Albert Zakes, 63, is the proud beneficiary of reverse nepotism.
He owes his job as general counsel at Terracycle, an international upcycling and recycling company based in Trenton, to his 30-year-old son, Albe Zakes, the company’s global vice president of communications.
After a successful legal career and an 18-year stint as a general counsel at Natixis Bank, the elder Zakes retired in 2008.
While Zakes enjoyed his role as general counsel and said the experience broadened his practice as a lawyer, working for years in capital markets left him with very little personal satisfaction. His daily commute from Bucks County to Manhattan took its toll, and after years of navigating mergers, Zakes was zapped.
But retirement was not in the cards just yet. Instead, Zakes was drawn back into the work force by an opportunity from an unlikely source — his son’s boss and good friend, Tom Szaky, the now 33-year-old CEO and founder of Terracycle. Szaky was a frequent dinner guest at the Zakes home.
“When Tom first asked me if I would be interested in the general counsel job, I said no because I was looking forward to not doing much of anything,” Zakes said. “But I really liked Terracycle and what Tom and Albe were doing. It was a good way for me to continue my career without commuting to the city every day.”
Even though Zakes may not share the same penchant for hoodies as the other executives, he shares something very important with his colleagues — a passion for sustainability and conservation. Working toward a corporate mission he truly believes in gives Zakes the personal satisfaction he missed while working in the banking industry.
“I’ve always been a very earth-conscious kind of guy and I’ve always been interested in living as green as possible,” Zakes said. “So working for a company like Terracycle is extremely personally rewarding.”
In addition to what he gets out of the gig, Zakes enjoys what he is able to bring to the business.
“As someone over a certain age, you bring a different perspective to the team,” he said. “I help keep the ship balanced and moving in the right direction. You just can’t get the same kind of service from someone who has been a lawyer for five years that you can from someone who has been around for 25 years.”
Zakes’ story of retiring from one career only to start another after age 50 is not so unusual.
“This is not a generation that wants to sit in a rocking chair on the front porch,” said Michael Timmes, senior human resource specialist in the Florham Park office of Insperity, a national human resources and business performance solutions provider.
“It comes down to the mindset,” he said. “With many boomers, after years in a career, they realize they are not fulfilled and make the decision to step away or that change is thrust upon them. Either way, many people over 50 are stepping back and seeing a job change as an opportunity as opposed to a problem.”
“Many people over 50 are stepping back and seeing
a job change as an opportunity as opposed to a problem.”
Michael Timmes, senior human resource specialist, Insperity
According to Timmes, many employers make incorrect assumptions when they see a resume that starts before the Ronald Reagan administration.
Timmes believes employers need to debunk some of the myths they have about older workers. Misconceptions include a widely held belief that older workers are resistant to change or they are less creative than younger counterparts. Or, their performance is declining, as if they are aging athletes, and poor health will end up costing the company too much.
“People make these assumptions, but that’s not reality,” Timmes said. “In reality, these folks have a tendency to be very flexible. They are loyal and engaged.”
Sharon L. Olzerowicz, president and CEO of Glen Rock-based Hired by Matrix, a professional staffing firm, agrees.
Over the course of 2015, Olzerowicz filled six positions in her own business. She hired two millennials, two Generation Xers and two baby boomers. Olzerowicz said she believes diverse employee teams outperform homogenous groups of workers.
“I want to make sure we are getting young people who were raised on computers and the latest technology, as well as people in their 40s who have a lot of work experience and can adapt to the new technology easier than people in their 50s and 60s,” Olzerowicz said. “And the wisdom and experience of people over 50 can be invaluable to an organization. Companies want people who are young at heart, vibrant, enthusiastic and passionate about the business’ vision.”
According to Olzerowicz, beyond having the skills and education to do a particular job, good candidates are secure enough in what they know to love having the opportunity to learn something new.
“People who are set in their ways are not necessarily members of a particular generation,” Olzerowicz said. “There are people who lack wanderlust, who are insecure or are completely boring, but I don’t think the common thread in these types of people is that they are old.”
Colleen Duncan, a 22-year-old publicist at Terracycle, said her experience working with colleagues of all ages led to a realization that individual personalities, not age, is what matters when building a good work environment.
“There are definitely misconceptions surrounding different generations in the workplace,” she said. “I think that mutual respect and a collaborative environment is important no matter where you are. Older generations don’t necessarily prefer a stuffy, traditional, corporate office culture.”
Zakes said he feels fortunate to be able to share what he has learned and help the younger staff members understand the legalities of the business they are in.
“Working with younger people keeps me young,” Zakes said. “The energy and enthusiasm for what they do has helped me to regain the enthusiasm I lost after 18 years of commuting to the city and working in a Wall Street-type job.”
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