In Welding & Gases Today’s On The Edge column, we write about controversial, divisive and otherwise discussion-worthy topics. The topics come out of news and current events, or sometimes they come from a particularly poignant comment made in a conversation with a GAWDA member.
Such is the case with the recent article, “Too Old To Be The Boss,” which looks at the challenge of knowing when the time is right to turn the business over to the next generation. As one distributor put it, “It’s unfortunate that in some companies, the leaders just hang on to the reins too late.” Distributors at several companies had some very interesting things to say on both sides of the issue.
Undoubtedly, this is an issue businesses have struggled with for decades. But I began to wonder if maybe the issue has been exacerbated by the recent downturn in the economy. Last year, Welding & Gases Today conducted a survey of GAWDA members and found out that an overwhelming majority—77%—of GAWDA members have changed their retirement plans due to the economy. In other words, a lot of business owners are sticking around longer, and longer.
So is it at the expense of the next generation of leaders? The distributor whose comment spawned the recent On The Edge article would seem to suggest just that: “I came to the realization that I could actually hinder my company more than help it if I don’t make a change. We all have egos, but every leader reaches a point where fresh ideas aren’t fresh anymore.”
It may be hard to measure the right time for an owner to retire and let the next generation take over; and that number is one that shifts from situation to situation. But what we can measure is when GAWDA members say they actually plan to retire. In the 2011 survey, 0% of respondents said they could realistically retire before age 65. The greatest percentage was split between 66-69 and 70-75, while a few members said they would never retire.
The economy has been a setback for a lot of businesses in financial terms. But all of this leads me to wonder whether it could wind up being a setback in the development of the next generation of leaders. What do you think? Will the changing landscape of retirement have any lasting impact on the industry’s future leaders?