Planning for the Future

When my wife and I met with our financial adviser a couple of weeks ago, we learned a new term of art, or rather a new euphemism: “end of retirement.” Normally, I don’t think too much about such things because we’ve been quite conservative over the years and we feel quite confident that our retirement will be comfortable and secure. But this term, “end of retirement,” took me aback.

Asked to define it, our adviser replied with her own question: What do you think it means? I thought for a moment before saying it must be one of two things, the first being that we’d run out of money about the time we turned 80 and I’d have to go back to work (yikes). Wrong, she said.

So I turned to the second option, that the “end of retirement” was simply The End (YIKES!). This, of course, was the correct answer.

We’re all familiar with the adage saying the only sure things are death and taxes, but we typically only think (and complain) about the taxes. The death part is too difficult and unsettling to think about, so we avoid thinking about it.

I’ve always thought of myself as optimistic, a glass-half-full type (maybe 75 percent full). But coming face-to-face with the reality of the “end of retirement” was a kind of “RIGHT! moment — the kind Bill Cosby had as Noah: “Noah, this is the Lord.” Noah: “RIGHT!”

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’ve been a full-fledged senior citizen since April. I registered for Medicare and now know what all those AARP folks mean when they insist that no one should touch their Medicare. I feel grateful it’s there and hope it will be there for all you as well, in the near and long term.

So that’s the thing: It’s not about the “end of retirement,” or my senior citizenship, or my Medicare; no, it's about the future.

How does all this relate to shipping? Well, I don’t think our industry has done a very good job of preparing for the future. Have we structured our companies and organized new programs to recruit and train a new generation of leaders for the next 40 years? Has it been done in, say, 10-year tranches, in order to keep some generational balance?

Has planning for future supply-demand balance — that is, vessel capacity compared with actual cargo volume — improved in any serious way over the past few decades? What about that pesky question of shipper-carrier relations? Has any real progress been made to improve this or to create mechanisms that resolve the fundamental reality of each side having different needs, which results in a kind of dynamic adversarial continuum?

It’s kind of funny, or maybe just interesting, how reaching a certain age begins to change one’s point of view. For example, I remain very interested and curious about how the new Panama Canal will impact our business. Assuming it’s completed and fully open for business around my birthday in 2015, I’ll be turning 68. I’m sure I’ll still be interested, but will it be interest focused on the canal’s impact on trade or my work, or only that trans-Panama cruise we’ve been talking about for years. They might actually be the same thing, but maybe not.

Our industry has passed through some difficult years and paid a big price. We’re clearly nowhere near being out of the deep, dark woods. Like Chicago Cubs fans, we hope things will be better next year or maybe the year after that. Like many of you, I dread hearing from friends and colleagues in need of new employment, who are more concerned about paying their bills than the new Panama Canal.

But I’m an optimist and I believe things are slowly — perhaps too slowly — improving. I hope to stick around at least long enough for us to come out the other side of the down times. 

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at barryh@cms-cs.com.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe