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When It Comes to Work-Life Balance, These Boomers and Millennials Are on the Same Page

Ann Jagger’s digital printing company has benefited from her wealth of business experience as well as some new perspective from her young staffers.

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BY Leigh Buchanan - 09 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Editor's note: People over 50 are among the country's most active entrepreneurs, starting businesses at rates higher than their young counterparts. In this series, Inc. profiles the new wave of Boomer founders.

When Ann Jagger launched Southport Graphics in 2009, she was determined not to kill herself doing it. A serial entrepreneur, she knew the expectations. Long hours. Zero personal life. "When we started this business I told [my partners] I am not going to do what I did in my 20s and 30s," says Jagger, who is now 59. "I am not going to pull all-nighters, working for seven months straight without a day off. I will work anywhere from 35 to 40 hours a week."

Her resolve about work-life balance hasn't hurt growth. Southport, a digital printing business based in Cary, North Carolina, is Jagger's largest business to date, with 10 employees and roughly $2 million in annual revenue.

Entrepreneurs work with partners for many reasons. Jagger's two partners help keep her life manageable, so she has time to do sleepovers with her four grandchildren or work on a series of fantasy books she is writing for tween girls. They also brought her the initial opportunity. The pair had worked for a local printing company that was moving. They wanted to start a new venture but were constrained by a non-compete. Jagger had both experience starting stuff and the freedom to do so. When the non-compete expired, she brought them in as co-owners.

Jagger's industry experience included running her family's printing business in Maine for 18 years before she moved south. She had also launched a rehabbing company and, with her daughter, a personal-care-products company. Presented with the chance to start a printing business, she approached one of her partners' former clients and asked if they'd give the startup their business. "So I had a client before I had a physical location," she says.

A financial obstacle surfaced six months in. "We were going after accounts and they saw that we did not have redundant equipment," says Jagger. "They were afraid that if something breaks, what are you going to do?" Jagger got the cold shoulder from several large banks before landing a $40,000 loan through the Small Business Administration. With new equipment, Southport doubled revenue in its second year.

Jagger knows the print industry. She's been watching it change over 30 years. What's been new to her is working with Millennials. Four of her 10 employees are under 35, and at first she was frustrated by their work habits, especially the pervasive and always-on cell phones. She decided to compromise by letting workers check their gadgets at stages in the printing process that don't require hands-on production. "It's been give-and-take on both sides," she says. "I know they have to feel connected all the time. That's part of who they are."

She has also had to persuade young employees that texting and tweeting aren't appropriate mechanisms for customer service. "I'm like, 'For you guys, that is your world,' " she says. "I tell them, 'You have to understand that if you are going to communicate with some of our clients who are my age--from 45 to 70 or 80--you have to communicate in a different way.' They do it. But they are out of their comfort zones."

However, Jagger says the education is not all one-way. "I look at them and see they want to work, but they also want to play," she says. "And that is something I admire tremendously. They got that part right. That's something us old folks can learn from them."