The Case for Thinking Gray!

Posted on April 12, 2016 by Bob King

At the IBS, NAWLA, JLC, LBM and Pro-Sales 100 events this year, everyone kept asking us, “How can I find good people?”

I have recently noticed some changing attitudes on hiring older, more experienced workers. Let’s face the fact that, as our industry recovers, there just are not going to be enough young folks interested in a career in the LBM  industry to meet demand.

So, where can we find the talented people to operate, guide and grow our companies? Actually, we don’t need to find them at all. These people are sitting right in front of us; we just need to Think Gray.

As an LBM Executive Recruiter, I encounter scores of 50 somethings who have had extremely successful careers, but for no other reason than they have passed their 50th birthday, they are no longer considered for employment. Lots of times, they are automatically considered “over-qualified”. In most cases, these “seasoned” people are realistic about this stage of life. They have come to grips with the fact that they are likely going to have to accept a step-back in salary and position; they GET THAT! They just want to continue to have a position where they can contribute and receive fair compensation. These people are “wired” to perform at a very high level; it’s who they are! Take advantage of that fire that is still in their bellies.

According to Forbes Magazine’s 2014 CEO Statistical study, the average age of the S&P 500 CEOs shot up from just under 49 in 2001 to 55 in 2014! Why do you think that is? Clearly, the S&P 500 “Boards of Directors” increasingly prefer to hire leaders who have had more time on the job to acquire the knowledge, experience and the wisdom needed to oversee the largest companies in America. Why wouldn’t executives of smaller firms use the same logic when recruiting a Territory Salesperson, Ops Manager or Vice President?

As a former owner of three LBM businesses and now, in my position as an LBM executive recruiter, I have encountered as many opinions about hiring “seasoned” employees as there are folks doing the hiring. But generally, they can be divided into two groups. The hire “Under 39” group, who want to hire only younger people and who look at people in their forties and fifties as Retreads or Dinosaurs. Then there is the, “I just want someone who can walk in the door and be able to do the job without babysitting!group.

The “Under 39” group assumes that anyone in their 40’s or 50’s is a Retread. But, what really are the assumed characteristics of a “Retread”? Maybe it is a person who lacks ambition, people skills, communication skills or the ability to grasp new concepts. So, do you know any twenty or thirty something’s that would fit that criteria? I sure do. Managers are looking for ambitious, smart, and articulate hard-chargers that will help them grow their business and add to the bottom line, right? So why limit yourselves to young people only?

As a recovered hire “Under 39” guy myself, and having assembled many teams over the years, especially focused on younger folks, I realized that this tactic was no more than a very long “condensation” process. I would hire five people and, at the end of a year, only one or two would still be there. Most either couldn’t cut it or, would leave for that “shiny object” that paid a little more money.  Turnover is expensive. Failed hires cost you, not only in dollars, but in time spent in the hiring process, training, unemployment contribution increases and mistakes that damage your company’s reputation. It’s pretty much a roll of the dice.

Let’s face it, if you have a group of a couple dozen “seasoned” professionals who have survived twenty or thirty years in this business, you have to assume that they were the cream of an original crop of hundreds. Most of that original group did not survive the cuts over the years. They have proved their worth and have performed at a consistently high level over time. They also have a verifiable track record; no more “pig in a poke” adventures.

Of course, these seasoned pros have probably made their fair share of mistakes along the way, but they were intelligent enough to learn from them and not to repeat those particular errors. That is why they have survived. Luckily for you, those errors occurred on a past employer’s dime, so they are mistakes you will not need to pay for. They show up every day, on time and just plain don’t make many mistakes anymore.

Seasoned pros also tend to appreciate the job opportunity more than young folks and often go on to become some of your most faithful and productive employees. They have many years of experience to contribute and most prove to be excellent mentors to your younger staff members; and, maybe, even yourself.

I refer to professionals in their forties and fifties as being in the “sweet-spot” of their careers. They still have many years of gas left in the tank and the experience, relationships, knowledge and pure business savvy to execute their employer’s objectives. After all, only a small percentage of most companies’ staffs actually have more than 10 years of average longevity.

I personally know plenty of folks in their late fifties, sixties, and even some in their seventies, who are as sharp, aggressive and competitive as most twenty and thirty year olds I know. So, the next time you have a need for a person who will be able to “Walk in the door and be able to do the job without babysitting!” just Think Gray!

Bob King is the co-founder of Coastal Forest Products, Edge Building Products, Sensibuilt Building Products and is a past board member of NAWLA. He is currently Vice President of Business Development & Succession Planning at SnapDragon Associates in Bedford, NH