Book Review: Executricks

My thinking about retirement leads me to explore alternative visions to my preconceived notion. Maybe it’s possible to retire without quitting work. I have not read Timothy Ferris’ The 4 Hour Work Week, and I won’t, because the author strikes me as someone who takes himself too seriously. So I picked up Stanley Bing’s Executricks. I am told he has a similar message to Tim Ferris, but he is prepared to laugh at himself. I started skimming through it with every intention of immediately returning it to the library. By the time I realized it, I was on chapter 3.

The subtitle of the book is: How to Retire While You’re Still Working. With a tongue-in-cheek manner, Stanley Bing proceeds to illustrate spending company time and money on the good things in life. The reason, he suggests, is that retirement isn’t a dream come true. He presents two alternatives: either the poor schmuck works all his life and drops dead within six months of retirement, or who putters lonely through the last 30 years of life without the resources or network to really enjoy it. In this way, there is no longer a choice between being rich with time or being rich with money; the cunning executive can have it all.

“Retiring” while working requires control. You must use people to do your work for you, as much as possible. You can then use email and cell phones to delegate and communicate while living life outside the office. The author encourages the reader to legitimately expand unproductive time such as breakfast meetings and business lunches to replace tedious working hours. Then, using the expense account and sound business reasoning, travel for business with the goal of personal enjoyment. The irony is that you must work hard to develop the environment in which to hardly work.

The humour is obvious, but this fits into the category of “It’s funny because it’s true.” And it’s not possible to tell if he isn’t being honestly sociopathic at some level. At one point, he cites Machiavelli, with the suggestion that he was a fun-loving and pragmatic thinker. As an investor, I don’t want to ever think that people are abusing company resources in this way in companies that I own. Realistically, it’s accepted practice, and explains why I prefer to own small companies or family businesses.

The book ends on a serious note. Perhaps the inspiration for the entire book was a piece of advice the author received from his father-in-law, who made just enough by age 50 to be able to retire to a golf community in Florida. After 20 years, at age 70, he said to Stanley, “Never retire. Never.” The alternative to retiring while you work, that the author suggests, is philanthropy. In reality, tutoring, mentoring, volunteering, organizing and other forms of philanthropy are ways of working in retirement.

I am reminded of the admonition: “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.” By age 45, will I really know what I want to do with the next 45 years of my life? Do I really want to limit my options? My answer is “No.” I want to continue working, so that I can maintain my social network and continue to benefit from more-than-adequate financial resources. I only want to have no debt and enough assets in the bank to be beholden to no one. Then I can be retired while working and truly enjoy the good things in life.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Executricks”

  1. I actually have an opinion on this one. The last couple of years at my job I was really ready to be retired. But I wasn’t financially ready (or at least I didn’t think I was), so I hung around and and did what the author of that book suggested. I called it “stealing time.”

    There’s a huge problem with this approach. You feel badly about yourself all the time. You are not as productive as you should be and you don’t really want to be there anyway, it’s really the worst of both worlds.

    If you want to work because you love it, by all means, don’t quit to retire, but if you really are ready to move on with your life, I wouldn’t recommend that approach.

    And to the authors point about his father-in-law. If he hated the retirement he designed for himself, he should have changed it (i.e. volunteering, taking classes, finding a few more hobbies besides golf, working part-time or even starting a business.) You don’t have to play golf, I’ve never picked up a club in my whole life. Retirement does not equal living at a golf resort in Florida. Only if you want it to.

  2. I always have a problem with these approaches to essentially “retire” early with a paycheque by doing personal things on company time. There is nothing worse at a job than someone who doesn’t work hard and slacks all day, and I would never want to be that person. Take some pride in your work, be productive, and (as Retired Syd mentioned) you should feel a lot better about yourself

  3. Syd and Alex, you have made an important point. I don’t agree with “stealing time” and I like to think that people can choose to be productive, whether working or retired, no matter their resources. I recently read an article that said people are happy when they are doing something; it didn’t really matter if it was meaningful or productive, most people are happier when they are busy.

    While I’m not defending the book, I enjoy seeing other ways of thinking about work and retirement. Syd, what makes you feel good about your retirement?

  4. Robert: I enjoy seeing other ways of thinking also, thus my addiction to blogs. You’ve asked a great question–I’ve had to think about it a bit. The truth is, there’s not really anything I have to “do” to feel good in retirement. Having such control over my time is such a freeing feeling that I almost always feel great no matter what I’ve chosen to do (or not do) at any particular moment.

    Today I had a 3 hour lunch with my best friend (also retired) and we discussed this (among other thought-provoking topics). We meet for these lunches every Monday. When I was working, it was an hour and not always every week. I get huge pleasure from being able to spend such quality time with friends and family now. Also from seeing my garden after I’ve spent hours working in it. Also from reading books about topics I’m interested in, whenever the mood strikes. And especially from hours spent writing.

    Even though much of what I do is just more of what I did before I retired, I take much more pleasure in them now. Maybe because I’m un-rushed, maybe because it’s easier to appreciate the little things when you’re not squeezing them in between bigger things that aren’t as important to you. I don’t know, but you’ve got me thinking, and that’s fun too!

  5. I have a friend who doesn’t need to work, but does because his wife told him he can’t retire until she does (she gets healthcare for life as a benefit when she reaches the correct age, which I think is around age 50, so she has motivation for working a couple more years).

    He’s not one to shirk responsiblity. However knowing that he doesn’t need to put up with workplace BS for his income allows him a great deal of freedom in his workplace interactions.

  6. Damn you! I read that in the study room of the library and laughed out loud. Yes, that’s exactly why I liked the book. It’s more about “lifestyle design” than it is about retirement. One of my (vague) concerns is that people live and plan for the future, but may not survive to enjoy it. I want to enjoy every day! Thank you for your wit, Stanley Bing.

  7. @Retired Syd,

    Well that’s for the link. My wife and I laughed so hard we had to pause to finish reading it.

    @Robert,

    I’ve already put a hold in at the library to read this book. Thanks!

    Tim

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