At 54, Mark Landis left a seven-figure income to take an unpaid position at a startup
Ego and breadwinner pressures keep older men from making life changes, Landis said
More older men said providing for family is most important, a survey said
Mark Landis, a 54-year-old father of two, spent 30 years climbing to the top of several large banks on Wall Street. At one point in his career, he was in charge of more than 1,000 people and $5 billion in revenue.
But he decided to give it all up, which meant saying goodbye to a seven-figure income between salary and bonuses, an impressive title, meetings with some of the biggest investors around the world and a sizable staff: At one point, he had two full-time assistants – one in New York and one in London.
Taking a 100% pay cut (you heard that right!), he joined a startup of two, Wavelength Capital Management, where he reports to a boss who is 20-plus years younger than he is.
“At the end of the day, I’m learning from this kid. More than anything else, I’m learning from him,” Landis said of the startup’s founder and chief investment officer, Andrew Dassori.
When I heard Mark’s story, I thought about how often we talk about women reinventing themselves later in life, how they’re taking risks and making big personal and professional changes. You’ll find stories about “Women 2.0” in just about every magazine and across the Internet, but what about men? Are they more reluctant to make life-altering changes, especially as they get older?
‘The majority of people think I’m crazy’
There wasn’t one thing that pushed Landis to take the leap. It was a mix of the personal and professional: his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2011; countless missed evenings and weekends with his family; concerns about his professional legacy; wanting his sons, now a college junior and a senior in high school, to understand what exactly he does for a living; and a growing disgust with the “intoxication that greed created” on Wall Street.
“Life is short, and you got to start to be thinking what is life, what are you supposed to get out of life and what are you supposed to do with that life,” he told me during a lengthy interview at the modest offices of Wavelength Capital. The company prides itself on trying to open up sophisticated investments to all investors.
No doubt, Landis is lucky to have enough savings to make such a career change. There are plenty of men who can’t afford to switch jobs or who can’t find well-paying jobs for that matter. Still, his move took a great deal of courage.
Gone is the business card that identifies him as the “chief of global fixed income sales and research” title, the teams of people who could create presentations for him at a moment’s notice, the lunches in the executive dining room, the office roughly the same size as his current company’s entire workspace.
Now, he’s shopping on Craigslist for office furniture, searching on YouTube for how to put bullet points in a presentation slide and filling the water cooler.
“He’s doing a lot of these things that I’m sure he had a staff of people usually doing for him,” said Dassori, who met Landis 10 years ago during an internship and has been in regular contact with him ever since.
Asked what his friends think, Landis replied, “The majority of people think I’m crazy.”
He believes for some men, ego prevents them from making changes, especially later in life. It takes a certain kind of person who is going to be OK not having the business card, who doesn’t need to be the “global head of global heads,” he said.
For some men, there’s also the “keeping up with the Joneses” pressure. Many older men may feel they must continue to be the one providing the lion’s share of income for the family, Landis said.
“You’re supposed to be ‘the breadwinner’ … Mom does this, Dad does this, and you’re going to work until you retire,” he said.
That belief – on the part of older men – that providing for the family is the most important goal is borne out in the research. In “The Shriver Report” on the 21st century man, a survey released in April of more than 800 American men 18 and older, 51% of those ages 50 to 64 said providing for their spouse and family was most important to them as a man – more important than being present for their family.
Interestingly, younger men feel differently. Among those 18 to 34, some 59% said being present is a greater priority than providing for the family.
“I think there is a cultural shift towards change and younger men are more open to change than older men,” said Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert and celebrity life coach.
“Younger men have a very different perspective of their roles … and younger men are not afraid of the woman being in power or having a female president or having a female boss.”
The next generation of men is growing up at a time of “greater instability and uncertainty” in the economy and in society in general, Wanis said, which means they are more familiar with change and likely won’t be as reluctant to embrace it later in their careers as their fathers perhaps were.
“Young men are willing to adapt and change because they recognize they have to,” he added.
The biological connections to change
Older men may also be more hesitant to embrace change because they are having a harder time moving into their middle of life and beyond.
Without naming names, I know of more than a few men who recently turned 50 and who are having a tough time coming to terms with their age, whereas I’m planning a full-on dance party when I turn the big 5-0 next year.
For her 1998 book “Understanding Men’s Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives,” Gail Sheehy spent eight years exploring the impact of age on men. We often think of age as being kinder to men than women, she wrote, but she found that was not true at all.
“Many men 40 and over are having a harder time today making a satisfying passage into the second half of their lives than are most women,” she wrote. “Why? Women feel pangs over losing their youth. Men feel dread.”
She says many men may not equate change with growth, but with loss, giving up and failing. In conversations with hundreds of men, she wrote that she heard concerns about aging, declining physical strength and athletic prowess, fears about job loss and anxiety about “the whole question of potency in all areas of their lives.”
Wanis theorizes that men and women have different comfort levels with change and aging in part because of biology. Women are accustomed to changing because their bodies are constantly changing, from the start of menstruation during adolescence and on through menopause in their 40s and 50s, he said.
“A female starts facing change from a very, very young age, men have a lot less change in their body,” said Wanis. “That therefore changes the way women perceive life because they see things in cycles, they see things as changing, they expect change and then they embrace change.”
Men’s discomfort with change may also be evidenced by their failure to seek help. Research shows that men are less likely than women to get counseling when faced with problems such as stress, depression and substance abuse.
‘Don’t be afraid’
When I asked how it felt to make this big change in his life, Landis said it felt great.
“I’m really learning again,” he said. “I can talk to my kids about stuff that I’ve never been able to talk to my kids about.”
Before he made the move, the most his kids knew about his career is that he worked at a big bank. Now they’re curious about the fund, and the technology Landis and Dassori are using to systematize investing.
There have certainly been adjustments. His kids and his wife have to think twice about their lifestyle since Landis isn’t making an income right now with the family living off what they’ve saved. And there is certainly stress about putting their life savings into this endeavor and making a “financial bet” that it will ultimately be successful, he said.
Dassori, who considers Landis the mentor even though he’s the creator of the company, feels the pressure, too. After all, Landis left a very comfortable gig to join him.
“I try not to think about it too much because then … it becomes a much more stressful proposition,” Dassori said.
So there are some anxieties all around, but Landis says people say he looks healthier than ever and seems happier. He feels like he is “using his mind again” and carving out a role where he is challenged intellectually but also doing what he loves such as mentoring and hiring people.
His advice for any of his contemporaries who may be thinking about some kind of change in their lives is not to let fear keep them from doing it.
“Take a look at yourself. Take a look at what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished and don’t be afraid,” he said.
Ever the investor, he ends our discussion by paraphrasing Warren Buffet. Said Landis, “If you are going to invest in someone, invest in yourself.”
Words – men and women – of all ages can live by.