Last summer I hosted an event where the chief executives of a number of companies were pitching to retail investors. For one of them, the head of a large hotel operator in Ireland with an increasing presence in the UK, it was a swansong performance as he prepared to step down after more than a decade in charge.
When I mentioned to the audience he was retiring soon, he was quick to correct me and the audience: he may have been approaching the age of 68, but he was merely leaving the company and had no intention whatsoever of retiring from business life. He had plenty of other ventures he was involved with and a growing portfolio of non-executive roles to take on.
Recognising there is a ready pool of experience and talent will give some businesses an edge
It was a little reminder to me that the age of retirement we have in the back of our minds as a fixed number is no longer appropriate for the world we live in now. We are all living longer and healthier lives. We will need more people working for longer to pay for state services, so why on earth are we setting arbitrary dates for which to throw intelligent and experienced people out of work?
One of the biggest issues that has arisen in every survey of business conditions over the past 12 months is the shortage in supply of labour. When it comes to skilled professionals and graduates, that shortage is becoming acute and increasingly a challenge for businesses to meet the growth opportunities.
You can pick what you want to blame for that one: the ‘great resignation’ as employees in a post-Covid era seek a better work/life balance, the lack of mobility of labour across borders (again, caused by the pandemic), or even a more significant shift as technology companies snap up those who would have customarily gravitated to professional services firms.
Whatever the reason, it has left businesses struggling to hire – and is therefore driving up pay costs – while persisting with the policy of senior people stepping down at an appointed date because that is the way it has always been done. There is always a need to bring through the next generation, motivating them with the prospect of advancement. But it shouldn’t have to mean the loss of a cohort of people who have acquired a lifetime of knowledge and contacts, many of whom would be happy to carry on rather than pick up lucrative consulting projects elsewhere.
Perhaps we also need a change in mindset on how to value that experience. Some companies have already recognised that need. Peloton, the US company best known for its internet-connected exercise bikes, recently appointed 68-year-old Barry McCarthy as its new chief executive to turn its fortunes around after a disastrous few months. Even for a company whose brand is intrinsically linked with youth and fitness, the move to appoint a chief executive almost 20 years older than the person he was replacing shows that experience can be a highly valuable commodity.
There may, of course, be those for whom, having made their contribution, the prospect of retirement is a welcome one. But for others the retirement requirement is not a direction they want to take. Recognising that there is a ready pool of experience and talent already available will give some businesses an edge and a resource to use rather than worry about.
Read AB’s Late-Career Special Edition