JEREMY SAMPSON: Age is but a number
We don’t give enough credit to older members of society who continue to contribute meaningfully — and whose experience may be invaluable
The age of retirement varies by company and country, but in SA it seems to range from 58 to 65. Some companies set the age decades ago and haven’t got around to reviewing it in light of changing conditions.
As in many things, authorities globally and locally are behind the curve in taking cognisance of changing conditions, technology, lifestyles and the like. In much of the developed world, especially in the US, many continue working into their 70s and 80s. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, for one, turned 90 this year.
Some keep working because they need the income — not that this applies to Buffett, of course: he’s the third or so wealthiest person in the world, with a fortune of $86bn.
Berkshire Hathaway has a 14-person board: four are in their 90s, one each in their 80s and 70s, five in their 60s and three in their 50s. It makes for a fascinating blend of experience and skills.
News magazine The Economist confirms something most of us know: more people are living longer than before. In fact, in 2018, the World Health Organisation predicted that by 2020 there would be more people over 60 than children under the age of five.
One outcome of this is that more people are remaining active and healthy, and still in some way generating an income and contributing to society. However, there are those who increasingly require social and medical support.
To some, the US is seen as the leader of the so-called free world — though that brand lost some lustre under the Trump presidency. Donald Trump himself is 74, and president-elect Joe Biden turns 78 on November 20. Many of those who held onto their congressional seats in the recent election are well into their 70s and 80s. And Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, will celebrate his 80th birthday on Christmas Eve.
We would be much better off if young people and older people worked together
SA’s own renowned epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert Prof Salim Abdool Karim is a youngster in comparison, at a mere 60.
In SA, there is a dearth of highly experienced people in their later years who remain relevant and actively involved in the business world, especially among women: Wendy Lucas-Bull is only 65, Wendy Luhabe 63, Maria Ramos 61, and Bridgette Radebe 60.
Among SA men, Mervyn King is 83, Christo Wiese 79, Michael Katz 75, Nicky Oppenheimer 75, Johann Rupert 70, Saki Macozoma 63, Herman Mashaba 61 and Phuthuma Nhleko 60. Patrice Motsepe is a spring chicken at 58.
Striking a balance
A conveniently ignored fact, I’m told, is that there are more successful entrepreneurs globally who started out over the age of 55 than those under 30.
The problem is that SA spends a lot of time focusing on the youth while ignoring the over-60s. Eskom would be in a much better state today if many of its experienced engineers had not been "retired" prematurely.
In fact, we would be much better off if young people and older people worked together.
You may well ask why people are not retiring, and are either carrying on with what they are doing or adapting to new challenges. Some need to work to pay the bills — bills that may relate to the grandchildren. For others, there’s the matter of boredom, or of trying to rescue family relationships.
One side effect of Covid-19 is that we are all spending more time at home. As one long-suffering wife was heard to say: "Once you were travelling for weeks on end; now I see you for breakfast and dinner — but, please, not lunch!"
Of course, another outcome of Covid is the accelerating use of technology, which allows us to work from the comfort of home, making it easier for those of advancing years to manage the health challenges that emerge.
In my case, I’m one of the "silent generation". Put another way: not the retiring kind. But, then, my work is my hobby.
- Sampson is MD of Brand Finance Africa
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