Successful Businesswoman Says Older Workers One Key to Success
November 17, 2015 – Claudia Timbo has no intention of retiring. At 64, she’s just founded her third start-up company and wants to work at least another decade to make it grow.
A bonus of starting this venture? She likes hiring retirees – even preferring retired or “mature” workers to Millennials. That’s unusual for start-ups, and doubly unusual in a labor market with a low participation rate by older workers.
“I’ve probably created over 1,200 jobs through my companies, and I like hiring mature workers because, well, I wouldn’t want to stop working, either!”
“Change makes the phone ring,” Timbo says, whether it’s new Medicare benefits, the Affordable Care Act, Sarbanes-Oxley investor-protection reforms or new campaigns for TV-sold products. And that means new clients for her Blue Bell-based call center, CompanyVoice, which serves a diverse clientele including healthcare, insurance and security firms.
Timbo is living what many dream about: starting a business in retirement. Here’s how the serial entrepreneur does it. Soft-spoken but in constant motion, Timbo got her first taste of entrepreneurship as a telemarketer while working with her husband decades ago. He was expanding business for a company in the Midwest. “I started scheduling appointments for him when he was traveling, and, ultimately, we got hired by one of their competitors as a team.” Progress Bank hired the husband-wife duo to build a sales team of loan officers and train them on the phone. By 1997, the Timbos had built their start-up to $16 million in revenues. They sold it to the bank in 2000.
She founded and sold a second start-up in 2008 to a private-equity firm, Guardian Capital, for $10 million. She expects CompanyVoice to be her largest start-up yet. “You need to offer services or a product you know people want. People need to make appointments and need help with their insurance or other benefit plans by phone, and that’s a service clients will pay for,” she says.
First, Timbo says, she enlists employees and her advisory board as investors. Many are eager to invest with just 1 percent of the company. For example, CompanyVoice comptroller, Genevieve Bongart, worked for Timbo at a previous start-up, and she’s now an investor. Timbo’s track record helps: She has made some serious money for her prior investors, whom she credits for getting her start-up CompanyVoice off the ground. “We have 20 investors, and 15 of them are women with 1 to 3 percent investments,” she explains. Timbo wants to distribute dividends to her investors as the company hits profitability. One who invested in her last company put in an initial $60,000. Ultimately, that returned $2 million when the company was sold. “You can see why investors follow me,” Timbo says.
Second, the advisory board she names includes, in addition to friends, experts in their field who can help the business: real estate brokers, attorneys and human-resources executives. Timbo’s head of HR, Nanette Carney, helped in the last start-up with recruitment, and is also an investor in CompanyVoice.
Third, many of Timbo’s workers are older or already retired from their first careers. She pays for them to obtain any licenses needed to handle insurance clients, for instance. She matches former engineers with engineering clients, teachers to academic clients and former claims adjusters with insurance clients. “Ours is a soft-sell service. They’re working with their peers, not with kids bringing in balloons saying, ‘I just turned 18!’ And that’s why I prefer to hire mature workers.” Why don’t more employers share her view on this? “I don’t know,” she says, shaking her head. “I get tremendous value from them and less turnover since they stay longer.” CompanyVoice offers a flexible work schedule, as well, she says.
Fourth, Timbo networks relentlessly. She’s a member of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs and the National Women Business Owners Corp., and has won the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame award as a champion of older workers.
Finally, her start-ups have mainly been self-financed or financed with the assistance of her private investors. “Banks only want to lend out secured loans,” she says with a chuckle. A half-dozen of her advisory-board members personally secured the first loan, and that helped fund expansion in the early days. Timbo, the mother of three grown children, says they have watched and learned from her about building start-ups. Now 42, 33 and 30 years old, her kids are involved in different industries – fitness, biopharma and advertising – but they all carry the entrepreneurial DNA.
When will she sell CompanyVoice? Not for a long time, she says.”At least not until the company hits $25 million in sales annually.” CompanyVoice is expanding to a third location and is looking for space in Lansdale. Currently, its sales for 2016 are projected to total $10 million. “That should keep me busy until I’m at least 75,” she says.
Published: November 15, 2015 — The Philadelphia Inquirer