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MY NEW PARTNER: MR. AGE

“I’m turning the company over to my sons on January 1,” said the founder of a highly successful company with deserved pride. “And what will you do on January 2?” I asked. After a long sigh he soberly replied, “I have no idea.”

Most of my contemporaries have been retired for several years. But I’m having a great time working. I have a new partner: Mr. Age. Though he can be difficult at times, Mr. Age is a great asset to our firm. And can be a great asset to that founder who steps down January 1.

I’ve always counseled older clients. Until now, that age difference has been a subtle barrier between us. Until now, I didn’t appreciate how much clients crave the special understanding of counselor contemporaries. With Mr. Age as my partner, the years between me and octogenarians don’t seem to matter. Once qualified for Medicare, I’m their peer.

Ironically, Mr. Age opens doors to younger generations — Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Ys.

Yes, they volunteer to heave my heavy carry-on into the overhead compartment. But then talk to me about stuff I thought they only shared with their contemporaries. Somehow geezers are safe I suppose.

To the founder who step downs on January 1, his partnership with Mr. Age seems dark and threatening. Mr. Age steals energy and memory, sows restlessness among his children, undermines his role as unquestioned autocrat.

Mr. Age will replace him with eager sons or daughters who don’t yet understand the business, who cannot lead as well as he.

Or, worse, Mr. Age may inspire his children to sell their stock or even sell the company the founder spent his lifetime building. Either way — step down or sell — sounds like the founder’s death itself. Better to falter as an autocrat than endure the slow suicide of succession?

I’m eager to show him how other aging founders leverage their new partnership with Mr. Age. How they leverage the energies and memories of younger persons. How they sow and cultivate among the young, the wisdom and perspective gained only over many years.

Ambitious children can be a hand full. But at least they care about the company, and their caring needs the wise leverage only founders can provide. This founder need not be abandoned, ignored, or cast aside. He can play a vital role on his children’s new management team as invited coach and teacher. Mr. Age even helps founders understand that children who prefer to sell their gifted stock can nevertheless remain loyal to the family and remain grateful for the advantages the company has provided.

Eventually, Mr. Age will become a partner of the founder’s children. They will remember how their parent partnered and, as it is ironically with children, may feel constrained to follow his example. For better or for worse.

A heads up: parenting never ends.

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