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RioCan CEO Edward Sonshine: “Retire to what?”

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The only folks who don't have to work longer are working longer. Have you noticed that CEOs in this country are not so anxious to head for the clubhouse?

Jim Leech, the president and CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, turns 65 this year. He told me when I interviewed him in April that he's going to be on the job for another couple of years. The guy runs a pension fund, for heaven's sake. The people he's working for retire, on average, at the age of 59.

Ed Sonshine, the CEO of Canada's biggest real estate investment trust, recently got his first Canada Pension Plan cheque after his odometer turned 65. "Retire to what?" he said in our recent interview. His contract takes him all the way to the golden age of 68.

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Ed Clark, the boss of TD Bank, told shareholders at the bank's annual meeting at the end of March that he too will be hanging around a while longer. The bank had already extended his contract past the institution's normal retirement age. He turns 65 in the fall and says simply that he loves his job. This spring, the influential U.S. business weekly Barron's put his face on the cover, adding him to the list of the world's best CEOs. It's kind of hard to walk away from such accolades.

It's not much different across the street at Scotiabank, where Rick Waugh, also in the 65 wheelhouse, doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon, even though he endures a punishing travel schedule as the country's most international bank CEO. One week he's in Colombia, the next in Thailand, maybe with a pit stop in Mexico in between.

Could it be that the backup goalies at these banks aren't quite ready? Perhaps the lads on the bench are too young, only in their 50s or, perish the thought, their 40s?

Then there's Hunter Harrison, the former CEO of CN Rail, who at 67 has returned from retirement to become the new boss of CP Rail. He and the railroad just agreed to a four-year contract, meaning he'll be punching the clock into his early 70s.

When he packed it in at 65, he told me people had warned him he'd fail retirement. The man from Memphis admits they were right, so he's back, "itchin' " to work again.

He and Pershing Square Capital Management ousted former CEO Fred Green, a pup at only 55 years of age. That's probably not what London Life had in mind when it famously advertised "Freedom 55," such a quaint notion given how the world of retirement planning has changed.

But back to Jim Leech and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. The fund he runs may have more assets than ever – $117-billion – but it's projecting a shortfall, in large part because people are living longer and there aren't enough people working to support those who aren't. The short answer to the problem: Work longer and save more.

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So the CEOs of the nation are sucking it up. Like everyone who will have to wait until 67 to get their Old Age Security, these chief execs are hanging tough, staying put.

Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman, in defending his choice of Mr. Harrison as the man to run CP Rail, said people retire too early, often at the peak of their powers. Let's face it, in the case of this select group, the money isn't bad. But at this point, they're likely working for the fun of it. Maybe they're on to something. Everyone should be so lucky.

Howard Green is the host of Headline on BNN.

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