Thursday, March 26, 2009

Early Retirement vs. A Boot In The Ass

I have to admit that, since the tanking of the stock market accelerated after our retirement, there have been moments where Ron and I have looked at each other wondering, “What have we done?”. But only moments. Perhaps more accurately, we have flashes of momentary panic.

But there are 3 reasons we consider ourselves fortunate now, in spite of financial losses:

The Blackstone Group bought our former employer, Hilton Hotels Corporation, at a 40% premium over the trading value at the time. They took the company private, and bought out all of our stock. If we still owned our Hilton stock today, the value would have dropped approximately 50% (an assumption based upon where Hilton’s competitors are trading today). Our retirement plans would have been postponed by at least 5 years, instead of accelerated by 2 years with the buyout.

When the sale of the company to Blackstone closed, Co-Chairmen Barron Hilton and Steve Bollenbach were officially out of the picture. Barron Hilton (founder Conrad Hilton’s son) is an honorable man who was proud of and cared about the hotels that carry his family name. He and Steve Bollenbach always did business in a manner that exhibited respect for the people that made Hilton Hotels Corporation one of the leading hotel companies of the world. Over the years, I had the honor to meet both men on several occasions. They were gracious gentlemen with class. With Blackstone and new CEO Chris Nassetta, the legacy of a corporate family immediately went by the wayside, for a colder more calculating view of the business – not a hospitality business. Merely a business. That was a transition I had no interest in witnessing firsthand. I am happy not to be a party to it.

Finally, there is the matter of the official “Corporate Transformation”. In the name of transformation, hundreds of people around the world are losing their jobs, and some work previously done in the U.S. by Hilton team members will be outsourced overseas. Won’t that be a popular decision to explain, with the U.S. in the midst of its deepest recession in over a quarter of a century? So… The irony of this is that if I had been more loyal to the company and had not retired early, most likely I would have lost my job anyway. Would you rather feel that you are in control of your own destiny, or wait for the reward for your years of service to be a boot in the ass? I feel fortunate that the decision that seemed right for us has turned out to be SO FREAKIN’ RIGHT, and JUST IN TIME!

Disquieting though, is the view in my rear view mirror. Years of hard work, dedication, and several relocations have resulted in most of my friends being Hilton people. Great people they are too. They aren’t prepared to be statistics – they are individuals with mortgages, children to feed and put through school, and lives that shouldn’t be interrupted. Help your friends in need when you can. Plans don’t always come to fruition as hoped. But we all have to start with a plan. What we may not always realize is the importance of having a fall back plan.


  1. well said, laurel. even though i am relieved jeff made the cut today- my heart breaks for all of our friends that did not. However, they are extremely bright, capable, fabulous people who will find another fabulous opportunity, Jeff and I wish them all the best.

  2. Laurel, I couldn't agree more with you. Darrin and I went through the process you and Ron went through the year we got married. Sounds crazy but we started planning then. Since we both have stressful jobs, we knew we wanted to have a retirement goal and not just plan on working forever. We enjoy working but we definately look forward to retiring when Jessica gets out of college in 5 years. Our plan was to retire at 45 but we didn't anticipate Jessica wanting to be a vet so that added some additional time into our plan. I highly encourage everyone to take the time to make their plan because everyone should look forward to retirement as a reward for jobs well done in their careers. Too many people think "that is too far away" instead of planning.