Never Say Retire: 3 Lessons For Women Entrepreneurs To Reach Their Dreams

Mention retirement to Wendy Lewis and she might get mad. Maybe not mad exactly, but perhaps a tad indignant.“I could never stop what I’m doing,” says Lewis, 67, founder and chief operations officer of Jeunesse, a “youth-enhancement company” with 800 employees and more than 700,000 distributors of products across the world.  “I feel every day when I go to work I am doing something important.”The global company she and her husband, Randy Ray, launched in 2009 sells products including a skin care line and also has a non-profit arm. That initiative, Jeunesse Kids, helps children in China, Kenya and soon to be Ecuador, by providing funds to build schools, further education and fight poverty locally.[bctt tweet=“Wendy Lewis, co-founder of Jeunesse, with her husband Randy Ray, has no plans to #retire” username=“takeleadwomen”]“We started out feeding children, but that became unsatisfying because you can’t give enough food forever,” Lewis says. “So we work with to sustain villages and through education building schools and providing water, we can help them come out of poverty.” Distributors of Jeunesse products also contribute, she says.According to Business Wire, “In its eighth year of business, Jeunesse has ranked on the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America for the fourth year in a row.“Business Wire reports, “The company ranked No. 867 with a three-year growth rate of 518 percent. Appearing in the list’s top 1,000 is uncommon for a company with annual sales topping a billion dollars. Jeunesse is one of just of three billion-dollar companies in the top 1,000. With annual sales greater than $1.3 billion, Jeunesse is the second-largest company in this group that comprises the top 20 percent, whose average annual sales are just $25 million.“This successful company is not Lewis’ first dive into entrepreneurship, or even her first career.  But it is a continuation of a lifetime pioneering initiatives as a woman leader.Read more here at Take The Lead about the benefits of more older women in the workplace.As perhaps the only female math major in her classes at University of Pennsylvania, Lewis says she learned right away how to handle being the only woman in the room, or one of only a few. Lewis left college after one year when she got married and moved with her husband in 1968 to live in Japan where he was stationed in the U.S. army.She returned two years later and in 1970 resumed her education. In the meantime, there had been a technology evolution with the use of computers, she says. After graduating from Penn with a BA in Sociology and Mathematics, Lewis says she began teaching mathematics in high school, and was working on her masters at night. She earned an MED in Educational Psychology, Statistics, and Measurement from Temple University.A born multi-tasker, Lewis says she also taught homebound students, tutored, assisted with SAT prep, studied and worked full time for eight years as a teacher. She also had two children, now 37 and 34.“I was putting my husband through pre-med and medical school and after medical school we separated,” Lewis says. “In the end it worked out best for me,” she says. “Because I was on my own and had to make my way and it was time for me to see my true potential.”She met her now second husband, Randy, of 30 years when she was working computerizing medical officers, “taking doctors’ offices from pegboard to computers.”In 1985, Lewis and Ray formed AMSC (Automated Medical Systems Consultants) and she served as president and director of customer operations, and was responsible for all the training  for 450 medical manager dealers as well as customer support. Lewis and Ray sold the company in 1994 and it went public, but she was still working for the company.“I’m a true entrepreneur,“ Lewis says. “I can do a million things at once and be happy. I have a degree in educational sociology and psychology. It was difficult for me to focus on earnings per share when I was more concerned with the doctors as people.”This demonstrates one of Lewis’ favorite mantras: “Never forget where you came from and what got you here.”[bctt tweet=“One of Wendy Lewis’ favorite #leadership mantras: Never forget where you came from & what got you here” username=“takeleadwomen”]In 2005, Lewis with Ray, a computer scientist, and now co-founder and chief executive officer of Jeunesse, started a direct sales company, FFI, that distributed a fuel catalyst product internationally. And in 2008, a trip to California to see Dr. Nathan Newman, with her husband for stem cell injections to help with his knee problems would change their professional lives forever.Dr. Newman mentioned that he had developed a serum that would help healing and burn victims and that and sold 40 bottles a monthly to patients, Lewis says.“I was in his office waiting and I asked him to show me some before and afters,” Lewis says. “I took a bottle home and used it for a month and we said, “How would you like to sell 40,000 bottles a month?”The company launched in 2009 and merged with FFI in 2012, Lewis says.  With nearly three-quarters of a million distributors across the globe, Jeunesse has grown exponentially in a short period of time. As a lifelong entrepreneur, Lewis has three very specific tips for anyone who dreams big and wants to launch a company or an idea.

  1. You need to love what you’re doing. “I was a good math teacher, but I had to find something rewarding to me personally that made me feel I am giving something important to the world. “

  2. You do not have to be aggressive if you know you’re really good. “Sometimes women in an effort to be treated equally will behave too aggressively and people will not respect you.”

  3. You have to know what you are doing. “You do an excellent job, you will rise to the top.”

Recently Lewis’ company was honored in the direct selling industry, though it also came under scrutiny in late 2016. “Jeunesse was selected as Company of the Year in the SVUS Golden Bridge Awards with a Gold award, while the executive management team — headed by Founders Randy Ray (CEO) and Wendy Lewis (COO) and Chief Visionary Officer Scott Lewis — was awarded the Silver award for Management Team of the Year,” according to 4Traders.  “The trio were also award-winners in the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Florida program, in which they were honored for demonstrating excellence and extraordinary success in the areas of innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their business and community.“Lewis also recently won three major awards at the Women World Awards for Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Woman of the Year – Lifetime Achievement and Champion of the Year.Lewis is not alone in her determination to resist retirement and stay actively involved in a booming career.[bctt tweet=“Lewis isn’t alone in resisting #retirement and staying actively involved in a booming career” username=“takeleadwomen”]A new report from Deloitte says the workforce will continue to include more men and women working into their 70s. “If 70 is the new 50, we shouldn’t be surprised to find more 70-year-olds working. That’s already been happening, and it is expected to happen even more in the future.“By 2024, the report states, nearly 30 percent of Americans between 65 and 74 years old will be working. In 1994, that number was 17 percent.Mark Miller writes in Reuters that everyone should ask these questions: “Just as important, how will your sense of purpose change? Will you want to volunteer or work part-time? ‘Work gives us a sense of fitting into the world,’ said Carol Bogosian, an actuary and volunteer member of a committee studying post-retirement needs and risks for the Society of Actuaries. ‘How will you replace that feeling?’”Miller writes, “The percentage of Americans that say they are very satisfied with retirement has been falling, to just 49 percent in 2012 from 60 percent in 1998, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. (However, 41 percent are moderately satisfied, up from 32 percent in 1998.)”Lewis is moving too fast to consider slowing down. “I can’t retire. If I go on vacation I do not know what to do I have been working since I was a kid. I have to feel what I am doing in the world is making a difference.”Want more Take The Lead posts like this? Sign up to receive the Take The Lead newsletter each week.