The 'Encore Generation'

Attorney helps executives connect with state projects

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With a career spanning more than three decades, employment and labor attorney Beverly Burns knows only too well what it’s like to reach retirement age – yet not want to leave the professional arena. It’s a challenge and opportunity facing many Baby Boomers, who are reaching the age of 65 in thousands every day.

Burns, an attorney with Miller Canfield in Detroit, was one of 15 people to receive an Encore Innovation Fellowship with national nonprofit encore.org. For the past year, she has led the initiative in Gov. Rick Snyder’s office to set up the Michigan Encore Executive In Residence Program, working with business and civic leaders, policymakers and nonprofit organizations.

 “Its purpose is to match talented professionals and executives who have reached the end, or are approaching the end, of their primary careers, with significant projects in state government that can benefit from private sector expertise and experience,” Burns explains.

While the program doesn’t envision compensation by the state, compensation may be provided by an executive’s company or firm; or, in some cases a retired executive may simply want to do the project without direct compensation because the work is compelling, challenging and offers a chance to contribute to the public good by working on a transformational state government project. Support for the program can boost a company’s public and community profile and provide options for difficult retirement transitions and appealing rewards for high-performing mid-career executives and professionals. And participating executives and companies will enjoy knowing they are having a hand in Michigan’s continual reinvention.

Burns’ initial work on the project was broad-based, and focused on awareness building; over the course of 2014 her work focused increasingly on this program, which the Governor announced in a “Special Message on Aging” in June. 

In July, Burns presented the concept to all of the state department heads at a cabinet meeting.

“I asked them for a few good ideas of projects that we could implement as prototypes for what we envision as a sustainable program. I was inundated with good ideas – 16 in fact, of which we are matching six to executives for the prototype year, which will be 2015. It’s very exciting work, and fun, and has a great potential to do good things for Michigan!”

The original concept was for the program – with its motto, “Second acts for the greater good” – to draw its “champions” from the business and corporate communities, which would see its values in providing alternative pathways to retirement for certain executives or professionals and would recognize how participation could elevate corporate public profiles.

“Businesses have unanimously endorsed the concept – but some of the strongest support has come from ‘Encore generation’ executives and professionals who have already retired from their primary careers, have had a year or so to ‘chill,’ and are now interested in getting their teeth back into challenging work that is making a difference in a new environment with a new network of colleagues, and has the flexibility they want,” says Burns, whose initial fellowship resulted from an application by several collaborators, including Corporation for a Skilled Work Force, Louella Hannan Memorial Foundation, Operation ABLE, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Techtown, AARP, Grand Rapids Community College and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Her fellowship has been continued for a second year, through 2015, sponsored by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

State departments as diverse as the State Police, Technology/Management and Budget, Civil Service, Natural Resources and others, are eager to harness the experience of these executives and are putting forward dozens of proposals for projects. These include a facilities review for the DNR; a customer service survey for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, and an information management project for the same department; succession planning for the Michigan Civil Service Commission; a public safety simulated city training center for the State Police; and management academy learning tracks for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and Department of Education (MOE).

“We’re in the thick of the matching process right now,” Burns says. “As an ‘Encore’ myself, but one who hasn’t fully retired from my work as a lawyer, developing this program for the state is a new challenge, exciting, fun and a tremendous learning experience.”

For more information, e-mail burns@millercanfield.com or burnsb@michigan.gov.