Retired business veterans offer rookies their expertise

MIDDLEBURY — Vermonters know that their communities have an enviable commitment to the local economy — but they may not know that an organization of highly successful volunteer business professionals is available right here in Addison County to help them realize growth in their business.
SCORE (Senior Corps of Retired Executives) is a national organization with chapters in most U.S. cities providing free, confidential counseling to owners of new small businesses and established small businesses looking to grow. Addison County’s group is a satellite of the Burlington SCORE chapter.
“We try to create jobs,” said Dick Catlin, a local SCORE volunteer who retired to Vermont after a long career in small businesses, real estate and development. “We also try to protect jobs.”
Like Catlin, the other five volunteers in the Addison County group have retired to the Green Mountain State from lucrative careers around the world. In addition to Catlin, the local SCORE group includes Ralph Shepard, who flew with the Vermont National Guard and specializes in manufacturing and technical innovation; Mike Davis, who specializes in crop and animal agribusiness; John Betz, who worked as a lending officer with the Bank of New York and a financial adviser at Smith Barney; Don Devost, of the Middlebury-based investment advisory group Addison Investors; and new SCORE recruit David Dodge, who recently retired from a career at Citibank.
“We all have different skills,” said Catlin, who heads up Addison County’s group.
When an individual contacts SCORE, one of those volunteers will be assigned based on the area of expertise needed for the particular client. At the initial meeting, the volunteer will listen to the client and, often, will send them away with “homework.”
“We like to get to know people,” Devost said. “We like to talk to them.”
The local SCORE volunteers tell those looking to run a new business that each start-up needs three things to get going: a business plan, a development budget and cash flow. The volunteers also work with existing small businesses looking to grow or improve their current performance.
Catlin estimated that of the clients that SCORE served, about one-third were start-ups, one-third were existing businesses, and the remaining third were what the group good-humoredly called “fishing.”
Although they share their insights freely with those they are counseling, the seasoned business people treat the information they get from clients as strictly confidential and wouldn’t publicly talk about individual success stories.
Those who contact SCORE for consulting should not expect to have their work done for them — the group’s purpose is to provide consulting and advice. That responsibility of transforming an idea into reality is still in the hands of the prospective business owners.
The essence of their role is, as Catlin explained it, “to help people be realistic” about their business options, particularly in a time where bank loans and credit are hard to come by.
The SCORE volunteers operate without a budget or a central office, and never receive fees for the time they put into consulting.
It is clear, though, that all of the men find it a rewarding endeavor. Each of the SCORE volunteers has retired to Addison County, and see their consulting role as an opportunity to nurture the place that they have made their homes.
“I retired here,” Davis said. “I don’t intend to move again. I’d like to see it be a happy, thriving place to live. This is a way to give back.”

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