Am I Too Old to Be CEO?

Looking at the 22 year old CEOs of many tech companies, it is often a question that many of us ask ourselves. Am I too old to be CEO? Have I missed the entrepreneurship train? Funnily enough, if survey results are to be believed, about 2/3rd employees want to work in ‘magical’ start-ups.

The challenge of working in small teams with strong “hands-on” work culture and sometimes interesting new employee benefits are exciting for a lot of us (for instance: Buffer employees get fitness equipment/bands to take care of their health!). Being a CEO even in a big firm can be an exciting and different challenge. What level should one be in their 30s to have a shot at the coveted CEO position within a large organization? Or is being in the 30s already too late, for a start-up or even within a big company?

CEO researcher Leslie Gaines-Ross said age was not a consideration for the top position. It was optimism and intrinsics instead

“Leaders at all ages have to be willing to hear the bad news over and over and still see a silver lining” (source)

However, at the same time, a USA today survey result showed that 47% respondents would not hire a qualified CEO at the age of 72. And only 4% would not hire one who was 47 years old, clearly favoring the younger age group. Companies usually tend to have a retirement age after 70 and a CEO above 70 is a rarity and an exception.

There’s still a big variation in the age groups in their 30s and 40s. Plenty entrepreneurs or start-up CEOs have varied age brackets (Infographic below) before they decided to make something that was perhaps truly their calling.

Although, technology companies typically tend to have a younger bias. The 48 year old departing CEO of Alibaba was quoted as saying that at 48 he was too old to be CEO of an online company. This may not be true of a company  or industry that is more traditional and demands that people be highly experienced and specialists before they are chosen for such a senior position.

It’s hard to always have a rule regarding the exact age that can work, but from all the research that we do have, here’s something that we do know. Whether you’re 40 or 22 the three key aspects of being able to lead and be a CEO include:

  1. Communication needs to be transparent, open and clear
  2. Optimism is a quality that you need to showcase display even in the wake of distressing times. Motivating the employees to do something for you is key
  3. Feedback process needs to be strictly followed. This includes recognition of effort. Why should your teams work hard for you? What’s in it for them? But there’s also a need for being able to strictly state what is not working and where the employees can objectively improve.


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