Does age matter when you're CEO?

Even so, young CEOs say they will exit before their 70s. "There will be someone a lot better than me long before that," says Richard Dugas, the 43-year-old CEO of home builder Pulte Homes. phm "It's an all-consuming role. I don't know many CEOs who are effective more than 15 or 20 years."

Jeffrey Schwartz, the 49-year-old CEO of ProLogis, pld a giant real estate investment trust operating in 20 countries, says he doesn't see himself slowing down much by 72, but he expects to retire around 60. Clinging on would be unfair to younger executives, he says.

Spurring competition

Companies such as Altria mo and General Electric ge encourage CEOs to retire by 65, if only to maintain morale and spur competition among those in line for the next chance. However, 67% of 398 senior executives surveyed by the Association of Executive Search Consultants this year said there should be no mandatory retirement age.

"Some companies use a mandatory retirement age to avoid a potentially awkward conversion and to provide younger leaders with a visible path to higher office," says Universal Health Services uhs CEO Alan Miller, who turns 71 this month. "If the company is objectively managed, changes in leadership will happen when appropriate, making arbitrary limits unnecessary."

For every 65-year-old CEO nudged out the door, there is probably a talented fortysomething who feels his or her career has been unfairly postponed by the promotion of a fiftysomething. Dugas says he considers himself lucky to get his chance four years ago.

"Experience is not about having more answers. It's about asking the right questions," says Gary Smith, 47, who took over as CEO of communications company Ciena cien at 40.

Abhi Talwalkar, 44, who became CEO of semiconductor giant LSI lsi at 41, says young CEOs connect with employees. Septuagenarian CEOs may be a fit for "old-world companies" where the average employees are in their 50s, but they're less likely to fit where employees are in their 30s or younger, he says.

As CEO of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, it's Gary Burnison's job to help place CEOs at the right companies, and he says age is often a point of emphasis. Korn/Ferry's research finds that such traits as perseverance, integrity and trust have nothing to do with age, but that conflict management and negotiating skills improve over time.

International Dairy Queen is owned by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Mike Sullivan retired seven years ago as Dairy Queen's CEO. He was 66 and was replaced by Chuck Mooty, 47 at the time. Age was not slowing him down at 66, Sullivan says. He might be less effective were he put back on the job today at 73, he says, but only because he has been gone so long that his work habits have changed.

"Age does raise questions. But I would not write someone off at 70 because of age itself," Sullivan says.

A first for voters

Voters have never had to choose between candidates born so far apart.

Bill Clinton won despite being 23 years younger than Bob Dole, but the older candidate has won 24 of 38 presidential elections since a Republican first faced a Democrat in 1856, according to American Demographics magazine.

Presidents since 1951 have been restricted to eight-year term limits, which may make age less of a consideration among voters than it would among company directors choosing a new CEO.

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