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Cover Story
Bookish pursuits
For some at retirement age, it’s time for a new enterprise
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Cover Story: Randy Kuckuck, left, stands by a display of book covers at Publish Next in Poulsbo with marketing director Trudy Catterfeld and editor Trey Schorr.For some people retirement means they’ve left a career, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they no longer need or want to be employed, even at an age when many peers have left the world of work behind.

Labor Department statistics from 2012 show that nearly 3 in 10 civilian workers in the U.S. were age 60 or older, and according to U.S. News & World Report, nearly a third of men and women age 65 to 69 are still in the workforce. In a recent national survey of Americans between the ages of 45 and 60, almost two-thirds of respondents said they planned to delay retirement.

One possibility in such circumstances is becoming an entrepreneur.

Randy Kuckuck, for example, was a corporate executive who found himself out of a job a few years ago after he oversaw a merger of two companies that operated online sources for media and entertainment information.

Recognizing the challenges that someone nearing 60 (with white hair) faced in the job market, he drew on his previous experience and started a small book-publishing business for independent authors.

Joe Ladley is essentially in the third act of his working life, neither slowing down nor looking back. After operating a thriving veterinary clinic in Burbank, Calif., for almost 25 years, he returned to Washington and spent nearly as long — and $5 million — developing a 20-acre South Kitsap property that at various times was a bed-and-breakfast inn, a rented site for weddings, and a home for foster children. The property, which includes a private nine-hole golf course that Ladley sculpted into the Southworth waterfront setting, was sold at a foreclosure auction a year ago, and he runs a landscaping business.

The former owner of a construction-related business his father-in-law started, Hank Helm’s unanticipated post-retirement role is historian. Though in his 70s, he was willing to work and still needing a paycheck; he just had no desire to commute from Bainbridge Island to Seattle as he did when running his business.

A job search yielded an offer to work part-time in the office at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where in a few short months a path opened up to an unexpected promotion and Helm became the museum’s executive director. He may not be an entrepreneur per se, but he did take over a nonprofit enterprise that has attracted more visitors and grant funding on his watch.

Better than self-publishing

The outside stairs behind a chocolate shop on Poulsbo’s Front Street lead to the modest offices of Publish Next. Founder Randy Kuckuck and his small staff provide professional services — editing, design, marketing — for authors seeking an alternative to self-publishing their books.

He wasn’t on a career path to be a publisher when he worked 15 years in the book printing industry in his native Michigan. But when the company for which Kuckuck was chief financial officer acquired a publishing company, they tabbed him to run it.

“Most book printers don’t know the publishing business very well,” he said, recalling how he had to learn on the fly. But it gave him an opportunity to gain expertise in all aspects of the book business, which would eventually serve him well as an entrepreneur.

Around 2000, Kuckuck joined the online migration, working for an Ann Arbor-based company called All Media Guide that operates the allmusic.com website. He left All Media Guide to join a similar company called Muze, which brought him to Seattle in 2006, and he was chief operating officer when Muze and his former company were combined in 2009 under the ownership of parent company Rovi Corp.

Although he had known the merger was coming, it left him unemployed at one of the worst times. He found that a resumé with his many years in the corporate world wasn’t necessarily an asset when looking for another job during an economic downturn.

“I definitely saw that jobs I was up for were going to someone younger … and cheaper,” he said.

“So since I wasn’t quite ready to retire and I had all this experience and expertise, I thought ‘What could I do?’”

That prompted him to take a fresh look at the book business.

“The thing that’s really booming right now is self-publishing,” he said. “But I really see an opportunity to do self-publishing better.”

After doing some research, he launched Publish Next at the beginning of 2012. The business is finding its niche in “author-subsidized independent publishing.”

Where a major publishing house buys a manuscript and handles all the production and marketing, then makes its money from sales of the book, Publish Next inverts that model. The company’s clients are aspiring writers who haven’t landed a book deal but want a more professional public presentation of their books than the DIY method provides. These authors pay up front for editing, design, printing and marketing services, and Kuckuck said the company charges reasonable fees.

“We work with authors who really want to make their book a commercial success,” he said.

“We put books in the market, not in your basement” is the slogan on the Publish Next website, and the company has distribution tie-ins with Seattle Book Co., Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Although most clients are not local authors, one of Publish Next’s first books and one of its top sellers to date was the posthumously published “At the Foot of the Snows” by Port Angeles author David E. Watters. His son Daniel, who lives in Poulsbo, arranged for publication of his father’s story about the first Bible translator in Nepal, and Kuckuck said the book has sold about 3,000 copies.

The fledgling business published 30 titles last year and projects up to 100 this year, some of those coming out under the company’s own publishing imprints — Engage Faith, Excite Kids and Cedar Forge Press.

Kuckuck said it’s been challenging but rewarding to get his start-up business established, and he hopes to guide the company to more growth in the years ahead.

“And if the staff decides to buy me out in five or 10 years,” he said, “that will be OK, too.”

No average Joe

Maybe one of those circle-of-life hypotheses accounts for Joe Ladley — who says wryly that he’s “lived many lives” — getting back into landscaping work, which is how he put himself through school at the UW circa 1960.

Actually, landscaping became his livelihood again a few years ago, but working on landscapes took up a lot of his time during the retirement years he spent developing his 20-acre estate on View Park Road east of Port Orchard.

Joe Ladley, who moved to South Kitsap after retiring from his career as a veterinarian in California, started his View Park Landscaping business a few years ago“When you retire, you better damn well have a good game plan,” Ladley said.

Seemed like he did upon his return to Washington back in 1988, when he turned 50 and retired from his veterinary practice, the Burbank Animal Hospital. (Which is where, he’ll tell you, his four-legged patients included showbiz dogs such as Lassie and Benji.)

He moved to the View Park property with his second wife, an attorney who remained involved in the property’s tangled history even after they divorced. That history includes a sale in the late 1990s to the infamous scammer Nolon Bush, who made payments on the property for a couple years before his Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $35 million collapsed and he fled overseas. The Ladleys, who were not among those fleeced by Bush, got the property back, and Bush was eventually returned to the U.S. and sentenced in 2009 to 30 years in prison.

The property, which Joe Ladley and his third wife began running as a bed & breakfast in 2005, was on the market listed through a succession of real estate agencies for several years before it was sold last year in a foreclosure auction for about half of its $1.56 million assessed value.

“We tried to sell the property for 10 years, and never could sell it,” Ladley said. “It was such a high-end property, and nobody wanted to take that on.”

He expanded the original 4,000-square-foot house to 5,700 square feet. Construction is another job skill tracing to his college years, when as a veterinary student he spent summers in Pullman building spec houses with a developer.

“I was so consumed with the property for years,” he said. “That’s what I did when I retired; View Park was full-time.”

He built three other houses there, on the original 20-acre site and on 10 more acres at two adjacent addresses, he said. Besides the golf course he created, he put in a lighted tennis court and trout ponds, and tended the lush grounds adorned with an abundance of hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas, dahlias and gladiolas.

During those years he also owned vacation rentals on the Olympic Peninsula and other real estate, all of which he eventually sold.

Realizing his “retirement” days at View Park were numbered, he kept the name when he embraced his next phase and started View Park Landscaping Management about four years ago.

“It was probably way past time for me to move on from View Park,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

His ex-wife who ran the B&B with him now works for his current business, which has numerous commercial landscape maintenance contracts in Kitsap County.

“I thoroughly enjoy doing landscaping,” Ladley said.

The income from his business isn’t essential, he said, but it does allow him a more comfortable lifestyle.

“I tell people I still want to be waterskiing when I’m 96,” said Ladley, who turns 75 in April. Although he sold his 19-foot Bayliner a couple years ago, he still goes skiing at his cousin’s place on Lost Lake in Mason County, and he still uses his favorite ski that he bought from Frederick & Nelson in Seattle in 1952.

“So it’s partly for financial reasons,” he says of running his business, “and partly for the enjoyment of it and to keep busy.”

Immersed in history

Hank Helm assesses his situation much the same.

“I’m well past what many consider retirement age, but I don’t consider that a detriment,” he said during an interview at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. “I plan to work as long as I can perform the job.”

Although he’s lived a long time on the island, it’s only been the last few years that he immersed himself in local history.

Hank Helm is executive director at Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where one of the most popular exhibits is "Ansel Adams — A Portrait of Manzanar," which features photos Adams took in 1943 at an internment camp for Japanese-AmericansHe did a lot of commuting to the Seattle area during the years he was running Industrial Pump Sales, the family business he took over from his father-in-law.

Helm stepped aside into a consultant role a decade ago and his son became president of the company, which subsequently moved into the Twelve Trees Business Park in Poulsbo. A few years after that, Helm said the decision was made to liquidate the company because of changing conditions in the industry.

When he started looking for another job, he said he faced age discrimination, though it wasn’t overt. He said he realizes employers may have concerns about older people in the workplace, even if those concerns are sometimes unfounded.

When he was hired as a part-time administrative assistant and bookkeeper at the museum, the management skills he had from running his own business didn’t go unnoticed. After three months he became office manager, and he was appointed acting executive director of the museum in the summer of 2008.

“I have learned an awful lot about history,” said Helm, who now oversees a staff of four full-time employees and an annual budget for the nonprofit that’s grown in recent years from $150,000 to about $229,000. That reflects more successful grant applications for the museum, which maintains a 1908 one-room schoolhouse for its main display area.

The museum moved from its location in a park to its more accessible downtown site in 2004. It was drawing a little over 4,000 visitors a year when Helm started there, but had 10,522 visitors last year.

He credits the work of his staff for the growth.

“We’ve developed some great exhibits that have drawn lots of people,” he said.

The most popular is “Ansel Adams — A Portrait of Manzanar,” which includes the famed nature photographer’s images of Japanese Americans in 1943 at an internment camp in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The presentation, which also includes artifacts and a video featuring historical newsreel footage and interviews with camp residents, won the Western Museums Association 2011 Award for Exhibit Excellence and got a lot of media coverage, including an article in The New York Times.

Helm said the museum also has gotten good response to outreach efforts to schools and community groups.

“Our fundraising activities have given us great exposure,” he said. “It’s a whole combination of things that have made us more viable in the community.”

He and his wife, Jacquelyn, have lived on the island since 1969 and been actively involved in the community. He’s served on the school board and the parks board in the past, and she was the first volunteer coordinator at Helpline.

Though Helm still works full time, over the years the onetime forestry major at the University of Washington has been able to pursue his hobby — rhododendrons. He’s a board member of the Rhododendron Species Foundation; he’s traveled to China and Indonesia looking for exotic varieties; and, “I’ve created some varieties of my own.”

His transition from running an industrial business to a history museum is a little unusual, he acknowledged.

“It is, but I always felt I had the capabilities for doing a variety of things,” he said.

“I do know how a business works, and how to evaluate and hire people,” he added. “I think this is typical of mature people who have been in management.”

 
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