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second careers

“I learned that once you are an entrepreneur, it gets in your blood,” says Marylou Heenan, who has embarked on a second career as a financial adviser.

This story is part of a Second Careers series that looks at people who are making major career changes after 50 – workers who are staying relevant and thriving in today's job market.

Serial entrepreneurialism is tough to quit.

"I learned that once you are an entrepreneur, it gets in your blood," says Marylou Heenan, 60, who has embarked on a second career as a financial adviser after 30-plus years of running language schools in the Greater Toronto Area.

"Or maybe you become an entrepreneur because it is in your blood to be active and build a business," says Ms. Heenan, whose schools provided English as a second language (ESL) and other educational opportunities for international students, including providing homestay for up to 1,500 students a year as one of the largest homestay networks in Canada.

After graduating from high school in the early seventies, Ms. Heenan travelled to Europe for six months – but ended up staying for three years. After becoming fluent in French, she returned to Toronto, studying at the University of Toronto to become a French teacher while tutoring students on the side.

When Bill 101, Quebec's French-language charter, passed, Toronto's business community began seeking French lessons. Ms. Heenan was quick to jump in, starting her first school in 1979 even before she graduated at age 25.

While languages came naturally to her, Ms. Heenan soon realized she would need to learn about business so that The Language Workshop (now Global Village Toronto) would succeed.

"I took correspondence courses (no Internet or webinars in those days), and soaked up everything I could learn from friends and contacts who worked in corporations. Between the courses and the network of people with 'real jobs,' I learned how to organize, sell and manage. I kept learning and growing the business little by little until it began to prosper."

In addition to running the first school, in 1989 Ms. Heenan started a second one, Red Leaf Student Programs, (she sold the first one in 1999), but by 2010 was starting to lose enthusiasm for the business.

Concerned about the state of the economy in Europe, and about investing in the school further so close to retirement, Ms. Heenan decided to pack it in and sell.

"I had my own investments at that point and didn't have to work any longer in order to be financially secure so it seemed like the right time to retire from the language business," she says.

Still, Ms. Heenan was far from ready to give up the business world entirely.

"When an entrepreneur thinks of retiring, it gives us the feeling that we will withdraw from the world. However, if we have something to look forward to, even though it is a different career, it is much easier to let go of our current business. I needed that new career on the horizon to help me give up the school," she says.

Now a financial adviser with Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Toronto – where she is an independent business person under contract to the wealth management firm – Ms. Heenan couldn't be happier with the path her life has taken. "Independence is one of the things that attracted me to Assante. It means I am still an entrepreneur building a new business.

"I love it. I am able to help people grow their wealth for themselves, their families and their dreams," says Ms. Heenan, who adds that she'd been investing by herself for years and enjoyed learning about it before she decided to turn it into a full-time venture.

To transition to her new career, Ms. Heenan set a date for retirement, helped the new owner of the language school select a new director, and started studying the courses she needed to pass to become an investment adviser.

"It took me seven months to complete the courses, which I didn't find difficult; rather, I actually enjoyed furthering my knowledge of investments. I was 57 when I decided to make the switch and almost 58 when I began the courses," says Ms. Heenan, who adds, "I also began networking all over again to make the connections I needed to begin a new career.

"Probably everything I did in the previous business also applies to this career – knowing how to present yourself to the market, organizing a sales system, prioritizing your time and to-do list, being visible to possible clients, investing in yourself and your business up front for medium and long-term gains, and having confidence that the seeds you plant early in the business will bear fruit as time goes by."

As for retirement, Ms. Heenan says she doesn't have plans to retire any time soon. Since she's made the switch, she's taken additional courses, and plans to take more over the next couple of years

"As long as I have good health and I can be of service, I'll be happier working than not," she says. "Because I travelled so much for the language schools, travel is not high on my list of priorities and I'm much more likely to spend longer stretches of time at the cottage. Having said that, I could spend some time during our cold winters in a warmer climate. I have a daughter in Australia, and if she decides to stay there, I could see myself enjoying the southern hemisphere for a couple of months each winter."

Advice for others

When it comes to a new career after 50, Ms. Heenan recommends that others choose to do something they will love as much – or more – than their first career.

"I think all of us want to contribute to the world during our lives so that they mean something. For many of us, having a second career allows us to go on contributing to others," she says, adding that learning to adapt is key.

"It's a new world out there in many ways so embrace the new and keep on learning. It will keep you young at heart."