Having “failed” at his first retirement, Jim Morgan is doing everything he can to make sure he gets his second attempt right.
“Somebody asked me what I’m doing with my time now,” says Morgan, who stepped down from his position as president of Krispy Kreme last February. “And I said, ‘You know, I really can’t tell you. But I can tell you this, it’s a good thing I retired, because I definitely do not have time for a full-time job.’”
Morgan’s first retirement was a failure only in the sense that he wound up working one of those full-time jobs. In every other sense it was a roaring success.
Morgan enjoyed a remarkable career in financial services. In 1990, he took over the reins of Charlotte-based brokerage firm Interstate/Johnson Lane and turned it around before selling it to Wachovia in 1999. That led to a stint as chairman and chief executive officer of Wachovia Securities, Inc. Following that, he served as chairman and chief investment officer of Covenant Capital and general partner of the Morgan Crossroads Fund.
His first try at stepping away from the demands of the workplace ended in January of 2008, when his fellow Krispy Kreme board members asked him to become president and CEO. He had been on the board of directors of the iconic donut seller since 2000 and became chairman of the board in 2005. But in 2008, the company had fallen on hard times, a fall that had little or nothing to do with the oncoming great recession.
The firm had gone public in April of 2000 and, for the next few years, was a darling of Wall Street. A 2003 Fortune cover story named Krispy Kreme “America’s hottest brand” and its stock hit almost $50 a share. But that happened just as the low-carb Atkins diet craze swept through America. That, along with problems in the company, saw the stock fall to $1.08.
Morgan had a sense of responsibility to the company, not just because he felt he had fallen short as a director. “I felt like I had an obligation to the people, to the brand, to the company’s future, to be willing to give whatever I could give to be a part of it, and try to be a positive part of it,” he says.
Even so, going back to the executive suite wasn’t an easy decision for Morgan. “I had originally told them I didn’t think that was what I was supposed to do with my life at that point, and I had to talk it over quite a bit with my wife, Peggy,” he says. “I don’t make decisions without her on that kind of event.” He also doesn’t make decisions like that without help looking for guidance from God. Faith is at the center of Morgan’s life, so making this decision involved a lot of prayer and meditation, asking “Where does God want to take me from here? What is it that He wants me to do with my life?”
Finally, he came to the conclusion that going back to work was the right thing to do. Helping that decision was the fact that, as he saw it, there was nowhere for the company to go but up: “The other thing was that the stock was about a dollar and something a share, and I said, you know, I probably couldn’t harm it too much from there.”
Far from harming Krispy Kreme, Morgan oversaw a remarkable turnaround. By the time he retired from day-to-day operations last January (he remains chairman of the board), the company’s stock was back above $20 a share.
Morgan started thinking about the leaving-the-job part of retirement two years before he stepped down. “It was really clear to me that I needed to start thinking about winding down for two reasons,” he says. “One, during a very brief period of time I lost several childhood friends; all of them from different causes, but all of them friends from my hometown. That really got me thinking about, you know, what am I supposed to do with the remainder of my time on earth?”
The second thing was his professional life at Krispy Kreme. The company was once again thriving, but he knew there was more work to be done if it was going to continue to grow. Morgan knew he wasn’t— and didn’t want to become—the person to take the company to the next stage. His deep conviction that it was time to step away from his job made searching for his successor a very exciting project. That project kept him from thinking too much about what he would do after finding his replacement, who turned out to be then-president of Papa John’s Anthony Thompson.
“I will be honest, until I turned over the reins, until Tony Thompson got there and we worked together for a number of months, I really did not give as much thought to what was next, as you would probably think I would have, and maybe I should have,” he says.
In order to make up for that and give himself more time to think things over, Morgan decided to take a year off. A great idea, but what does that mean when you’re already retired? Morgan says it means saying no to anything that is a deep, regularly scheduled commitment. He is quick to point out this doesn’t mean saying no to a friend in need or to a volunteer activity, but anything that requires him to fill up his calendar on a recurring basis.
“I’ve really been using this calendar year as a time to try to answer questions about what I will do with my time,” he says. Simply leaving his calendar clear answered some of that question: “I can be responsive to peoples’ needs without worrying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got a meeting.’”
The top of that list of people includes his children and grandchildren. He wants to make up for time he missed because of his work life. Next comes old friends and the young couples he meets teaching a Sunday school class at his church, something he has been doing for 15 years. “I do a lot of one-on-one get-togethers, you know, having a cup of coffee or a Coca-Cola. And just getting to know each other and seeing what, if anything, I can share that might be beneficial to them, from my life.”
The one thing Morgan says he thinks about now that he really hadn’t thought about before retirement is his legacy. “If I left this earth today, what would be my epitaph? What would people that know me say is the one sentence that should be on my marker? And how would they describe me in one word, in one sentence? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Morgan sees retirement, in part, as a time to work on his legacy; not the legacy of worldly accomplishment, but the spiritual legacy of whom we were and how we treated people. This is an exciting prospect for him. He says anyone who is retired or is thinking about retiring and isn’t genuinely excited about it really doesn’t grasp what this time can be. He sees it as a chance to build another stage of life, with greater freedom and greater flexibility.
“Retirement is sort of the bend in the road,” he says. “It’s taking a turn in a little bit of a different direction. But, in my opinion, it can be the most exciting turn, the most exciting direction, and the most exciting destination. And you know, there’s an old saying, and you’ve probably heard it, but I love it. It’s ‘a bend in the road does not have to be the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.’”
Or unless you find yourself back at work.