Lewis Schiff’s Inc. Small Business Council had its fall meeting last week in New York. The speaker on this occasion was the redoubtable Norm Brodsky, CEO of CitiStorage and small business guru. This was my first personal exposure to Brodsky, though I had heard of him through colleagues over the years.
Brodsky is a lovely guy–compelling, plain-spoken, generous. In answer to a Schiff question about his greatest entrepreneurial gifts he listed only one: “I can see the future.” And he proceeded to share a number of astute analyses of the future for small business, all of which warrant notice.
But one of his observations especially caught my attention–that being that it’s over for accomplished, well-remunerated, “at liberty” corporate employees in their 50’s and 60’s. Brodsky stated simply and bluntly that they mostly will not be rehired. Ever. Older workers are an unfortunate part of a permanent change in the employment paradigm, resulting from corporate belt-tightening and long-term recession. One of the results of this (along with many older folks simply falling through the cracks) will be a large increase in single proprietorships and consultants as these people scramble to cobble together a living.
I think Brodsky is unfortunately prescient in his dour predictions for older workers. But his view on this prompted the practical, Gordon Gekko-ish, opportunistic, Darwinian part of my entrepreneurial mind to ask, “How do I profit from this demographic catastrophe?”
I have long and vociferously recommended to my clients and fellow entrepreneurs that they tap this underutilized subset of the employment pool. For years I have almost never employed an associate under 35 for my virtual executive sales company Corporate Rain International. Older employees have judgment, rich life experience (including the experience of hard knocks and failure, as well as success), proven skill sets, existential perspective, a work ethic, an ability to read people and sophistication on many levels. These unquantifiable qualities can only be learned over time. They cannot be taught in school.
With the unemployment situation as dire as it is for the over 50 crowd, the hiring of these folks should become increasingly cost efficient. Highly skilled, experienced older executives and managers should be increasingly highly available and affordable in this brave new world. Why not use them? I have for years. And with the coming tsunami of what may well be the dismantling of our increasingly unaffordable welfare state, the need for employment by older workers can only increase, with a concomitant downward pressure on costs for the entrepreneur.
The time for the utilization of the older employee is coming. And it should. As French existential novelist Albert Camus said, (Notebooks, 1935-42) “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”