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American CEOs Appear to be Getting Older

For many successful managers, life doesn’t start till 58.

iStock-510697150-compressorThe rise of the tech industry has introduced many youngsters to the C-suite. But for every Mark Zuckerberg, who was 20 when he became Facebook CEO, there’s also a Warren Buffett, who turns 87 in August.

In fact, it appears that older CEOs are becoming more abundant, perhaps thanks to advances in medical technology and general improvements in living standards that are stretching our life expectancies.

Two recent studies indicate that budding executives needn’t panic if they haven’t yet made it in their 50s. One, released in December by Spencer Stuart, found the average age of CEOs in the S&P 500 index rose by 4% from 55.2 in 2006 to 57.2 in 2016.

A separate analysis of America’s top 1,000 companies by revenue released on Tuesday by Korn Ferry put the average CEO age at 58.

“Since markets have improved, elder CEOs have come back into favor, indicating that a generational shift that occurred in the wake of the financial crisis has largely run its course.

There may be other factors influencing CEO age trends, apart from humans living longer. When global stock markets collapsed in 2008, there was a high turnover rate of CEOs aged 64 and above, according to an analysis conducted last year by the Conference Board.

But since markets have improved, elder CEOs have come back into favor, indicating that a generational shift that occurred in the wake of the financial crisis has largely run its course.

Some older CEOs who kept their jobs when the great recession hit also may have been encouraged by their boards to stay on and see the company through, according to Korn Ferry.

Not surprisingly, KF’s analysis found that tech sector CEOs are generally younger, with an average age of 55. The eldest CEOs were found in financial services, with an average age of 60.

Among other C-suite positions, CIOs and CMOs were youngest, with average ages of 51 and 52, respectively. CFOs averaged 53 and CHROs averaged 55.

Older executives concerned that they’re running out of time can take inspiration from Buffett, who’s still regarded by many as the best CEO in the world. It’s also comforting to note that CEO age differs by country: in Japan, the average age is above 60 and more than 10% of its CEOs are in their 70s, according to an analysis in 2015 by the Financial Times.

Among them is Nobutsugu Shimizu, who is still running supermarket chain Life Corporation at the tender age of 90.

About Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.