Job Hunting

Survey: CEOs Getting Younger

Majority are in their fifties -- rather than sixties -- study finds; stamina deemed crucial for the job.
Lisa YoonMarch 6, 2003

CFOs have a demanding job, no question. But for what it’s worth, the boss’s job is no cake walk either. In fact, according to a new survey by Chief Executive Magazine and executive-search firm Spencer Stuart, CEOs today have a tougher job than ever.

Several factors are making the chief executive’s job tougher, including an increased workload. But the survey also cited the relative youth of chief executives today, compared with 10 or 15 years ago. “The trigger is pulled earlier on CEOs who are not performing, which has increased turnover at the top and opened opportunities for younger executives to take command,” notes Spencer Stuart U.S. chairman Tom Neff.

It seems companies are also attracted to younger CEOs in part “because they have the physical and mental stamina for the job,” says Chief Executive editor-in-chief William J. Holstein. But despite the growing preference for the younger CEO, companies still want the experience of a seasoned leader. “That’s the key tradeoff everybody is having to make — youth vs. experience.”

The study found that about one out of every five CEOs in the Fortune 700 have been in their current positions for one year or less. Nineteen percent of the Fortune 700 CEOs are under age 50, up from 17 percent in 2001 and 2000.

On the other hand, 54 percent of CEOs are in their 50s, down slightly last year. In 1980, the base year for comparison in the study, more than half the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies where in their 60s. Today barely a quarter of the same group are over 60.

For CFOs who have designs on some day assuming the top job, these findings should be a signal to get ready — opportunities abound. But for CFOs who stay put, the news could signal a need to prepare for extra work that comes with any personnel change.

That’s particularly true when the company CEO departs. As the study warns, higher CEO turnover means succession planning is more important than ever. It also means CFOs may jump ship more quickly. “It’s harder and harder to hold onto your No. 2 because everybody … is looking to see if he or she is ready to be No. 1 somewhere else,” said Dayton Ogden, co-chairman of Spencer Stuart.

While CFOs and CEOs may be quick to jump ship, they tend to put in long hours on their watch. According to a poll of 730 executives by Management Recruiters International (MRI), fully 47 percent said they would not be using all their vacation time this year; of these, 58 percent cited job demands as the top reason.

MRI chief executive Allen Salikof attributes the survey results to the weak economy. Many executives, he says, feel this is no time to take a break. “There’s a sense in corporate America that this is the year to knuckle down and stay at your desk,” he told the Associated Press. “With the economy continuing to limp along, executives are hoping that a little extra elbow grease will help revitalize corporate health more quickly.”‘