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Retirement lures execs as economy wanes

Sean Ryan
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“It was a good run, but the last three years, or six or four or eight, have just been pure hell,” Al Banaszak said.

So, in December he retired and closed his Lake Mills excavation company, Al Banaszak Inc.

Amid economic stress and uncertainty weighing heavy on the construction industry, many executives are daydreaming about the comforts of retirement. But just as many are opting to ride out the recession, taking the bad days with the good.

For Richard Schneider, former vice president and owner of Schneider Consultants Inc., Rothschild, the reasons he pondered retirement were the same reasons he feared it.

“I thought about it, but I was in kind of a quandary, because I didn’t want to jeopardize the employees,” Schneider said.

He said he could not let an employee buy him out because that would not leave enough money to run the firm. So, after five years of listening to Ramesh Kapur, president of Kapur & Associates Inc., Milwaukee, offer to buy his company, Schneider finally accepted.

Now that the stress of running the firm is gone, Schneider said he plans to stick around for another few years as an office and project manager.

“I’m just going to enjoy life and enjoy engineering,” he said.

Meanwhile, the retired Banaszak, 66, said he is looking forward to receiving his first Social Security check.

His business advice to contractors stuck in a downward spiral: “Close it.”

But some executives say they’re sticking around because they enjoy the challenge and the camaraderie.

Tom Druml, who is staying on at J.F. Cook Co. Inc. after his two co-owners retired, said he’s not finished with the business yet. Druml is staying on as vice president as Troy Reese, president of Milwaukee-based T.L. Reese Corp., takes over J.F. Cook with Generation Growth Capital Inc., Milwaukee.

“I’m still young at heart and not of retiring age yet,” said Druml, 57.

Kapur, 62, said it is easy to think about escaping in rocky times but added nothing worth doing comes without hardship.

“Every business has good days, bad days,” he said. “In this economic condition I say, ‘What the hell am I doing? I should just get out.’ But when I come here, it is like a family here. I enjoy it. It brings heartaches, too.”

Banaszak said camaraderie with his crew members, subcontractors and suppliers is what he misses the most. As he watches Highway 26 being rebuilt near his home, he said, he can’t help but monitor the construction like a hawk.

“You can take the man out of construction, but you can’t take the construction out of the man,” he said.

And yet, Banaszak said, it’s not enough to make him consider coming out of retirement.

“I do not regret the decision,” he said. “Not one bit.”

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