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Do we still have the music in us?


I turned 60 years old last Sunday. There, I said it.

I told my good friend, Bob Ambrogi, that unlike other birthdays, number 60 really hit me. He told me it was the same for him. Bob also told me he had his best year ever just the year before.

It’s not that I can’t do what I did before (except stay out until 2 AM drinking beer), it just registered that I have less time to change the world for the better. It’s a what if I can’t get it done type of thing.

When it comes to running businesses, Walter Frick (@wfrick) asked in Harvard Business Review today if older CEO’s should be asked to retire.

More than a third of S&P 500 firms have a mandatory retirement policy for their CEO. Their aim is to drive out executives who are past their prime. But are such policies a good idea?

Frick cites a study that firms with firms with older CEO’s tend to perform worse than those with younger ones. He concedes that younger CEOs are attracted to faster growing companies. Most 65 year olds are uncomfortable in hoodies.

Older CEOs also trend to be less innovative, per another study cited by Frick. It turns out, per Frick, that this is because they tend to hire older higher research talent.

Much of my research is coming from a 28 year old CTO and a 29 year old product manager. I told Frick on Twitter that CEO’s who hire younger innovative leaders like these guys have no problem in staying the course.

My personal research comes from Twitter, Facebook and the religious use of a RSS reader to stay abreast of the latest developments and to network with innovative people I’d never have met otherwise.

Even studies that found a mandatory retirement age helpful conceded that executive experience is important for a company’s financial success. Many a board of directors have found the same per Frick.

Robert De Niro, playing the role of a retired executive now interning for a young CEO in a thriving startup in The Intern, said “Musicians don’t retire, they stop when there is no more music in them.”

I still have some music in me, and I suspect many 60+ year olds feel the same.

I found great inspiration in what Jack Nicklaus, now 76, told Paul Gittings (@paulgittings), writing for CNN, a few weeks ago about working harder than he ever has and still enjoying it.

Most people work all their life to retire to play golf — I played golf all my life to retire to work.

It’s not about money for me, I think I passed most of my part of the company off to the kids years ago. I don’t mind dying penniless right now — but just not right now.

I’ll probably die with my boots on.

Sure, publicly traded companies will make statistic driven decisions void of emotion. But those decisions can be short sighted and don’t apply to 60 year olds with heart, drive and a dream.

​As Frick said, in October 2000, Jack Welch did his biggest deal in his 20 years as head of GE, a $45 billion merger with Honeywell. Shortly afterwards the company forced him to retire because of GE’s mandatory retirement policy for CEOs turning 65. Wouldn’t most businesses take a Jack Welch?

I’m no Jack Welch, but like Nicklaus and many others, I’ll probably die with my boots on.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Chris Lewis

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