My friend was concerned about impending layoffs at his company and wondered if, at age sixty, his corporate career would be over. His concerns were that he never moved passed middle management and he felt very “out of the loop” on the current changes that were coming. He strived to be a Corporate Vice President for many years relocating his family to Indiana from their roots in the South. Even though he and his wife were treating me to dinner and the scene on the reservoir where we dined was pleasant, upscale and calm; I think my assessment ruined his meal.Climbing the career ladder and shattering glass ceilings is a province of 20-to early 40-year olds from what I have observed. There are often outliers in companies where a 45-year-old comes out of nowhere and quickly moves up the ranks, those people are exceptions, like Powerball jackpot winners. What I observe most commonly is a career trajectory that begins in the 28-35 year-old age range when talent is first noticed within a company. If you are recruited to a company from outside there is latitude, the age of being "discovered" may expand to age 42. Management becomes aware of this potential phenom and as my HR friends say, this person is “on the radar.” More time is spent on them in talent management meetings, they are evaluated against their peers in succession planning conversations and they are offered the opportunity to be on high-profile projects or attend national trade shows to mingle with senior management. They may attend Executive Education to learn about the areas they do not specialize in--R&D types may attend Strategic Marketing or a Sales professional is in enrolled in Finance for Nonfinancial Managers. The most fortunate earn Executive MBAs in top programs at Harvard, Notre Dame, INSEAD or Wharton on the company dime as part of their development.
By the mid-to-late thirties to early-40s rising stars have generally found their place in their first line management position. At this point there may be an element of personal sacrifice. I liken it to initiation to a country club, fraternity, sorority or street gang (depending on the organizational culture). The corporation did something for you; now, show your commitment. It may be an expatriate assignment to learn the global business, a relocation or unlimited business travel. If this works out well and the incumbent does not burnout, blow-up or bomb—the next step is often leading a cross-functional team, higher stakes more visible project or account management responsibility even if they have not been in sales. No matter what the functionality, this is the job where everyone in the organization knows their name. After four to six years of grooming, in most corporate models it is back to people management—this time as a leader of other managers. This is a critical career juncture and the role my 60-year-old dinner companion was in as layoffs loomed at his company. For eight years he toiled away as mid-level Director through three different CEOs and their management teams. I sipped my Cotes Du Rhone and nibbled at my meal aware they were picking up the tab and weighed my words. “In my opinion and again it’s just my personal opinion,” trying to be delicate and honest, “you may have Peter Principled out.” I felt like such a weasel. I was trying to minimize my impact knowing that both husband and wife leaned on my career advice in the past and it had served them well. How do I tell him what in his heart and mind, he must already sense and does not want to accept. YES! At 60, it sounds like he's off track and if he is laid off, the dream of going to the VP level at a Fortune 100 company is shattered. (My humble personal opinion).
If you desire a very senior position: CEO, Division President, Business Unit President, VP of R&D, IT, Human Resources, Finance or CFO, CIO, COO, and you are not there by ages 49-55--it's not likely to happen at your current employer. You will have to join a new organization. I have seen people jump to a smaller organization, a large family-owned businesses or regional company and all of those employees have been sitting one rung below their desired job title when they made the move. All of them were recruited. None of them answered an ad on a job board or were "connected" on LinkedIN.I went on to talk about career reinvention, entrepreneurship....maybe buying a franchise or contacting recruiters now, before the layoff. I could tell everything that came out of my mouth after “I-think-your-career-with-these-people-is-toast” was blah-blah-blah, just background noise. He didn’t hear the ideas that came afterwards or the success stories I shared about those I’ve met in my travels that have gone to smaller organizations and thrived. We finished the meal without our usual sharing of a decadent dessert. Just hugs and promises to not let it be so long until next time.
EPILOGUE: Yes, it happened. My friend was laid off this month and felt shocked and betrayed. Now he is in outplacement beginning to network, create a new resume and practice interviewing for the first time in many years. His goal is to work in a corporate role until he is 66 and will have access to his full social security benefit. He’s not sure what comes next. What do you think?Full retirement age is:
65 for those born before 193766 for those born between 1943 and1954
67 for those born 1960 and laterIf you want to find out at what age you can receive your full social security benefit, visit: www.ssa.gov