Phyllis Apple started a thriving public-relations firm at an age when most people start mulling retirement. Nearly three decades later, this 84-year-old CEO is still putting in 40-hour work weeks.
When Phyllis Apple accepted a lifetime achievement award from a local business publication this summer, she took the microphone and offered her unique take on retirement. "I started my business when I was 57, and I thought, 'Surely when I'm in my 60s, I'm going to retire," she told the audience. "Then I got to be 65, and I thought, 'Surely when I'm 70, I'm going to retire.' Then when I was 70, I said, 'I'm going to retire at 75, you can count on it.' And then I thought, 'Surely when I'm 80, I'll retire."
A standing ovation ensued.
"Well, I'm going to be 85," Apple went on, transforming the polite applause into raucous cheering, "but I think when I turn 90, that'll be it."
Don't be surprised if she breaks her word again. When Apple, who turns 85 in November, starts talking about her business, you get the impression she might not ever retire.
In 1980, Apple founded a public-relations firm, The Apple Organization, out of her Aventura, Fla., home, with just a phone, typewriter, and stationery. Nearly three decades later, the North Miami Beach company known best for its work in the high-end real estate sector, is bringing in revenue of about $2.5 million. That's an increase of almost 82 percent from 2003, earning it a spot on the 2007 Inc. 5,000 list of the nation's fastest-growing private companies.
Apple remains at the helm, putting in 40-hour workweeks as the company's CEO, meeting with her account executives daily and overseeing assorted development projects herself. And in the rare instance that a project is not getting the press coverage Apple thinks it deserves, she has no problem reaching out to the long list of media contacts she has worked with and befriended over the years.
"God, it's in my blood," she says of her flair for real-estate PR. "It's just so exciting."
Blessed with good genes (her mother lived to 101) and a worry-free attitude ("People that worry drain themselves"), Apple says there is no reason to retire. She vacations often with a group of friends -- the oldest of which is 20 years her junior -- and finds a way to make time for the other joys in her life.
"I have everything I want," Apple says. "Why should I retire? I have the weekends. I'm playing golf, reading, needle-pointing…. I'm doing everything that I want to do. And I'm enjoying good health. I'm still very blessed."
As for that promise of calling it quits at age 90?
"Well," Apple says, pausing for a few seconds. "Don't bet on it."
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Jason Del Rey was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey