Too Young To Lead?

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2007 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg smiles in this office in Palo Alto, Calif. Zuckerberg turns 28 on Monday, May 14, 2012. He's considerably younger than the average FORTUNE 500 CEO, of course. But while some investors worry that Zuckerberg is too young to lead Facebook as a public company, experts point out that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell were in their 20s when their companies had IPOs. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook when he was just 20 and became the youngest CEO of a multibillion dollar public company at 28. He has since been named one of the most influential CEOs in the world. Many other CEOs and business leaders are in their twenties or early thirties: Spencer Rascoff founded online real-estate site Zillow Inc. at 35, Michael Reger co-founded Northern Oil & Gas Inc. in 2006 at the age of 30, at 32, Matthew McCauley became the youngest-ever CEO at Gymboree Corp. Drew Houston founded storage giant Dropbox at age 24, and Evan Spiegel is the CEO of Snapchat, which he cofounded at age 21.

And the list just keeps growing. And of course there is the late Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple at just 23 in 1978, now the largest market cap company in the world.

Over the past several decades a seismic shift has occurred in businesses and Boardrooms around the world.  CEOs and company founders are getting younger and younger! James W. Breyer, a director of Facebook who works closely with Mark Zuckerberg, said age matters less and less. “Skills, passion, intense curiosity and extremely high IQ are more important,” he added.

classical music old conductorHowever, there are many in highly established institutions, like business and classical music conducting, who firmly believe that age, and the accompanying experience and maturity, are required for sustainable success.

Too Young To Lead?

Age and experience without passion and curiosity is just old news!

After working with CEOs and business leaders for the past 30+ years, and also being the father of a highly talented young violinist (and future conductor), I have come to the conclusion that all this back and forth about age, experience, youthful passion, the benefits of life’s “hard knocks” and the argument that one, youth or aged experience, is better than the other, is mostly nonsense!

Consider these observations (or shall we say my own conclusions?):

  • I have seen many older and experienced CEOs who are still crap at many important elements of leadership.
  • The CEO doesn’t produce anything, it’s the employees, so all CEO success is gained through being able to get the best out of others.
  • The Conductor doesn’t produce one musical note, it’s the orchestra that makes the music.
  • With age doesn’t always come wisdom or the ability to motivate and inspire others
  • Some young people have an incredible ability to inspire and motivate others to give their best.
  • The essential basics of leadership, business and conducting are relatively few, and are not necessarily age dependent.

A really talented conductor can get an extraordinary performance from an ordinary orchestra, even from a youth orchestra, as was demonstrated this past week at the BBC Proms in London when Sir Mark Elder conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (ages 13-19) in Gustav Mahler’s 9th Symphony (a 70 minute long epic). Click here to view this stunning performance:

Mark Elder NYOAnd the young Venezuelan classical music conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Prize in Germany at age 23 and conducted at the BBC Proms at age 24, later becoming conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at age 28.


And if you watched the BBC Proms on August 8th the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain played a new modern piece by young composer Tansy Davies called Re-Greening, with the 165 member orchestra being conducted by the first violin and orchestra leader, Stephanie Childress, age 16. Who says age is required to lead? If you are curious about what 165 young people can deliver, watch here:

BBC SEC conducting

A Point of View:

I tend to ignore these discussions about age vs experience and one being better than the other. My take on the whole debate can be summed up in a single sentence:

Just be so good they can’t ignore you.


Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Too Young To Lead?

  1. Dave Eaton says:


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