Since the pandemic, Baby Boomers have left the U.S. workforce in growing numbers. According to Forbes Advisor, an average of 2 million Boomers have retired annually since 2011. However, by 2020, the number climbed to 3.2 million, with the trend continuing today. For some, it represents getting out of corporate careers that have lasted decades to retire early to create entrepreneurial efforts on their own terms.
Unlike younger entrepreneurs, these seasoned veterans of the workforce are bringing with them their lifetime of knowledge and experience. For women in particular, leaving corporate America to enter entrepreneurship centers on flexibility, escaping corporate politics, and finding work with purpose. Forbes 50 Over 50 further indicates the strides women are making with no age limit to their entrepreneurial pursuits.
In many respects, the entrepreneurial drive resembles the younger generation’s pursuits of entrepreneurial dreams but with the added caveat of learned experiences in their arsenal. As younger entrepreneurs search for the innovations that might set them apart, many female Boomers are simply bringing their personal and professional sensibilities to new environments of compassion, inclusion, and empathy.
Catherine Kaufer, a luxury real estate agent and advisor, represents an early adopter of bucking the corporate for entrepreneurial pursuits. She left a career at IBM to venture on her own years ago when the decision was less widespread in understanding and positive sentiment.
Over the past two decades, Kaufer overcame personal and professional obstacles to develop a successful real estate business in Nevada and California. Now, she dedicates a portion of her time to offering hands-on assistance and advice to those just starting out or looking to expand their efforts.
“The youth of today are among some of the most brilliant people America has ever produced,” says Kaufer. “The availability of cutting-edge technology might have had something to do with how smart they are and how much they seem able to accomplish. However, there is a need for them to maintain some time-tested principles if they are to go for the long haul and build world-leading businesses and brands.”
Kaufer believes that one of the two main secrets to her longevity and success is her constant self-education, the evolution of her services, and her insistence on building a good name within the industry.
This reporter sat down with Catherine Kaufer to gain insight into the mindset of a female entrepreneur, before her time, that chose to leave the confines of the corporate world for individualized pursuits. Kaufer shares her journey, offering what she thinks this generation should focus on to better their careers.
Rod Berger: Your story has been one of perseverance, from succeeding academically to building an enviable career in real estate. Take us back to your earlier journey, background, and pursuits.
Catherine Kaufer: I was born and raised in the East Bay Area and have lived there all my life. I graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 1986 and went straight to work for IBM. I quickly got married and bought a house that same year. This feat was exceptional, especially considering I was deemed dyslexic as a child, and people thought I would not amount to anything academically.
I had to stay back in the first grade because I couldn’t read. However, with sheer determination and the help of faith, I turned it around, became an ‘A’ student, and ended up being the only undergraduates from my college to be employed the same year we graduated, and by IBM, no less.
I’m a mother of two grown daughters, a real estate broker, and an investor. I also call myself a real estate advisor because of my love for advising my clients on the best route to take rather than just selling them on offers. I love creating win-win situations. I also run a non-profit organization called Mini and Me Ministries.
I have a team of therapy animals that assist people experiencing loss, depression, or difficulty. There’s Theo, my Miniature Australian Shepherd, and Zebedee, my miniature horse, and both serve as AAI (Animal Assisted Intervention) animals. They bring a lot of smiles to people’s faces, give them hope and help guide them through life’s challenges. I started Mini and Me after tragically losing my husband to an accident in 2015 and trusting God to heal and cope. Mini and Me is my way of sharing with others, one of the things that helped me.
Berger: How did you transition from working at IBM to becoming a real estate broker? The two paths appear unique in experience and are not necessarily aligned.
Kaufer: In 1993, while still working at IBM, there was a sudden surge of layoffs in the company. The company was restructuring and closing some locations, including my Walnut Creek office. The company placed two options in front of me, commute to the San Francisco office or take the buyout package. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and I refused the opportunity to commute with two kids. So, I took the buyout option.
Many people within the company told me that I would never get a better job and thought I was being silly. I did a few odd jobs and eventually started helping my husband run his construction company. My husband and I bought fixer-uppers and flipped them from 1995 to 2000. During that period, I fell in love with real estate and got my broker license in 1998 to help more people. I went to work for a luxury broker in 2000 and have been a top producer ever since.
It just clicked, and I knew that it was what I was meant to be doing. For the past two decades, I have successfully turned this natural aptitude as a creative problem solver into my livelihood as a full-service real estate broker in one of the Bay Area’s top markets.
Berger: What has been the secret to your success over the last two decades? How can the younger generation learn from those secrets?
Kaufer: I pride myself on adapting to unforeseen scenarios rather than jumping ship. That’s how I have stayed in this industry even after the 2008 housing market crash. I’m self-motivated and driven by challenges. I have an impeccable work ethic, which keeps me consistently positioned as a frontrunner in my industry. However, despite all these traits, building a good name within the industry has been one of my most potent weapons.
Berger: Can you explain more about building a good name and how has that helped your career?
Kaufer: When growing a business or working a job, our eyes often stay so focused on profit and promotions that we tend to miss out on the many opportunities hidden in our customers’ needs. A good name is a reputation that showcases your excellence at what you do and your aptitude for helping your customers get precisely what they want or as near to it as possible.
Excellence, empathy, honesty, and intuition are core elements of a good name. Real estate is more than just a job to me. I am equally passionate and focused on my career and clients. Word quickly spreads when you love what you do and the people you serve.
When the downturn happened in 2008, I knew I had to learn different ways to help my clients. So I invested in education with world-renowned coaches. The goal was to create additional investment strategies for my clients.
In 2011, I had to leave the broker I was working with because they insisted I could only sell and buy homes for my clients, and I disagreed.
I then started my brokerage firm, Redeemer Real Estate Solutions, and was reborn as a real estate advisor. I help advise my clients on all the avenues and strategies that would benefit them and their investments. My insistence on going above and beyond for my clients has stood out in the industry and gained recognition. I’m proud of my awards, which reflect my dedication and commitment to my career.
Young people have all the skill sets and technology available, but the heart may need a bit more training.
Berger: Today, we focus on Millennials and their ability to be professionally flexible with their respective career choices. You made a critical decision in 1993, betting on yourself and driving a new successful career. What advice would you offer for the incoming generation of professional women driven to have it all?
Kaufer: I am a believer that you can have it all. However, having it all takes time. In my experience, if you get things before their time, you may be unprepared for the responsibility or the financial bite. I have a servant’s heart, and I have found that life gives reciprocally. If you help people get what they want, they will help you in return.
In life’s journey, doors open and shut throughout your life. It helps discern which doors to go through and which to leave alone. For example, if an opportunity comes up and you are so excited about it, and it seems so right, and everything in your being is telling you yes, then go through it. On the other hand, if you are getting a bad or uneasy feeling, let it go, and if it’s meant to be, it will come back.
Berger: How has your definition of success changed over time with added roles as they came into your life?
Kaufer: My definition of success has changed over time. It is the start of success when you are just out of college and get a job in the career you believe you want. As your life goes on and you have more personal responsibilities, your terms of success change while you are trying to balance your career, kids, marriage, finances, etc.
For instance, when I had my two girls, it was vital to work close to home and ensure they received what they needed. Thus, I took the IBM buyout and found another profession. I always look to be the best version of myself and personally grow so I can be of help to others. Being able to help my family and others is what now defines my success.
Millennials and Gen-Z are often the topics of headlines underscoring the entrepreneurial spirit growing in the U.S. However, as studies suggest, more seasoned professionals are finding success in entrepreneurial pursuits.
For women who have trudged the corporate life of raising children and balancing a career, these new ventures can offer a sense of renewed empowerment, purpose, and community building. As Catherine Kaufer suggests, the younger generations can benefit from the insights and experiences of those who have battled the road before them while adopting excellence, empathy, honesty, and intuition are core elements of their branding.
The entrepreneurial journey is a learned path through experiences and setbacks. Merging advisement from those who have come before could provide the collaborative key that helps open the door to success for younger professionals to explore.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.