To Consult, Retire to an Industry Porter Cluster

September 24, 2012

Many individuals retire from full-time employment and become consultants. To enhance your prospects of establishing a successful consultancy, consider relocating to an industry Porter cluster. A Porter cluster is a geographic concentration of related industries or functions. This includes the core companies that comprise the industry as well as the institutions, suppliers, vendors, government partners, and industry groups enabling industry to function at peak efficiency.

Examples of Porter clusters relevant to chemists, biologists, and engineers include the concentration of petrochemical companies on the U.S. Gulf Coast between Houston and New Orleans. These are the oil companies and oilfield service companies located in the Houston area.  There are also many biotechnology companies located in Boston, San Francisco and San Diego; and a large number of pharmaceutical companies in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston, and the so-called Research Triangle Park. Companies located in these “Porter Clusters” near other companies similar to their own because the synergies they can obtain increase innovation and reduce costs.

If you have developed expertise in a specific technology or commercial field relating to a particular type of business, retiring to one of the Porter clusters can provide you with a large number of potential clients within a relatively small geographic area. This facilitates frequent face-to-face meetings that foster good business relationships. Many people still prefer face-to-face discussions to electronic communication. Thus geographic proximity to clients and potential clients can promote the growth of your consultancy.

Sometimes research centers, technical centers, company headquarters and manufacturing facilities are tightly clustered in a section of a city rather than being spread out over a sprawling urban landscape. For example, a 10-mile stretch of I-10 in Houston, Texas is home to more than 300 large and small oil industry firms. These include ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, and CITGO. Firms providing services to the oil industry include GE Energy Services, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International. Equipment and chemical suppliers also have offices and technical centers along this strip of highway.

Collaborative Relationships

The key to obtaining synergies resulting in successful Porter clusters is developing collaborative relationships. Professional associations can help promote and facilitate these interactions. For example, the American Chemical Society and other groups have large and flourishing local organizations in Houston as well as many other Porter cluster hubs. Many or most of their members are employed in or serve the oil and gas and petrochemical industries. Their frequent local meetings benefit both individual chemists, engineers and their oil industry employers in both keeping their professional skills up to date and providing forums to meet colleagues from other firms and discuss non-proprietary technical matters. They also provide opportunities for consultants to met potential clients. Consultants can use the association’s  newsletters or list serves to advertise their services.

The many Porter clusters large oil and gas industry employment draws these and other organizations to frequently schedule regional, national, and international conferences in the cities. These provide additional opportunities for initiating and developing interconnections between organizations. For example, Houston’s Offshore Technology Conference provides an interaction point for engineers and others working for oil and gas companies and their suppliers around the world. More than 30,000 professionals, including consultants, attend this annual conference and tradeshow.  These conferences provide opportunities for consultants to meet with long-distance clients and potential clients without incurring major travel expenses.

The bottom line is if you have a desire to do something different, retire to a new line of work or want to start out on your own, you can do so as a Consultant.  Keep in mind of the Porter clusters near your current residence or take a chance at an opportunity to move to a new location and expand your personal and professional horizons.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.


Delaying Your Retirement

April 4, 2011

Do you want or need to delay your retirement? You are not alone. Many baby boomers are delaying their retirement. One-third plan to retire after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey. In another recent survey of more than 2,200 U.S. workers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 44% of respondents age 50 or older said they plan to postpone retirement; half of those say they plan to work at least three years longer than they previously expected.

However, at the same time companies continue to have layoffs. How can you remain employed even past the conventional retirement age of sixty-five years even if your company reduces staff?

The key to continue working past typical retirement age is to capitalize on skills you’ve developed over the course of your career and not compete directly with younger (and lower-paid) coworkers. Capitalize on these skills by sharing them. Become a resource for younger coworkers.

You can improve your odds of delaying your retirement by becoming involved in several of the programs described below.

Mentoring programs

Become a mentor. Many companies have instituted mentoring programs and are now taking advantage of information technology to make them more effective. For example, in December 2009 IBM created an online tool to support its mentoring program. Older employees list their skills in a database. Younger coworkers seeking to develop particular competencies can search the database to identify coworkers having these competencies. More than 3,500 IBM employees have registered to be mentors and more than 2,600 coworkers, mostly younger employees, have consulted with them. See if your organization has a program like this.

Continuing education

Talk to your manager about instituting a continuing education program. Offer to serve as an instructor sharing your skills and experiences accumulated over the course of a long, productive career. Having senior employees serve as instructors can have advantages over sending younger employees to external training programs or bringing in consultants to teach these courses. Senior employees can present information and advice in the context of the company’s culture and provide examples from their own experience. This gives information an immediacy and relevance that instructors from outside the company often can’t provide.
Workshops often offer an attractive alternative to internal short courses that require a longer time commitment.

Consultants to project teams

Offer to serve as a consultant to project teams using your experience to help team members save time and not waste their efforts. For example, a senior chemist may know of a reactor built years ago and placed in storage when an R&D program was finished. Refurbishing and using this reactor in a current project can save both time and money.

Older chemists’ experience may enable them to use a team’s discovery in the context of the firm’s earlier R&D. They can provide useful advice on such issues as the relevance of earlier projects to the current work and whether the current work should be the subject of a patent application.

“Reverse” mentoring

Don’t be reluctant to consult younger coworkers to learn new skills you need to remain employed. These include things such as online social networking, and wikis.

Publicity

Make your own manager and other managers in the company aware of your involvement in these programs and the value you provide to the organization – value that cannot be provided by younger coworkers.  Make sure you get appropriate recognition for your efforts. It was comedian George Carlin who said, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets the all publicity.” Make sure you’re not the caterpillar.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.


Delaying Your Retirement

December 20, 2010

Do you want or need to delay your retirement? You are not alone. Many baby boomers are delaying their retirement. One-third plan to retire after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey. In another recent survey of more than 2,200 U.S. workers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 44% of respondents age 50 or older said they plan to postpone retirement; half of those say they plan to work at least three years longer than they previously expected.

However, at the same time companies continue to have layoffs. How can you remain employed even past the conventional retirement age of sixty-five years even if your company reduces staff?

The key to continue working past typical retirement age is to capitalize on skills you’ve developed over the course of your career and not compete directly with younger (and lower-paid) coworkers. Capitalize on these skills by sharing them. Become a resource for younger coworkers.

You can improve your odds of delaying your retirement by becoming involved in several of the programs described below.

Mentoring programs

Become a mentor. Many companies have instituted mentoring programs and are now taking advantage of information technology to make them more effective. For example, in December 2009 IBM created an online tool to support its mentoring program. Older employees list their skills in a database. Younger coworkers seeking to develop particular competencies can search the database to identify coworkers having these competencies. More than 3,500 IBM employees have registered to be mentors and more than 2,600 coworkers, mostly younger employees, have consulted with them. See if your organization has a program like this.

Continuing education

Talk to your manager about instituting a continuing education program. Offer to serve as an instructor sharing your skills and experiences accumulated over the course of a long, productive career. Having senior employees serve as instructors can have advantages over sending younger employees to external training programs or bringing in consultants to teach these courses. Senior employees can present information and advice in the context of the company’s culture and provide examples from their own experience. This gives information an immediacy and relevance that instructors from outside the company often can’t provide.
Workshops often offer an attractive alternative to internal short courses that require a longer time commitment.

Consultants to project teams

Offer to serve as a consultant to project teams using your experience to help team members save time and not waste their efforts. For example, a senior chemist may know of a reactor built years ago and placed in storage when an R&D program was finished. Refurbishing and using this reactor in a current project can save both time and money.
Older chemists’ experience may enable them to use a team’s discovery in the context of the firm’s earlier R&D. They can provide useful advice on such issues as the relevance of earlier projects to the current work and whether the current work should be the subject of a patent application.

Reverse” mentoring

Don’t be reluctant to consult younger coworkers to learn new skills you need to remain employed. These include things such as online social networking, and wikis.

Publicity

Make your own manager and other managers in the company aware of your involvement in these programs and the value you provide to the organization – value that cannot be provided by younger coworkers. Make sure you get appropriate recognition for your efforts. It was comedian George Carlin who said, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets the all publicity.” Make sure you’re not the caterpillar.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.