Over the Hill At 40?

I asked the question “Have you ever won-
dered why on reaching the age of 40, managers suddenly suffer significant loss in drive and energy, forget all the lessons learned during some 20 years of business experience and finally find that the ability to interact with staff and customers deteriorates?”
This was obviously tongue-in-cheek, somewhat provocative question, which I hoped would get some of our members’ voices raising in protest. I was not wrong! The article was stimulated by dinner I recently attended for select group of business leaders at which the conversation inevitably turned to the brain drain. Several reasons were discussed, not the least being the significant disparity in earnings but also the lack of excitement in New Zealand business.
A view was stated that as young executives and professionals leave our shores it becomes increasingly difficult to find dynamic, energetic executives for general management and CEO positions. The pool of young talent is decreasing and the best of the remaining group are in high demand. However it is being found that some of those younger executives may have limited experience as they progress through their intelligent careers moving from one organisation to the next every two years.
And yet increasingly senior executives over 40 are finding their positions made redundant due to mergers and take-overs or because of head offices moving offshore. The question was asked why New Zealand businesses appear to avoid appointing these experienced managers to senior positions.
Two directors at the dinner remarked that they would never employ an older CEO, especially one who may have worked at one company for any length of time. Interesting! Not long ago I heard about leading recruitment consultant that was looking to fill CEO position. Apparently any CVs in which the person appeared to be over 35 were immediately rejected, as the client wanted “young, dynamic and energetic” executive. Obviously qualities absent in the geriatrics over 35!
An experienced, well-qualified marketing manager wrote to me about her experiences. “A friend sent me you article ?Looking at leadership’ few days ago. I found it most interesting – and very true. But it’s not only problem with the recruitment of CEOs unfortunately. The same is true for marketing managers – where theoretically drive and energy equals young! I am speaking as one of those made redundant. Finding work despite wide business experience is challenge and I have had to set up in contracting. One of the reasons for this is that the young CEOs referred to in your article want equally young (or younger) members of their management teams and so it goes on. You would think that with the average age of our population increasing, more mature CEOs (and marketers) would be in increasing demand. After all, we can identify our ageing target market.”
Another senior executive wrote, “I read with interest your recent article… and in some respects am not very surprised at the comments and feedback that you received from some of the people. For ?young, dynamic and energetic’ you can also read ?easily manipulated to get what I want!’ Many directors today apparently still equate time with effectiveness, something, which is not true. However an additional aspect to this is that if they hire worldly wise (experienced) older manager, that person will often be able to challenge them in their thinking, which is not what many directors want. There is nothing like some good ?group think’ in company to ensure that it remains mediocre.
“Some of the best sales people and sales managers I know are over 40. In one or two cases that I am aware of, should their companies not have their services, they would be in some strife income-wise as it is these people who are generating the income to keep the company going, not the directors. Also, I am not sure that Gilbert Ulrich (highlighted in your most recent edition of Management magazine) would think of himself as being ?over the hill’ in any way shape or form.”
Should we accept the above as an unpleasant fact of life, despite the Human Rights Act and the good work being done to encourage equal employment practices? If this is true, what chance is there for job applicant who is over 40, foreigner and/or member of an ethnic group perhaps not ?favoured’ by the organisation? Let’s not go there!
My correspondent continued on about the brain drain. ” É many of the people will not return to New Zealand after their overseas experience as given the age at which they are interested in returning they will just not get position here. Despite their national and international experience, which would be of great value to any potential employer, they are passed over because of their age. One of the reasons for this is that the younger executives that have stayed in New Zealand and not travelled have reached the top of the tree and they don’t want someone more experienced than themselves working under them as it has the potential to show them up.”
I have the pleasure of knowing several older business people with great minds and boundless energy, many of whom are over 70. Two examples come to mind; seventy-eight year old Wilf Jarvis (found of the world-renowned programme, Four Quadrant Leadership), still consults and runs strenuous up-to-the-minute seminars on daily basis. Despite his age and diabetes he manages to maintain huge workload that would put lot of us to shame. Another older role model is Dr Brian Henshall, emeritus professor at the University of Auckland and founder of The Knowledge Capital Index. Brian is over 70, yet he consults and presents seminars regularly whilst caring for his chronically ill wife. He developed his own website, www.kcindex.com, writes searching articles for journals and together with his son Stewart has developed the remarkable COMsumer Manifesto, and the network Capital Multiplier test, which has been developed to improve levels of trust and joint capability building.
So I guess the question should be, do we in business harness the intellectual capital of candidates who have been there, done it all and can still do it, or do we continue to recruit only from the ever decreasing pool of young executives, when many of the more talented are leaving new Zealand as part of the Brain Drain? It may be partly true that younger executives have the curiosity, energy and drive to create the impression of being effective. However they know that they want to move on to the next job within two to three years, so don’t have to really consider the longer term future of the organisation they are managing.
As any successful experienced manager will tell you, when they were younger they made lot of costly mistakes and wasted great deal of time (and opportunity) learning to lead people and manage resources. Remember what the renowned leadership scholar Warren Bennis once wrote, “leaders are made, not born”.
We would welcome reader’s views on this issue. Please email [email protected] or fax 09 525 3300.

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