Boy, Oh Boy—That’s the Chief

As the world prepares for what may be a $100-billion initial public offering of Facebook, a lot of very young people are preparing to get very, very rich.

Nothing wrong with that. (Well, maybe there is, but let’s hide the green eye of envy.) The real question is whether Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who is all of 27, is too young to effectively lead a big, publicly traded company?

The question surfaced this week in The Wall Street Journal, which asked bluntly:  “Young CEOs: Are They Up to the Job?” The Journal acknowledged that not everyone sees the issue the same way, and that some believe there are inherent advantages in having a 20- or 30-something in the corner office.

“The debate typically pits the benefits of creativity and familiarity with emerging technologies against the need for disciplined decision making and experience dealing with hard times,” the Journal explained.

One man who considered youth a drawback was Peter Drucker. (Of course, Drucker—though he never headed a company—had already accomplished more in his 20s than many people have accomplished by their 50s. In 1997, Drucker also graced the cover of Forbes under the headline “Still the Youngest Mind.” He was 87 at the time.)

“The most successful of the young entrepreneurs today are people who have spent five to eight years in a big organization,” Drucker asserted in a 1985 interview.  “They learn. They get tools. The learn how to do a cash-flow analysis and how one trains people and how one delegates and how one builds a team. The ones without that background are the entrepreneurs who, no matter how great their success, are being pushed out.”

Not coincidentally, 1985 was the year that saw Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak forced from their own company, Apple.  “I am on record as saying that those two young men would not survive,” Drucker said of Jobs and Wozniak. “The Lord was singularly unkind to them . . . by giving them too much success too soon. If the Lord wants to destroy, He does what He did to those two.”

Simply put, wunderkind executives never get to learn from their mistakes. “They’re like an architect who doesn’t know how one drives a nail or what a stud is,” Drucker said (in a passage we’ve explored before). “A great strength is to have five to 10 years of, call it management, under your belt before you start. If you don’t have it, then you make these elementary mistakes.”

What do you think? In general, does experience trump the creativity of youth, or is it the other way around—and why?

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