December 15, 2005

Bill Morton


Firm: Second Half Strategies

Position: Founder and president

Bill Morton is founder and president of Second Half Strategies. His company unearths the exploding opportunities made possible by this decade's dramatic demographic shift — baby boomers hitting the second half of life. Bill leads workshops on "the art of successful aging" and consults on demographics, marketing and envisioning original products and services for second-half consumers.

Described as "a futurist with a special focus on the aging demographic," Morton has just returned from participating in the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging. Bill was born in 1945 at the leading edge of the baby boom "power vector" and believes that the second half of life is more about "refirement" than retirement.

What brought you to study gerontology?

After 25-plus years working with various corporations — Xerox, Honeywell and Digital Systems — I was ready for a change. At around age 53, I pondered, "What's next?" I have a master's degree in psychology from the University of Washington and I found myself wanting to revisit the "human potential" area.


My sister-in-law has her master's degree in social work and commented to me once on the subject of aging boomers and the ensuing issues and concerns. She said, "It's only going to get worse as we get older." So, in the spirit of lifelong learning and endeavor, I went through the UW's Institute of Aging certificate program in gerontology. Now I assist businesses and nonprofits in addressing the coming "age avalanche."

How are we aging differently and what are the concerns?

Well, the good news is that longevity is on our side. We're physically healthier and envision ourselves 10 to 15 years younger than our parents at our age. We recognize that we're going to live longer and there's a long runway ahead.

Boomers are not ready to move to the sidelines. That said, the concern is how to impress upon businesses and society the fact that by the year 2010, North America will have more people over the age of 65 and fewer workers. We'll have an 8 million to 10 million worker shortfall. Part of my work is to develop incentives to advocate workers remain working longer, in one fashion or another. The whole concept of retirement is quickly eroding away. It was invented in the industrial age, and in today's information age, retirement is becoming less of a goal.

What will it take for the business world to wake up to this "longevity revolution?"

Thankfully, and just recently, the mass media has woken up. The press is saying, "There's a story here — this isn't making sense." We're being made aware of the problem. And there's a growing understanding among human resource leaders and some CEOs that this worker shortage is coming.

The health care field is very affected by this swing. With this deluge of boomers retiring, we'll need a huge amount of health care.

Companies are starting to get the picture and shift their mindsets that it just makes good sense to invest in experienced, existing workers. Why send business overseas or hire unskilled workers when we have a solid, talented workforce in place?

What industries get it?

Several. The travel industry. Look at the cruise market. The auto industry gets it. Over the past five years, they've make cars safer and more convenient for older people. SUVs were originally intended for young families yet people in their 50s and 60s were buying them. Why? They're easy to get in and out of, simple as that.

Financial and insurance companies are getting it and making their products affordable. Home builders are building single-level homes — easier to get around in. Food manufacturers are packaging things differently for the "second half" consumer. The average age of the Costco member is now above America's median-age. There's something to think about.

What industries don't get it?

Advertising is one of the last fields to recognize that this generation of retirees is the largest generation ever created in America before or since the 20th century. The entertainment business, media and high-tech are not paying enough attention either.

What's different about this generation?

People in the second half of life now are more apt to indulge themselves. Our depression-impacted parents were more cautious. We have more time, money and good health. We're still learning — continuing education is thriving. And boomers are idealists. They wanted to make the world a better place when they were younger. Then they went on to work, mortgages, kids. Now we're seeing a return to idealism. More volunteerism and philanthropy. There's this mentality of "I've had it pretty good, now it's time to give back."

Also, I believe this is the first time in history that we'll see people become more liberal as they get older. That remains to be seen, but we're seeing the tip of that.

Any advice for those crossing into the second half?

More doors will open in the second half. It's like at halftime, it doesn't matter what the score is, there's still another half, you can still win the game. Have the openness, the willingness to aspire. Get rid of the notion that "work is bad." If your work isn't satisfying and meaningful in the second half of life, reinvent yourself. And exercise.

What contributes to your personal longevity?

A happy marriage and new and meaningful relationships. Staying healthy. Contributing to society. I see myself doing this for another 20-30 years. Exploring aging well is my passion. You could call it my raison d'être.

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