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Leveraging the Unique Assets of Those Over 50

Nick Viner spent 20 years at BCG (favorite memory: meeting "wild-eyed, long-haired ex-hippy" Elon Musk). Now his startup Circle Square is a destination for talented, energetic people who just happen to be over 50.

What drew you to making the journey into entrepreneurship? Tell us how Circle Square came to be, how it is redefining networking, and where your passion for this space began.

From the age of seven, during every school holiday, I worked in my family’s cutlery factory in Sheffield. I thought this would be my career, but the company failed before I could play my part. So, with business in my blood, I joined BCG, hoping one day I might have my own venture.

Having Save the Children as an early client triggered my interest in the not-for-profit world, and through my professional development at the TAI Group, I came to realise what was most important to me. This led to a significant change of direction. At age 45, I took the plunge, moving from my rewarding BCG track to the uncertain, highly risky project of creating JW3, a groundbreaking cultural and community centre in London. Though challenging, we had a strong vision which we achieved after seven years—and have welcomed over 1.5 million visitors since opening.

Later I came to see just how unusual this transition was. Beyond warm words from colleagues, I had had little support. Finding a better way inspired me to create Circle Square with my business partner, Noam Tamir, and particularly its Planning Your Next Chapter programme. We help those approaching the end of their formal careers to explore future plans and imagine fresh options, with expert support.

In addition, we aimed to create a network of purposeful people over 50. Their desire to meet and engage with others, continue to learn, contribute, and ultimately harness their experience for the good of others and society was palpable. It’s as much about getting as giving: entirely immersive and activist, not sit-back and passive.

Circle Square has a variety of offerings for its members—from member meet-ups to exclusive offers in its Marketplace. What is your ultimate vision for Circle Square and its future growth?

Look, our world is aging. But new old is different to old old! So many of us stop careers at our professional peak, with so much more to contribute and pass on. We want to help harness this, not waste it, especially as the 50+ demographic is underserved.

Circle Square has three strands, each amplifying the others: a peer network with many opportunities to discover, share, and connect around important topics; a transition element, where we help senior executives consider, plan, and optimize post-career options; and a marketplace of curated, trusted, commercial partners, who tailor valuable products and services for our members.

Our ultimate vision is a global network of chapters—members everywhere, connecting to make new and important change happen as we put our collective wisdom to work to advance society across the world, leveraging the unique assets and expertise of 50+.

How was the experience transitioning from working at corporate organizations to founding your own venture, in what you call your third chapter? Any words of wisdom to share with others looking to do something similar?

It starts with emotion. I felt excitement and trepidation. A dream, a vision, something new and untested, a risk, a material personal financial impact, a step into the unknown. It continues with urgency: this needs to happen. Then, you need to get practical. Many mundane but essential tasks will fall to you that in the corporate world would have been done (more seamlessly and efficiently) by others.

Most important, think through some key questions—better yet, get a mentor, perhaps from a totally different walk of life to create serendipity, surprise, discovery. Ask yourself what is most important now and in the future? What if I don’t do this? How does this fit with my values, my aspirations? Is this an itch I just have to scratch? What, practically, do I need to do to make this work?

Do you have a favorite BCG memory—a case team experience, tale from the road, breakthrough with a client, or story from the office?

In 1999, in the early internet days, we took clients on a trip to Silicon Valley to meet the budding stars of this new world. One meeting was in an attic over a coffee shop in Palo Alto. In a dingy back room, we met a wild-eyed, long-haired ex-hippy. His name was Elon Musk, and at the time, his ambition was to create the ‘payment system for the planet’, with his new company, Paypal. That business was sold three years later to eBay for $1.5 billion. Turns out he was just getting started. By the way, he recently hit 50+ – with decades of value creation ahead of him.

What are some of the most memorable bits of career advice you received or have learned throughout your career that you now share with others?

Now that I’m enjoying the third chapter of my career, I see experience (age) as an advantage. Here are seven things I’ve learnt:

  1. Don’t be afraid of following your instincts. If you have a vision, run with it. If you believe in it enough, you will make it happen.
  2. It’s O.K. to take risks. Actually, it’s good to take risks—and then hold your nerve.
  3. Insist on the highest possible standards—always.
  4. Do listen to others, but don’t let them divert you from the main purpose.
  5. Be willing to change direction completely if you think that’s the right thing to do, no matter how entrenched your course, how difficult the unravelling.
  6. Know you can step off your career treadmill and the world won’t end. Barriers are most likely psychological, and you’re probably at less risk financially than you think
  7. Know when to hand over and move on. Starting something, building it, is different to running it, growing it. Different professions. Know yours. Then plan the next chapter.
Leveraging the Unique Assets of Those Over 50