Exodus from corporate America leads to entrepreneurship


Baby boomers have increasingly left the U.S. workforce since the pandemic. According to TBEN Advisor, an average of 2 million Boomers have retired annually since 2011. However, in 2020, the number has risen to 3.2 million, and the trend continues today. For some, it means ending their decades-long careers to retire early to create entrepreneurial endeavors on their own terms.

Unlike younger entrepreneurs, these seasoned veterans of the workforce bring with them a lifetime of knowledge and experience. For women in particular, leaving corporate America to enter entrepreneurship is all about flexibility, escaping corporate politics, and finding work with a purpose. TBEN 50 Over 50 further indicates the progress that women of no age limit are making in their entrepreneurial activities.

In many ways, the entrepreneurial drive resembles the pursuit of entrepreneurial dreams by the younger generation, but with the added caveat of learned experience in their arsenal. As younger entrepreneurs search for the innovations that will 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 broker and consultant in luxury real estate, represents an early adopter who has opposed the business for entrepreneurial pursuits. She left a career at IBM to start her own business years ago when the decision was less widespread in understanding and positive sentiment.

Over the past two decades, Kaufer has overcome personal and professional obstacles to develop a successful real estate business in Nevada and California. Now she dedicates some of her time to providing practical help and advice to those just starting out or looking to expand their endeavors.

“Today’s youth are among the most brilliant people America has ever produced,” says Kaufer. “The availability of cutting-edge technology may have had something to do with how smart they are and how much they seem to be able to achieve. However, they need to uphold some tried and true principles if they want to go for the long haul and build world-leading companies 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 reputation within the industry.

This reporter sat down with Catherine Kaufer to gain insight into the mindset of a female entrepreneur, before her time, who chose to leave the confines of the corporate world for individualized pursuits. Kaufer shares her journey and offers what she thinks this generation should focus on to advance their careers.

Rod Berger: Your story is one of perseverance, from succeeding academically to building an enviable career in real estate. Take us back to your previous 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 at IBM. I got married quickly and bought a house that same year. This achievement was exceptional, especially considering that I was dyslexic as a child and people thought I would be nothing academically speaking.

I had to stay in first grade because I couldn’t read. But with sheer determination and the help of faith, I turned it around, became an “A” student, and eventually became the only students from my university to be hired the same year we graduated, and by IBM no less.

I am a mother of two adult daughters, a real estate agent and an investor. I also call myself a real estate consultant because of my love of advising my clients on the best route to take instead of just selling them on offers. I like to create win-win situations. I also run a non-profit called Mini and Me Ministries.

I have a team of therapy animals that help people experiencing loss, depression or difficulties. There’s Theo, my Miniature Australian Shepherd, and Zebedee, my Miniature Horse, and both serve as Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) animals. They bring many smiles to people’s faces, give them hope and help them through life’s challenges. I started Mini and Me after tragically losing my husband to an accident in 2015 and I trusted God to heal and cope. Mini and me is my way of sharing with others, one of the things that helped me.

recovery: How did you transition from working at IBM to a real estate agent? The two paths seem unique in experience and are not necessarily aligned.

purchaser: In 1993, while still at IBM, there was a sudden wave of layoffs in the company. The company was restructuring and closing a number of locations, including my office in Walnut Creek. The company presented me with two options: commute to the San Francisco office or take the buyout package. I was pregnant with my second child at the time and I declined the opportunity to commute with two children. So I took the buyout option.

Many people in the company told me I would never get a better job and thought I was acting crazy. I did some odd jobs and eventually started helping my husband run his construction business. My husband and I bought and flipped fixer uppers from 1995 to 2000. During that time I fell in love with real estate and got my realtor license in 1998 to help more people. I started working for a luxury broker in 2000 and have been a top producer ever since.

It just clicked and I knew this was what I had to do. For the past two decades, I have successfully converted this natural aptitude as a creative problem solver into my livelihood as a full-service real estate agent in one of the Bay Area’s top markets.

recovery: What has been the secret of your success over the past two decades? How can the younger generation learn from those secrets?

purchaser: I pride myself on adapting to unforeseen scenarios rather than jumping. That is how I stayed in this industry after the housing market crash in 2008. I am motivated and driven by challenges. I have an impeccable work ethic, consistently positioning me as a frontrunner in my industry. However, despite all these qualities, building a good reputation within the industry has been one of my most powerful weapons.

recovery: Can you explain more about building a good name and how it has helped your career?

purchaser: When growing a business or holding a job, our eyes often remain so focused on profits and promotions that we tend to miss the many opportunities hidden in our customers’ needs. A good name is one that shows your excellence in what you do and your aptitude for helping your customers get exactly what they want or get as close to it as possible.

Excellence, empathy, honesty and intuition are core elements of a good reputation. Real estate is more than just a job to me. I am equally passionate and focused on my career and clients. Word spreads fast when you love what you do and the people you serve.

When the recession hit 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 real estate agent I worked 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 consultant. I help advise my clients on all options and strategies that can benefit them and their investments. My insistence on doing everything for my clients caught the attention of the industry and gained recognition. I am proud of my awards, which reflect my dedication and commitment to my career.

Young people have all the skills and technology at their disposal, but the heart may need a little more training.

recovery: Today we focus on millennials and their ability to be professionally flexible with their respective career choices. You made a crucial decision in 1993, betting on yourself and building a new successful career. What advice would you give to the new generation of professional women who want it all?

purchaser: I am a believer that you can have it all. However, having it all takes time. In my experience, if you get things ahead of their time, you may not be prepared for the responsibility or the financial bite. I have a servant’s heart and I have found that life is mutually giving. If you help people get what they want, they will help you too.

During your life’s journey, doors open and close throughout your life. It helps to discern which doors to go through and which to leave alone. For example, if an opportunity presents itself and you are so excited about it, and it seems so good, and everything in your being says yes, then go through it. On the other hand, if you get a bad or uncomfortable feeling, let it go, and if it has to be, it will come back.

recovery: How has your definition of success changed over time with added roles as they came into your life?

purchaser: My definition of success has changed over time. It is the beginning of success if you just finished college and get a job in the career you think you want. As your life progresses and you have more personal responsibilities, your conditions for success change as you try to balance your career, kids, marriage, finances, etc.

For example, when I had my two daughters, it was essential to work close to home and make sure they got what they needed. So I took the IBM buyout and found another profession. I always try to be the best version of myself and grow personally so that I can help others. Being able to help my family and others now determines my success.

Millennials and Gen-Z are often the subjects of headlines highlighting the growing entrepreneurial spirit in the US. However, studies suggest that more seasoned professionals achieve success in business.

For women who have navigated the corporate life of raising children and balancing a career, these new ventures can provide a sense of newfound empowerment, purpose, and community building. As Catherine Kaufer suggests, the younger generations can benefit from the insights and experiences of those who have traveled the road before them, while excellence, empathy, honesty and intuition are core elements of their branding.

The entrepreneurial journey is a learned path along experiences and setbacks. Pooling advice from those who have come before could be the collaborative key that helps open the door to success for younger professionals to explore.

Interviews have been edited and shortened for clarity.