Don’t apologize for getting older

Don’t apologize for getting older

By Bikram Vohra - Friday, December 30, 2011

In corporate reality, 50-somethings are 
a much better bet than the slick, younger lot. Here’s why

This is for all 
those 50-somethings. Like Sinatra said, my body may be 50 but I am only 22.

Alright... 23, you don’t have to be so touchy.

The point is can you be a whiz kid at, say, 55? Do you have the stamina and hunger to take on a 30-something challenger and best him?

Perhaps some years ago when this whiz kid concept was spiking and folks were falling over each other hiring wet-behind-the-ears, relatively green, smart-talking cuts-from-the-same-cookie-cutter personnel, your experience would have been sidetracked and you could have been told to get on your bike and take premature retirement.

With no criticism whatsoever of the younger generation who are heaps smart, technology and its sack of shortcuts has kind of levelled the playing field for the older lot. You don’t need the gruelling stamina, you don’t have to take the stairs when you have the lift and life is a button that you press to get everywhere.

Thanks to the easy access to data, background, options, even solutions, the older generation even has an edge because they have the savvy they have distilled from the past and added to the mix.

By that token, a lot of companies in recent times have keeled over because they are crammed with smart, young people whose leaders are also smart, young people and together this band of smart, young people ultimately crashes on the rocks because it has no map of the past and, therefore, no connection into the future. It is a limbo thing, fast, furious, incandescent, brilliant, and over in a flash.

As a result, more organisations are falling back on the 50-somethings as their frontline executive cadres because not only are they relatively reliable, they are less ambitious, more eager to prove their worth and more likely to stay put than the men and women who are 20 years younger and ready to enjoy the heady arrogance of youth and take chances. Premature retirement that had become a common feature in the Nineties has reduced by as much as 30 per cent in the private sector.

The older soldiers have sort of created their own bulwark and are now not surrendering space that easy. Even the “off you go” age has been raised and the 60s are also not seen as a mandate for being sent to the farm.

On the contrary, as we see in many an expatriate situation ourselves, the sons and daughters are not interested in dad’s business and would prefer to do something else, thereby leaving dad no option but to keep at it and hone his skills periodically.

But really, it is a great span, this pre-retirement period that is pretty much open-ended. Consider the plus points.

You have seen it all and yet, all passion has not yet been spent. You are still in pretty good health and you don’t go haring about, chasing shadows and mistaking them for substance.
Because you know your sands aren’t at the brim, you conserve time and make the best use of it, which means you function at high efficiency and you don’t squander hours.
There is no career to make so you don’t plot, plan, suck up and do all those extra-curricular things that the starters do to build their career graphs.
For you, results count so much more because you are running out of paper and you want a last hurrah, at least a leaf from the laurel wreath.
The odds are that you don’t 
get married, go on honeymoons, have babies, need protracted holidays, go on weekend picnics, overdo the good life, send CVs to the competition... On the contrary, you are sensible and balanced and you eat your vitamins and your ambition is now mellowed and practical and predicated to keeping the boat steady.

Consequently, you are a corporate dream. You won’t be demanding, you won’t swoop off into a personal sulk and you won’t be conspiring to outmanoeuvre your colleagues. Instead, you’ll be working for the company.

In this generation, movement is of the essence for those on the career binge and it is almost laughable that company personnel chiefs continue to be blind to this fact.

If you exclude the senior levels from job applications under the illusion that the young are a long-term investment, you are only fooling yourself. They won’t be staying, friend, and there is no reason why they should be.

What is even more dangerous is that as people live longer, if the demand for them reduces then it will be a great loss of talent. At tennis or running the marathon, yes, the young will triumph, but across the table, in a negotiation, making a deal, getting the leading edge, I’d bet on the 50-year-old any day.

So, if you are a boss and you select personnel, wake up to the fact that you can get some great people into your cadres where a little grey hair could well indicate both stability and success.