Boy, Oh Boy—That’s the Chief

Posted on Feb 10, 2012 | 10 Comments

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?


  1. Ashok Vaishnav
    February 10, 2012

    Lack of experience is certainly likely to result into some mistakes. After all, experience is what you learn from your failures!
    It is also true that it is better that you get opportunities to make mistakes in the initial years so that you still have time to repair the damage.
    In the prticular instances of first time tecnology enreprenurs making it big at a young age, they must develop a network of objective and candid wellwishers-cum-advisors or colleaugues who would dare to raise an alarm signal in good time.
    Also these experienced colleagues would be also able to fix the damage, if required.
    The entreprenurs need to identify the difference between an advice which is generating from the fear of the risk involved or generating from the analysis of risk.

  2. Dx Reader
    February 11, 2012

    I believe youth is a terrifc boon but it’s never a zero sum game. We need all kinds of people contributing — accounting for both youth and experience and all other kinds of differences among people. And, knowledge will never outpace experience.

  3. joe
    February 11, 2012

    We conquer from the saddle but we must rule from the throne. Any body can start something. Keeping it going without the intuition gained from experience is the real problem.

  4. Maverick 18
    February 12, 2012

    Which surgeon would you choose for your heart or brain surgery? The phenom who just graduated from med school a year early with maximum honors, or the one who graduated 10 years ago with less honrs that now has a thousand successful operations to his/her credit? One other factor with respect to high executive positions, it wasn’t the old presidents that disgraced themselves and their office by their actions with White House interns. Experienced politicians (and executives) even know how to cheat better.

  5. Alba Patricia Valencia
    February 12, 2012

    Creativity does not have age. The experience is trump the creativity of youth, because we purchase experience with knowledge and practice.

    He has experience who has known an existential reality, not only theoretically but through practice.

    La creatividad no tiene edad. La experiencia se impone a la creatividad de la juventud, porque la experiencia se adquiere con el conocimiento y la práctica.

    Posee experiencia quien ha conocido una realidad existencial, no sólo teóricamente sino a través de la practica.

  6. Richard B Mann PhD
    February 12, 2012

    It depends on the situation and timing. I was on my own at 16. Traveled, took whatever job was available, from busboy to RR Yard Foreman, salesman, printer, janitor, and many others. I was successful in some areas and failed in others. I learned from my failures and overcame my faults. I was persistent and would not give up. I was taught to keep as much cash available as possible to take advantage of opportunities, which I did. Opportunities keep happening all the time. I bought and sold or rented for a profit, met two friends in collage and started three businesses. We made a million before I was 25. Then I retired, went to Japan to build a boat and sail around the world, but got bored. I missed the hustle and bustle of business. Returned at a bad time — the oil embargo and recession, so went back to school for an MBA. Earned two master’s degrees and a PhD and taught for 35 years. It was a great life!

  7. Mike Grayson
    February 13, 2012

    The problem with a young executive is that they don’t have much of a track record, the track record being whether or not they made good decisions for the company. An older executive has a track record, and it might be good, or bad.

    Bill Gates made more good decisions, than bad, as a young executive, and now he has an exemplary track record, the same can be said for Steve Jobs. However, they had their stumbles, and they had their moments of opportunity, insight and genius.

    One of Peter Drucker’s greatest, and perhaps largely ignored, is his, Elements of Effective Decision Making. This process sets the standard in decision making, the gold standard. I would take a young executive who practiced this process, over a experienced executive who flew by the seat of the pants, any day. But, when you marry experience with Drucker’s process, you have some magical decision making, that often becomes innovative in nature.

    Drucker said, “Effectiveness must be learned”, he was right, we aren’t born being effective. Read Chapter 17, Effective Decisions, in his book The Effective Executive, or look it up in his book on Management, it’s under Managerial Skills.

    Learn and practice what Drucker teaches and you’ll be an effective executive, regardless of age.

  8. Phalana at the Dx
    February 13, 2012

    We received an interesting article from leadership guru Warren Bennis on this topic.

    He and co-author Noel Tichy write: “After a five-year study of leadership covering virtually all sectors of American life, we came to the inescapable conclusion that judgment regularly trumps experience. Our central finding is that judgment is the core, the nucleus of exemplary leadership. With good judgment, little else matters. Without it, nothing else matters.”

  9. The Feedback | The Drucker Exchange
    February 14, 2012

    [...] of details about productivity-boosting work arrangements. Check them out; they’re interesting.We also asked about wunderkinds (or wunderkinder, if we want to be strict about it) who become business titans, [...]

  10. Job One Is to Make Sure There’s One Job, Said Jobs | The Drucker Exchange
    June 4, 2012

    [...] at a young age—so much so that Peter Drucker said that Jobs had been cursed by enjoying “too much success too soon.” But Jobs got wiser with the years, and he apparently passed on much of his wisdom to his [...]


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