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Thread: Youth versus experience

  1. #1
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    Youth versus experience

    Here's an article which discusses whether it's better to have an older CEO (experienced) or a younger one (understands modern technology).

    I don't think it's a great article, but it does raise an interesting question.

    However, I wouldn't be inclined to see it in such black and white terms as young vs old. Many projects, especially those on the Internet, require a skill set which is beyond the scope of any one person. So, I would say you need a good team in place and someone to guide the activities of the team, ie a manager. I don't think it matters if the manager doesn't understand all the new technology as long as they're willing to listen to those who do.

    I did some contract work for a guy (he was the CEO/manager). Fair enough, he didn't understand everything. The problem was that he thought he did. This is a big problem. An 'old' manager is OK if they'll listen and learn but it's a darned nightmare if they've heard the latest flavour of the month phrase and think they know it all.

    I guess I'll have to stick up for the oldies and say that experience counts for a lot when you're running a business. Been, seen, done it, hired the web monkey. No doubt some of the young guys on here will disagree. Bring it on.
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  2. #2
    Top Contributor Dave McM is a Premium Member
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    I broadly agree - if you have the intelligence to surround yourself with people who can make good your own shortcomings, it doesn't really matter a great deal. The key point is to understand your customer, and age can be a boon or a handicap depending on your ability to empathise with people who don't necessarily share your world picture. If your product meets a genuine need - or you can persuade enough people that they have a need that your product meets, even if they didn't know they had it before you told them! - then that's at least half the battle.

    You don't necessarily have to understand the product itself in every detail, although in the early days you probably will anyway; as your company grows and you start to take more of a back seat on the product development side, a little learning... is likely to cause your tech guys to desert you out of sheer frustration if you don't resist the temptation to tinker. It's probably more important to understand the business stuff, so that your wonderful product is actually earning you money rather than draining your resources.

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    I think you are both right. I would add that while understanding the client is very important, for any business that is more than just a few people, the real key is leadership. Leadership takes vision (which includes understanding the client) and the ability to select and motivate a team that can achieve the vision. That is not necessarily an age thing. I have seen some very good young leaders. However, like any other skill, leadership can improve with experience so an older person may on average have better developed his leadership skills through the years.

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    Experience does not necessarly comes with age. I've met young very experienced and wise people. I've also met older ones, who think they know it all. Like Kay said, it's very bad when someone think he knows about something but doesn't, he'll hit that wall at full speed.

    I also think that being a great CEO is not always about having the experience about everything, but knowing where and how to connect with people who do.

    I'd feel better with a young CEO in a very techy startup and I would prefer an older CEO to run a bank or a law firm.

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    I don't think age gap really matters. There are lots of intelligent skillful youth nowadays that can do CEO works. Nevertheless, they can be of a good assitant to older CEOs as of the moment if trust couldn't just be given that fast.

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    I would never have made a good first line manager, let alone a CEO. The difference the passing years have made is that now I understand why, and I've gained a little understanding of what makes good managers successful, so I'll risk offering an opinion.

    A CEO's job is not to understand his company's product, but to maintain the balance between those who specialise in the different aspects of the business - finance, operations, R&D, and awareness of the market. CEOs always have a bias of some sort, and I believe that the CEO of a company that operates in a rapidly-changing market (usually influenced by rapid technological development) needs to be enthusiastic about that aspect of the business, but should not be wasting his time on product details. He cannot spend enough time on the subject to be an effective contributor, in any case.

    I believe that the writer of the article misunderstood the cause of Blackberry's demise. The rapid growth in popularity of touch screen products was part of a bigger change, making Blackberry's position similar to that of producers of word processing systems such as Wang, once their function was subsumed into the wider scope of general-purpose personal computer systems. The fact that the company bought a new business jet in the same year that it lost several billion pounds should tell you something about the mentality in the boardroom.

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