Anne Burgess was 51 when she qualified with her first degree
62 when she started her own business
64 when she qualified with her second degree
Anne, what made you study for your first degree full time at WITS when you were 50 years old?
I had been praying to God for guidance in my life. I felt He wanted me to study to be a teacher, but this was not realistic as I had had a bad stutter since a little girl. I sought the advice of a Christian teacher. She suggested I apply and see what happened. I was accepted at JCE (part of WITS) the day before lectures began! I was 48 years old and 4 years later qualified with top grades in 1986 with a B.Prim.Ed when I was 51. It was a huge challenge. I learnt to only handle one week at a time.
You went on to do a second degree through UNISA? What was your motivation for this?
I had expected to teach in a Primary School. However, at that time, there was an oversupply of Primary school teachers, but Accountancy teachers were needed in High Schools. Although I had only had a year’s college senior bookkeeping, I had worked for Accountants for many years and my profession was actually accountancy, and so I accepted a temporary post at a High School in Germiston teaching Grades 6 to 10 Accountancy, English and History for one year. I have never worked so hard! The Headmaster kindly offered me a permanent post for the following year, but I decided to go back to an accountancy position. I then discovered that a lady who was working with me had a B.Com. degree, but less experience and capabilities. She received benefits that I did not get. I figured if I could do one degree, I could do another! So I registered with UNISA in 1991, when I was 56 to do a BCom degree while still working full time to support myself. I qualified in April 1999 when I was 64.
At what age did you start your own accounting business?
I had been transferred from Johannesburg to Cape Town at the end of 1994 to take over as the Financial Manager of a Factory and Sales division. However, two years later, the Directors decided to close it down, and along with everyone else, I was retrenched. At my age, I could not find work, but needed to support myself. An opportunity arose to take over the accounting of three very small businesses and a few tax clients, as the man who was handling them was seriously ill. I was then 62 years old. I started up Burgess Accounting Services in Fish Hoek, working from home. Through ‘word of mouth’, I gradually took on more clients – people with small businesses and mostly tax clients.
You retired at the age of 79. What made you put your pen down?
I had not been feeling well and was concerned for the well being of my clients, should I suddenly become seriously ill or pass away. Hence my reason for closing my business, giving my clients ample time to make other arrangements. In fact a year later, I had a major operation to remove a huge growth from my abdomen. The surgeon told me I would not survive it, but I did and went on to have a resulting second major operation two months later! I was thankful for my decision!
You really are an inspiration! Not only did you start your own business later in life, but you also wrote and published your autobiography at this time! Tell us more – what made you tell your story, what in a nutshell is your book about, and why did you publish it?
I had always wanted to travel, so after saving all my money for three years from working, my mother cashed in an annuity policy and we planned a very economical 8 month trip through Europe, Britain and the USA (where all her family were). In those days (1956), one could do a whole round trip through most of the USA on Greyhound buses for only $100! She had always wanted me to write a book about our trip. Though she had now passed away, I felt I had had a very interesting, though painful life, and wanted to write my autobiography for my children and grandchildren. Details of this trip were included in the autobiography. I belonged to the local U3A (University of the 3rd Age) and joined an autobiography group. We did a chapter a month which we shared with the group. I went on to complete it into book form, published it myself and had it printed for family members only, with one copy kept to lend out to those interested! The feedback was amazing. It is called “My Journey”.
YEI believes that you are never too old to start a business. However, there is a school of thought that believes that you are being foolhardy starting a business in your later years. Did you ever think “what on earth possessed me to do this?”
No, I enjoyed doing accounting – it was not like work to me. I needed an income and there was a need for another trustworthy service in the area. When the opportunity arose to take over those very few clients, I grabbed it with both hands!! Then enlarged my business with more clients.
When you look back over your life, do you wish that you had started your business even earlier?
I believe there is a time for everything. My earlier years of experience in that field, with professional accountants, had prepared me for having my own business.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Believe in yourself and with God’s help you can achieve almost anything!
What do you believe is the most important reason for your success?
Being committed, trustworthy, honest, hard-working, reliable, dedicated.
Looking back, what is one thing you would do differently?
The one thing is to have possibly grown my business even more. However, I only wanted to earn what I needed – I did not need to get rich! I loved my work!
If you were to give advice to other fifty-plussers considering starting their own business, what would that advice be?
Believe in yourself, have a financial plan, make sure there is a need for your service or product, enjoy producing that service or product, and make sure you have good accounting records!
Do you have a story to share with YEI readers?
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YEI, youve earned it