Stewart's Dake to Retire

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Stewart's Dake to Retire

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Bill Dake, president of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based dairy and convenience store chain Stewart's Shops Corp., plans to pass the presidency of the company to his son, Gary, this summer. Dake already spends about a quarter of the year away on vacation, but he's a long way from any traditional notion of retirement.

Thanks to improving health, longer life spans and an unpredictable national economy, Dake thinks the idea that most people should retire at a particular age will lose currency. How long people can keep working is a matter of physical and mental energy, and the culture of the organization they work for, he told The Albany (N.Y.) Business Review.

Maintaining Stewart's culture, which prizes openness, responsiveness and flexibility, is part of what keeps Dake showing up at the office. So is mentoring his staff.

"The people who work for me make most of the decisions. By saying, 'sounds good to me,' they know they've got my support and do it even better," he said.

Workers who long for retirement are probably in jobs in which they don't have a sense of control and can't see their actions making a difference, Dake said. Stewart's employs 3,700 people in food manufacturing, as truck drivers, retail clerks and office workers, and the goal is to make sure none of them are in dead-end jobs.

Many retailers see people as a liability, preferring to rely on mechanical systems whenever possible, he said. Stewart's, on the other hand, sees the relationship between its customers and employees as key to maintaining customer loyalty.

"We are not trying to automate the people out of the process," he said.

As Gary Dake, 42, Stewart's vice president, gears up to take over as president, he has been handling more of the day-to-day operations of the 316-store company. But Bill Dake plans to remain actively involved in the business for the foreseeable future.

Companies that make abrupt transitions "screw themselves every time," he said.