The Age of No Age: It’s all in the eye of the beholder

When it comes to senior talent management and board composition, why do we think of ‘old’ age the way we do?

Fredy Hausammann, Managing Partner of Amrop Switzerland, argues that it’s time to ring the changes in a maturing world.

The Age Of No Age

Ringing the changes in a maturing world

The western world looks at the span of working life in the same terms as ideas developed after the Industrial Revolution: work means pain, suffering, and being steadily worn out. The ideal of early retirement took root as a solution, and has stayed with us ever since.

But this attitude needs to change, both for the health of business leadership, and to keep pace with demographic shifts.

I still meet senior executives who see early retirement as a mark of success. For them, a round of golf beats yet another Board meeting. But for many, feeling worn out at the age of 60 is no longer the reality. Moreover, their health and drive as they approach the traditional retirement age translates into a hunger and ambition seldom seen before in this age group.

Yet the attitude to the traditional retirement age at many companies is still languishing in a cliché: the over 60s are unfit for purpose - physically, emotionally and motivationally. This overlooks the new normal of longer life expectancy, and the general fitness and health enjoyed by older people. It simply fails to consider the reality of demographic change. 

Fredy Hausammann is Managing Partner of Amrop Switzerland. He is a published author on Personal Governance, and a seasoned executive coach.

8 Management messages

  1. In key senior roles we need a different view of age, work and tenure
  2. Executives aged between 55 and 60 years, and board members aged between 60 and 65 years, are the twin spheres in which we must build a more agile view. 
  3. Demographic changes and the hunt for outstanding talent mean that we will be forced to embrace the older age brackets in any case. So why not now?
  4. Keeping an open door to the more mature pool allows organizations to tap a deep well of brainpower and experience - a key to building the best possible human capital.
  5. Building diversity of age can and should be part of the renewed focus on the need for diversity at senior levels.
  6. Positioning a mature executive not as a rival for the younger executives around him or her but as a mentor brings the reward of a seasoned leader - willing and able to build successors.
  7. It is critical to understand each individual’s complete set of motivational drivers, instead of assuming that mature executives have a lower motivational drive than younger peers: they may have less family responsibility and financial pressure, and be less prone to burnout.
  8. It’s important to correct the bias that an 60 or 65 year old cannot or will not keep up to date technically: most important is self-reflection and its learnings. This ability comes from personality, unrelated to age. 

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