'Retiree' starts own business

Kevin Wilkerson is a retiree — sort of.

The Columbus resident spent 24 years in the U.S. Army before he retired in 2005 at the age of 46.

But instead of enjoying skiing trips or boat outings on the lake, Wilkerson spends his time managing his own business.

"At my retirement from the military, I said, ‘This is not a retirement,’ ” Wilkerson said. "This is a transition."

About a year after he left his military career behind, Wilkerson started his own business, Vail Business Associates LLC. Founded in October 2006, the company offers brokerage and consulting services to those hoping to buy or sell a business.

"In my case, I retired earlier than most people thought I would, because I really wanted to be in business," Wilkerson said.

Military background

Most of Wilkerson's professional background is defense-related.

Originally from Oklahoma, Wilkerson attended The University of Oklahoma and graduated with an aviation degree in 1981. After graduation, the 21-year-old entered the army.

He was a light infantry officer throughout his 24 years of service, focusing on troop assignments and army strategies. Wilkerson was assigned to different parts of the country, including Hawaii, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Columbus at Fort Benning.

Wilkerson obtained two degrees during his service: a master's degree in public administration from Harvard in 1991, and another master's degree in strategic planning and national security from the Naval War College in 2001.

Transitioning to business

Throughout his military career, Wilkerson and his wife, Laurel, would start businesses — including an agriculture business in Oklahoma and an aviation business in Columbus — and sell them.

In 2004, one year before he retired, Wilkerson went on the hunt for another business to purchase. Yet after two years working with seven different business brokers, Wilkerson still had made no purchase.

"For some reason, the deals just never came through," he said.

Wilkerson spent 2006 working for defense company Lockheed Martin, but his interest in business did not wane.

Working with all those brokers, in fact, was not completely futile. Wilkerson watched them and began working towards real estate licenses in Georgia and Alabama — which is required to become a business broker.

In October, with two real estate licenses in hand, Wilkerson, 48, opened up Vail Business Associates in Columbus.

"I knew I wanted to keep working, and I knew I wanted to work for myself," he said.

For Wilkerson, going from a leader of 4,000 subordinates to a small business owner has presented its challenges.

"Now everything that needs to be done, I have to do," he said. "I'm not sure everyone would want to do that."

He works around his clients' availability — with no set 9-to-5 schedule.

"I probably work 12 to 14 hours a day," he said. "But I love it."

Wilkerson remembers one of his most successful deals. During a meeting with his attorney, Wilkerson found out his attorney's father was trying to sell his sprinkler and irrigation business. The father had even considered closing the business down.

Within six weeks, Wilkerson found an interested party and closed the deal.

It's those types of deals that keep Wilkerson going.

"I don't have any plans right now to just hang out on the river," he said. "I'm having too much fun helping people sell businesses."

When he eventually retires, Wilkerson plans to ski in Colorado, go boating on Lake Harding and volunteer.Retirement is following your passion, he said. "That's what I'm doing."