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“Make it a priority.” With Beau Henderson & Garry Spence

Eliminate debt: Make it a priority to pay off any outstanding debt (think car loans, credit cards, mortgage) before retirement, as there are enough fixed expenses (such as insurance, medical expenses, property taxes, etc.) that may make budgeting more difficult if you are also working on paying off debt. As a part of my series […]

Eliminate debt: Make it a priority to pay off any outstanding debt (think car loans, credit cards, mortgage) before retirement, as there are enough fixed expenses (such as insurance, medical expenses, property taxes, etc.) that may make budgeting more difficult if you are also working on paying off debt.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Garry Spence. Garry Spence is senior vice president and head of Client Engagement for Lincoln’s Retirement Plan Services business. His team of Retirement Consultants and Relationship Managers is dedicated to expanding Lincoln’s worksite presence and boosting the retirement readiness of the more than 1.4 million participants that Lincoln serves.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Garry! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve just entered my 28th year of service here at Lincoln Financial Group, and I’ve been in the industry for about 35 years. But the story that brought me here started back in 1978 in a small town in Georgia.

I always looked up to my grandmother, who worked at the local mill in our town. She never missed a single day of work in her 45 years there. She lived next door to me, and I always admired how hard she worked and her dedication to our family.

At the age of 65, though, she was forced to retire due to a medical issue, and the company threw her a wonderful retirement party — but when she went home, she had no retirement plan and no savings to rely on. For the next 18 years, she had to live on a monthly social security check of $267… it was just barely enough to scrape by. Witnessing her struggle made me realize the importance of access and education on saving for retirement.

When I graduated from high school, my grandmother asked me when I was starting work at the same mill (where my father was also working, as most people in our neighborhood did). And while I did end up working there for several months, I decided to go away to college with a mission to eventually make sure that as many people as possible — not just the affluent, but people like my grandmother — could have financial security in retirement.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting stories that happened to me involves the difficult task of terminating the employment of an associate. I firmly believe that everyone has unique skills and abilities and in the right circumstances they can be very successful. Having that belief system forces me to not allow underperformers to remain within our organization because they could be more successful elsewhere.

Years ago I had a dynamic, young associate who graduated from a major university with a degree in computer science but wanted to be a financial planner. After 18 months of struggle, I placed the associate on written notice that their employment would be terminated within 90 days. Being a former collegiate athlete and never failing at anything before, the employee doubled-down their efforts during that time but still was not able to meet the minimum threshold to remain employed. Despite my personal affection for this associate, I terminated their employment knowing that they could achieve more success elsewhere.

A few years later, I bumped into the person and they thanked me for firing them from the financial planner role. They gave me their business card and shared how they were now the president of a computer programming company. They were far more successful than they ever would have been had they remained a financial planner.

What’s interesting is that this very tough decision to terminate this person’s employment was the best outcome for them, as well as for our organization.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

When I was first starting out in my career as a young sales person, I had the opportunity to meet with a man I knew socially but had not done business with before. At the time, I was a young financial planner still trying to understand how to serve others.

In the course of our meeting, he mentioned that he was set for retirement, life insurance, and disability coverages, but thinking as a salesperson, I pressed him on long-term care, explaining the benefits of the product. Eventually, he just said “Garry, I could buy a chain of long-term care facilities if I end up needing one.” Turns out he was one of the wealthiest men in Georgia, which I would’ve known if I did my homework on him.

Let’s just say it was a humbling experience, and I was thankful he was kind to meThat day, I realized the important lesson of doing your homework thoroughly, knowing your customer, and never judging a book by its cover.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been lucky to have so many people to learn from, both those who have taught me what to do, as well as what not to do. I’ve learned that a leader’s words and actions have a tremendous impact on the morale and inspiration of the team they are leading.

One of the most impactful colleagues I’ve had the chance to work with, though, is Bob Bond. He and I worked together here at Lincoln Financial, and under his leadership, he established the service model we still follow today, which is based on personal, one-on-one interactions with our plan participants. Today we’ve coupled that with a dynamic digital customer experience which has enhanced our value proposition tremendously. I credit Bob with so much that I’ve learned over the years, but if I had to distill it down there are three valuable lessons: 1) have patience, the right outcome is worth the wait, 2) listen to all sides of a conversation to truly understand each perspective, and 3) making tough decisions that serve the greater good are mandatory in leadership.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Everyone needs to realize that work is a means to an end. A job should provide fulfillment and satisfaction, but I encourage everyone I work with to not let their work define them. You need to figure out who you are and what your identity is outside of work… then work from that identify to develop and curate a life that integrates work as seamlessly as you can. I know it is hard to sometimes find the balance between work and home, but it should always be a priority.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

The most important lesson for a leader is to know that you are there to serve. It is not about you, it’s about making a meaningful impact in the lives of others through selfless service. I encourage all people leaders to spend time with their team, listening and taking a genuine interest in them. Give selflessly, the more you give, the more you receive, and the more you will grow as a leader.

Culture is a very fragile thing that requires constant reinforcement and consistently high expectations. You must expect and demand more from yourself than anyone else demands. Cultural standards must also be a never-ending process where you are constantly striving to improve each and every day. So as a leader,I believe in always acting with the utmost integrity, having a genuine sense of urgency about the things you do, taking ownership in the task at hand, and always acting as a caring professional.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously everyone’s experience is different. But In your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

Retirement is about more than just your financial status. People often feel that a successful retirement is predicated solely upon the financial resources they have during their retirement years. While this is very important, it is only one of many important factors.

Lack of proper budgeting is one of the most common things that people wish someone had taught them prior to retirement. Without disciplined budget guidelines, many retirees erode their financial savings too quickly and outlive their financial resources.

A third common thing people wished someone had told them is to begin their retirement savings plans early. The time value of money over a 30-year work career cannot be overstated. This simple principle should be adhered to by all.

You should have a clear understanding of your identity as you enter your retirement years. Your identity should be more about who you are as a person and not about the role you used to have.

Have a definitive purpose for the remainder of your life. Often times when people retire their purpose has been associated with their work and they now feel their life lacks purpose. Before retirement define what you truly want to accomplish and the lives you want to impact during your retirement years.

Let’s zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

1. Start early: It is so easy for people to find reasons not to save, whether it is student loans, or saving to buy a new home, or just traveling and other leisure activities. It takes many small sacrifices over many years, but starting to save early (and consistently) makes a huge impact.

2. Learn how to budget: For some, retirement is the first time that living on a true budget becomes a reality, which only makes it harder. Get ahead of budgeting before retiring so it becomes a habit and you strengthen your financial priorities muscle.

3. Eliminate debt: Make it a priority to pay off any outstanding debt (think car loans, credit cards, mortgage) before retirement, as there are enough fixed expenses (such as insurance, medical expenses, property taxes, etc.) that may make budgeting more difficult if you are also working on paying off debt.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

Maintaining a focus on your health is essential to enjoying a fulfilling retirement. Stay on top of any conditions you may have, ensure you have access to quality medical care, and keep your body (and mind) active.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

1. Consider your support system: Having family, friends and other loved ones close can make a huge difference, especially if you are entering a time of your life when you have more free time or may need extra help with care.

2. Proximity to medical facilities: Having high-quality medical care close by is important for everyone to consider, especially as we get older.

3. Don’t discount the importance of climate: If you hate cold weather, choosing somewhere warm can have a big impact on your mental (and physical) health — just be sure to talk to a retirement consultant or financial advisor to ensure you have enough saved for a big move.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would encourage everyone to live their lives with the following mantra: Make a meaningful impact in the life of others through selfless service. Whether that is dedicating your career to helping others, or just stopping to help someone with a flat tire, or sending a handwritten note to someone going through a rough time. Even small acts of kindness make a big difference.

My team knows how important selfless service is, as this philosophy guides the work that we do, each and every day, and we see firsthand the impact it has in the lives of our customers. It is also in keeping with the ideals of our company’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln, who believed in courage, integrity, optimism and respect, which are core pillars of what we stand for.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It’s about focusing your time and efforts on those tasks and activities that are essential to achieving your life’s goals. It is about maximizing the greatest gain and serving the greater good. It is also about deleting the time wasters and resource-draining activities we do on a daily basis. There are many things that are nice to have, however, we should never prioritize those over activities that are essential to our long-term goals.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“You are a direct reflection of the expectations of your peer group.” In other words, surround yourself with others who hold you to the same high standards that you hold yourself to. At Lincoln, I’m so lucky to be surrounded by thousands of talented colleagues that focus on what is best for our customers, as we help to protect their families, savings and income.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn, or find Lincoln Financial Group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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