|Aging today is far from a singular experience. For some, every passing year brings obvious new challenges. For others, one unexpected event—like a fall or a viral illness—can lead to spiraling medical issues. And for a lucky few, age-related changes from year to year are barely detectable.
In the top ranks of the business world, that reality complicates an already awkward question: How old is too old to lead? The topic has lately been front-and-center in political circles and in the corporate realm, where several older CEOs and founders still hang on to power. See Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, 93, and his deputy Charlie Munger, still clocking in at 99. Or corporate raider Carl Icahn, age 87, running his Icahn Enterprises from Florida. Michael Bloomberg, 81, founder of his namesake financial information and media giant, recently told employees, “I’m not going anywhere.”
As science and medicine extend lives and push back retirement ages, we are entering an era of potentially extreme longevity—the first 100-year-old CEO is surely not far off—and it’s time to consider how to deal with it when a leader’s age puts companies and the communities they support at risk. Though it’s uncomfortable—successful people often define their worth primarily by their job and title—we should discuss how to facilitate older leaders’ strengths, accommodate their frailties, and perhaps start embracing what one Dutch management scholar calls the “beautiful exit.”
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