making up over 25% of the US labor force. Nearly twice as many people over 65 were working than teenagers. In other words, the business world needs and wants adult leadership.

Mature workers are likely more experienced, strategic, confident, appreciative, focused, collaborative and open-minded than their younger counterparts. We have better leadership skills and are better communicators, having grown up in an era when people had to communicate face to face. Our children are likely grown, and we know what we want.

Those of us who are over 50 are not over the hill by a long shot. We possess skills that have tremendous value in today’s job market. I’m living proof. Read on.

I spent twenty- six years in corporate America, much of it at CBS.

Climbing the ladder quickly, from the bottom rung at WIP Sportsradio in Philadelphia to Senior Vice President, Market Manager for CBS’ New York audio and digital properties, I developed a reputation for doing whatever was necessary to succeed. I loved teaching and learning and was fortunate to develop some of the company’s top managerial talent, many from the time they graduated college.

As a result, I was rewarded with the oversight of some of the company’s most iconic brands:

  • KYW Newsradio (Philadelphia)
  • 1010 WINS, the nation’s largest and most respected all-news radio station
  • WCBS, the flagship of the CBS news network, and America’s first and most successful all-sports station
  • WFAN, the home of Mike Francesa, Boomer Esiason, and the New York Yankees.

During that time, I was responsible for P&L oversight, business development, hiring and training, strategy, compliance and an annual budget of $200 million. We achieved enormous growth, in fact, during one stretch, nearly 60 quarters in a row.

Unfortunately, my ascension coincided with a slow and steady decline of traditional media, including radio, which was under attack. Consumers became attached to their computers, internet-enabled televisions, and tablets. Sadly, I became skilled at downsizing and restructuring, a necessary evil that was extremely difficult. Here’s the thing: when you are responsible for downsizing others, the truth is it’s only a matter of time before it’s your turn. And so, shortly after turning 50, the division was sold following a failed IPO and I was let go, as were colleagues in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.  Each of us over age 50.

It was  a scary proposition, given that I had spent half my life wearing the same “uniform.” In many ways, it was like going through a divorce. My very supportive wife and close friends had been pushing me to leave the business for many years. Objectively speaking, it turns out they knew more than I that with the passing of years (and birthdays) it would become increasingly more difficult to segue into something new.

That’s when it hit me.

As a graduate student at Penn, I took a handful of classes at the Wharton Entrepreneurial Center, taught by a brilliant professor named Ed Shils. Dr. Shils had been teaching at Penn for 50 years, and it was considered an honor to take one of his entrepreneurial management courses. He had wisdom and decades of hands-on knowledge that younger contemporaries lacked. Even more so, Dr. Shils practiced what he preached. At age sixty-eight, while still teaching, he decided to get his law degree and maintained a law practice well into his eighties. Dr. Shils never accepted excuses from anyone, including himself, and served as a role model for so many aspiring, young business titans. He often said, “You are never too old,” a lesson I never forgot.

And so, rather than stay in the same industry, I decided to bet on myself, desperately wanting to transition into something new. Unemployment was low, the economy was strong and “mature” adults were going back to work for a variety of reasons, from financial need to simply not being ready to retire.

I eventually accepted a position as the Executive Vice President of Sales at an entrepreneurial airport hospitality and digital media company in New York. I knew NOTHING about this industry but they liked my background, especially my “Rolodex.” The job paid less than what I was earning at CBS, but it was worth it. Immersing myself 70 hours a week paid off, and I now consider myself an expert at digital media, supply chain, distribution, payment gateways, data collection, and retail operations. By the way, our sales were up nearly 50% in 2020!

I learned many lessons during this transition and offer the following advice to anyone making a change later in their career. First and foremost, stay relevant. To do that:

  • Accentuate your strong professional networks.
  • Keep learning. If you don’t already have basic computer skills, take a class.
  • Be open to change. It’s happening with or without you and all industries are affected by the technological revolution.
  • Highlight examples of stability throughout your career.

Those of us over a certain age have been working our entire adult lives and are not searching for “greener pastures” like younger workers. Remind prospective employers that you are seeking a position because you want to work, not because you have to work. One last thing, address your age; It’s often the elephant in the room. Remember, age is just a number.

After more than 26 years in my first career, I feel like I’m just warming up!

Marc Rayfield is a member of the Eleven Canterbury network where he is a Revenue Expert. Most recently he was the Executive Vice President at OTG Management. Before that Marc was with the CBS Corporation for over 27 years where he served as a Senior Vice President/Market Manager.

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