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.
However, 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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e8r2mb#p02wwbnp
And 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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e8r2mb#p02wwbnm
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
John also writes thriller novels!