In case you haven't noticed, the stereotypical image of a silver-haired 50-something chief executive wearing a perfectly dimpled necktie is fading.
The top dog at the company no longer has to fit that mold to gain the trust of his or her peers and shareholders. Authority and competence are no longer found just in a look — and age and experience don't always dictate performance.
Take the youthful Michael Chasen, the 36-year-old CEO and co-founder of Blackboard, a developer and marketer of educational software. He started the venture with his college roommate, Matthew Pittinsky, in 1997, and has since helped it grow into a $183 million company that services students around the globe.
Despite being as high as one can go in the world of corporate job titles, Chasen is not one to rest on his — or his company's — laurels.
"Forever seems like a little bit of a long time," Chasen said. "To me, all we've really done is make sure we have a spot at starting line of the race."
And he definitely wants to take Blackboard the distance.
Chasen said age, to a point, does matter in the tech business, since it's typically the younger generation that has kept its finger on the industry's pulse. So, naturally, he was an early adopter of the iPhone, and has a Facebook profile. Even as a millionaire, a CEO can still afford to be a kid from time to time.
Based on a list sorted by BoardEx, a business research company, there are 29 chief executives in his peer group, 36 years and younger, standing out as the youngest leaders of public companies in corporate America. Whether the duties have been inherited through family or established on one's own, reaching this mark — and staying there — is no mean feat.
Jose Ramon Mas, 35, CEO and president of MasTec, sits atop the list as the youngest president-CEO heading the largest company in terms of revenue. His father, Jorge Mas, is chairman of the $945 million specialty contractor for communications companies, utilities and governments throughout the U.S. and Canada. Over the past 52 weeks, MasTec has earned shareholders a 32% total return. Prior to holding his current title in 2006, Mas earned $421,421 a year.
Matthew McCauley, 34, is the youngest person ever in the company C-suite in Gymboree's history. In 2006, the children's apparel maker raked in $791 million in revenue for a net income of $60.25 million. He received compensation of $677,749 in 2006.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank also has an interesting story to tell — he was a special teams captain on the University of Maryland football team. Plank, now 35, was bothered by the sweaty T-shirts he used to wear during games, so he came up with an idea for a new fabric that didn't cause the same problem under football pads. He has turned the idea into a $430 million company. In the most recent 52-week period, the stock's total return to investors was 36.7%. He received compensation of $522,920 last year.
Julie Smolyansky, 32, is the lone female and second-youngest on the list. Her father, the late Mike Smolyansky, started Lifeway Foods in the mid-1980s. His daughter took the reins in her late 20s, and has since filled the roles of president, CEO and CFO. The specialty foods company, based in Chicago, has annual revenue of $27.7 million. The stock has given investors a total return of 173% over the past 52 weeks, so by those metrics, Smolyansky is well worth the $195,200 in compensation she earned in 2006. Her mother Ludmila is director and chair of the board.
For now, Smolyansky may stand alone on this list, but she recognizes that she's hardly unique in business, as a growing number of young women are moving to command companies in the private sector. And she has all the determination of any successful CEO.
"Right after my father died, people said to my face 'no way a 27-year-old could run a publicly-traded company,'" Smolyansky said. "It built a stubborn spark in me."