As Nelson Mandela said, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow” but is this an ideology that businesses struggle to put into action? The leadership battle.

In the fast-paced world of business, where innovation and fresh perspectives are key drivers of success, the issue of mandatory retirement age is casting a shadow over big companies. Recently, Chevron extended the mandatory retirement age for CEO Mike Wirth from 62 to 65 to allow him to work for two more years. As corporations grapple with the delicate balance between experience and youthful dynamism, the fate of young talent hangs in the balance. What example does this set and are we in need of a reset?

Undoubtedly, we also must recognise that this can be seen as good news as Chevron’s board of directors have the leader they are looking for; so why would and should they let him go? On the other hand, is it not a terrifying thought that the performance of the company is rests on one individual alone? Whilst experience undoubtedly contributes to steady leadership, it must not overshadow the potential of emerging talents who can infuse organisations with fresh ideas and innovative approaches. Similarly, Walt Disney also extended Bob Iger’s contract through until 2026, meaning now there are two highly successful companies that are facing this leadership battle. Undeniably, waiving the “mandatory” retirement age is in effect acknowledging that the CEO is irreplaceable; what message does this send to young talent and emerging leaders?

As the corporate landscape evolves, the younger generation brings a tech-savvy, forward-thinking mindset that is essential for businesses to remain competitive. These young professionals, often armed with cutting-edge knowledge and a natural inclination for adaptability, can drive digital transformation, revitalise business strategies, and connect with younger demographics. Therefore, when companies prioritise retaining senior leadership due to mandatory retirement policies, they inadvertently suppress the advancement of young talent. The problem lies not only in the lack of opportunities for younger employees to climb the corporate ladder but also in the stifling of diverse perspectives that can result from intergenerational collaboration. An imbalance between experience and youthful innovation can lead to a lack of progress of ideas and a failure to adequately address the ever-changing needs of the market.

The consequence of this challenge is two-fold. Firstly, young professionals may feel disillusioned and overlooked, leading to disengagement and a higher turnover rate. If promising talent finds limited avenues for growth within their current organizations, they may seek opportunities elsewhere, causing a brain drain that could potentially weaken the company’s long-term prospects. Secondly, businesses miss out on the chance to foster a dynamic, multigenerational workforce that leverages the strengths of both experience and youthful energy.

In a rapidly evolving business landscape, adaptability is paramount. Will the companies that embrace flexibility in their leadership transition strategies stand to gain a significant competitive advantage? Instead of enforcing a rigid retirement age, organisations can adopt a more fluid approach, focusing on individual performance, skills, and contributions rather than age. Surely, by creating pathways for continuous development and learning, businesses can retain young talent while benefiting from the wisdom of experienced leaders. Furthermore, mentorship programs and cross-generational collaboration initiatives can bridge the gap between senior leaders and young professionals. Such initiatives foster a knowledge-sharing environment where experienced individuals can pass on their insights and experience, while younger employees contribute their innovative ideas and technological prowess. This interplay of wisdom and innovation can lead to groundbreaking solutions and strategies that resonate across generations.

While a business may choose to extend its mandatory retirement age, it is important to recognise that every individual’s tenure is finite. This begs the question: are we potentially prioritising short-term perspectives over long-term sustainability? Perhaps it is time for a reset, meaning it is time for businesses to actively nurture emerging young talent, fostering a forward-looking approach that ensures continuity and growth.

“To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill.

Written by Izzy McHattie, EP Business in Hospitality