December 07, 2000, 5:05 PM —
Dot-com startups are notoriously ageist, often adhering to the stereotype of a group of
hotshot twentysomethings just out of college with no families, working through the
night and living on pizza. While there's a lot to be said for boundless youthful
energy, a little experience can go a long way, and those same startups may do well by
bringing in some seasoned, older executives to help guide the company on its mission.
Grant Peterson, CEO of SUMmedia.com, a provider of small business Websites and online
couponing, attributes his company's success to the diverse group of people running the
show. "We've got a lot of gray hair in the organization, and we've got a lot of youth
in the organization. It's a good mix." A quick review of SUMmedia's executive
biographies will show that it's not run by a typical wet-behind-the-ears, just-out-of-
college staff. Peterson himself brings 25 years of experience to the table, and the
company's president, John Veltheer, contributes a background in venture capital
financing and investor relations, something younger executives also often lack. Often,
it's just those types of connections that more experienced executives bring with them
that can put a new company over the edge to success.
No substitute for experience
"I don't think there's any substitute for experience. Older workers have that
experience, and they have a wealth of knowledge to offer to these companies," says
Andrea Wooten, president of Green Thumb, a
national nonprofit corporation whose mission is to provide employment-related
assistance to older and disadvantaged Americans. Green Thumb, in partnership with
Microsoft's Skills 2000 training initiative, trains older workers for high-end
technology jobs, and Wooten has found that Green Thumb's trainees are in big
demand. "We've had great success. Dell and Sears in Austin, Texas, hired most of our
participants ranging in age from 55 to 75." Interestingly, Green Thumb's 75- year-old
student was the first to be hired.
Despite dot-com stereotypes, plenty of large companies such as Xerox rely on older
workers. Xerox spokesperson Christa Carone says, "It really comes down to diversity in
the workplace. For Xerox, we view diversity as both a moral imperative and a
competitive advantage. The reason for that is Xerox believes that people of all ages,
including our older workers and workers from different backgrounds, bring unique
perspectives in creativity in solving real business problems."