SEVEN OVER 70

SEVEN OVER 70 - How do they do it? Our selection of veteran leaders all display undiminished energy and drive, at the same time showing that business can exploit the talents of our ageing population. Rebecca Hoar reports.

by Rebecca Hoar
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How do they do it? Our selection of veteran leaders all display undiminished energy and drive, at the same time showing that business can exploit the talents of our ageing population. Rebecca Hoar reports.

None of us is getting any younger, but maybe in the world of work that does not matter these days as much as it used to. A mood-swing is underway in the West: after a decade that ended in the ridiculous youth-led excesses of the dot.com boom, there is now a new respect - which has always been present in Eastern cultures - for the values of experience and wisdom that greying hair brings.

At MT, we're always keen to acknowledge precocious talent - hence our regular '35 Women Under 35' feature. But we've been remiss in failing to applaud those in the autumn of their lives who are still going strong.

So here is our tribute to the venerable. Each of our seven septuagenarian role-models remains at the height of their powers, giving their all to their businesses. They're welcome proof that you are only as old as you feel and that advancing years needn't mean a gradual decline into slippers and daytime TV. Some of the males are even still fathering children, having experienced new leases of life with second or third wives. Our seven 'super silvertops' are driven people - none has any financial need to stay in the saddle.

With these examples it's all the more puzzling, then, that so many firms balk at the idea of employing those who are over a certain age - with notable and sensible exceptions such as the DIY chain B&Q. We all know about the demographic time-bomb: how an ageing population means that there will be proportionally more older people and fewer younger people around to support them in years to come.

Under new legislation due to come into force in 2006, age limits on jobs will no longer be legal. Add to this the parlous state of pension schemes and the fact that it may become compulsory (or, at least, financially desirable) to work beyond the current retirement age, and it becomes clear that we should start treating the older generation with greater respect.

Over-60s represent a huge and under-used repository of marketable skills, which forward-thinking employers ignore at their peril.

According to Ian Florance, a consultant to occupational psychology consultancy ASE, there are three types of ageing. The first is physical, the second psychological and the third social. We have doctors to treat the first, and our own strength of character to deal with the second. But social ageing is more tricky. 'One of the prime determinants of how people act is how people treat them,' says Florance. So if we expect our 70-somethings to be curmudgeonly, frail stick-in-the-muds, then they will probably behave that way. Social ageing is accelerated in societies - like ours - that have a disparaging attitude towards age, but it is slower in much of Asia.

Furthermore, adds Florance, having older people in the workplace is immensely beneficial. They tend to be happier than their younger colleagues, they have years of experience, and they are more likely to see the bigger picture rather than focus entirely on their own position within an organisation. And it's a myth that you can't teach an old employee new tricks - it might just take them a little longer.

< LI KA-SHING Age: 75 Born: 13 June 1928 Position: Chairman, Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa

CAREER: In 1950, Li Ka-Shing started a plastic flowers business in Hong Kong, Cheung Kong Industries. Today, Cheung Kong Group is a conglomerate, its combined businesses contributing to an overall market capitalisation of pounds 37.9 billion, or 11.5% of the total market cap of the Hong Kong stock market. Ka-Shing is a smooth operator, with close contacts among senior Chinese politicians and a negotiating style that has created a company spanning 41 countries. His UK businesses have included Orange, which he sold to Mannesmann in 1999, and now 3, the 3G mobile offering from Hutchison Whampoa. Ka-Shing's success has been attributed to his excellent judgment - although 3 is going through rocky times at present, and Hutchison shares are at a low of pounds 4.45. This is, however, a small dent in the empire.

FAMILY: A widower for several years, Ka-Shing has two sons, Victor and Richard.

HOW DOES HE DO IT? He is helped by Asia's more respectful attitude to age. He rises early for a round of golf before work, and devotes much of his time to a foundation that manages his many charitable donations. Otherwise, little is known of what he does with his fortune, estimated at pounds 4.9 billion.

< RUPERT MURDOCH Age: 72 Born: 11 March 1931 Position: Chairman and CEO, News Corporation

CAREER: Reviled and revered in equal measure, Murdoch and his media holdings wield a formidable amount of power across the globe. Prime ministers and presidents prefer not to cross him, and although he denies angling for political favours, it is uncanny how often he manages to thwart the competition watchdogs in his quest for ever more acquisitions. In the UK, Murdoch's influence is most strongly felt through his newspapers, the Times, Sun and News of the World. Whether or not it was 'The Sun wot won it' for Tony Blair in 1997, there's no doubt that Murdoch's newspapers will make life extremely difficult for the PM if he decides to pursue euro membership for Britain.

FAMILY: Thrice-married, Murdoch has four adult children from his first two marriages. His first daughter, Prudence, jokingly described him as a 'dirty old man' when word got out about his third marriage to Wendi Deng, who at 35 is younger than Prudence herself. The ambitious Deng, who recently gave birth to their second child, has apparently given Murdoch a new lease of life.

HOW DOES HE DO IT? Murdoch exercises obsessively, running, sparring with his personal trainer and downing vitamins to keep himself on top form. Even prostate cancer hasn't knocked him off his stride, and he remains as driven as ever. While sons Lachlan and James apparently squabble over succession on the sidelines, Murdoch has said he plans to be around until he's at least 100.

< SIR KENNETH MORRISON Age: 71 Born: 20 October 1931 Position: Executive chairman, William Morrison Supermarkets plc

CAREER: While others on our list of super silvertops may jet around the world, Ken Morrison has chosen a different route to success. A superlative shopkeeper, Morrison has made a virtue out of playing the bluff tyke who is happiest in his Bradford-based company's regional heartland. He took over his father's Yorkshire grocery stalls and shops in 1952, opened his first supermarket in 1962 and floated the company in 1967. The UK's fifth-largest supermarket chain has since enjoyed a record-breaking 36 years of unbroken growth. But just when everyone thought Sir Ken might be contemplating retirement, he made a pounds 2.9 billion bid for Safeway in January this year. It provoked counterbids from Tesco, Asda and J Sainsbury, and the outcome is still in the balance. Famously tight-fisted in the best Yorkshire tradition, Sir Ken is rumoured to check the bins behind his stores to make sure that fresh produce is not wasted. He also saves money by recording his own in-store announcements. But he knows his market and customers inside out, and his shoppers are fiercely loyal to the brand.

FAMILY: Sir Ken was widowed in the early 1990s, then remarried Lynne, a lawyer several years younger than him. He has three children from his first marriage, and two with his second wife.

HOW DOES HE DO IT? If keeping busy is the secret of a long and active life, Sir Ken should still have years to go. Rumour has it that he loves his job so much he still spends the odd Saturday helping out on the shop floor. There is no sign of a successor at Morrisons, so expect Sir Ken to be around for some time yet.

< QUEEN ELIZABETH II Age: 77 Born: 21 April 1926 Position: Monarch, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

CAREER: In her 51 years on the throne, the Queen has weathered countless regal storms, many of which would make a shareholders' revolt look like a walk in the park. Although she has never herself courted controversy, the marital break-ups of her children, Princess Diana's revelations about the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace's reaction to Diana's death have nonetheless damaged the House of Windsor's reputation. Her workload and influence make those of the bosses of all but the largest companies pale in comparison - more than 500 public engagements a year, a weekly audience with Tony Blair and entertaining a continuous stream of visiting dignitaries. Not to mention all those trips as a cultural and economic ambassador for the UK. On the downside, the Royals cost the taxpayer pounds 35 million a year and it is hard to quantify the levels of return on that investment. But judging by the huge success of last year's Jubilee celebrations, as a nation we still believe that the Queen is good value for money.

FAMILY: Married to Prince Philip since November 1947. Their four children are Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.

HOW DOES SHE DO IT? Elizabeth is one of Britain's longest-serving monarchs. If she stays on until she's 90 she will have beaten all records, including Victoria's 64-year reign - and on her current showing there's no reason why she shouldn't. She recovered well from a recent knee operation, and has given no hint that she is considering abdication. Buckingham Palace can hold off on building a granny annex for the moment.

< ALAN GREENSPAN Age: 77 Born: 6 March 1926 Position: Chairman, US Federal Reserve System

CAREER: As chief of the US Federal Reserve, Greenspan is arguably the second most powerful man in the US. Whereas his peers might be contemplating a life of idle pottering, Greenspan is up at 5.30 every morning to run the US economy. A one-time jazz clarinet and sax player, Greenspan eventually plumped for economics. Elected Fed chairman in 1987, he's served under four presidents from Reagan to Dubya. His finest hour arrived early when, 72 days into his chairmanship, the US economy imploded on Black Monday. He calmly dealt with the crisis, helping to steer the country through the storm. In the '90s, Greenspan famously presided over one of America's longest-ever periods of economic prosperity, and despite the economic difficulties of recent years, he commands huge respect at home and abroad. Well known for his love of obfuscation, he once famously told a journalist: 'I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.'

FAMILY: His second wife is NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who is 20 years his junior.

HOW DOES HE DO IT? Greenspan has a deft political touch, as demonstrated by his ability to prosper through so many regime-changes. He relishes the Washington cocktail circuit and although he could earn far more in the private sector, he adores his work. 'This is the greatest job in the world,' he told President Clinton on his reappointment in 2000. 'It's like eating peanuts. You keep doing it, keep doing it and you never get tired.' Probably just as well, as Bush junior recently implied he wants Greenspan to stay on until 2006, by which time he'll be 80.

< BERNIE ECCLESTONE Age: 72 Born: 28 October 1930 Position: Founder, F1 Management

CAREER: Since he started selling cakes in the playground, Ecclestone has never stopped wheeler-dealing. The F1 racing supremo left school at 16 and worked briefly in a gasworks before setting up a motorcycle dealership. In 1949, he began racing in Formula 3, but quit the driving seat after a big 'off' at Brands Hatch. Instead, he moved into management, running the successful Brabham team for 15 years. His big break came when he started managing the F1 teams' television rights in the 1980s, at the time a risky and unprofitable business. Ecclestone saw the potential, and his company, Formula One Management, now manages the multi-billion dollar deals that are F1's commercial rights. Ecclestone retains a 25% stake in Formula One Management but his interests don't end at the racetrack. He also owns a pay TV channel and a magazine publishing business.

FAMILY: Ecclestone is married to Croatian-born Slavica, a former model 28 years his junior. The pair, who met at Italy's Monza racecourse in 1982, have two small daughters. Ecclestone also has a daughter from his first marriage.

HOW DOES HE DO IT? He clearly loves what he does and is driven by his constant desire to cut new and better deals. A triple heart bypass doesn't seem to have slowed him down. Despite a fortune estimated at pounds 2.4 billion, the UK's third-richest person shows no signs of pulling into the pits just yet, telling the Sunday Times recently: 'I'm never going to retire. I would get bored and probably die.'

< LILIANE BETTENCOURT Age: 78 (estimated) Born: Undisclosed Position: L'Oreal heiress

CAREER: If our guesstimate is correct, Liliane Bettencourt, who belongs to an era when a lady didn't reveal her age, is the oldest of our seven and she is very much still in the saddle. She had the good fortune to be born the daughter of Eugene Schueller, the French chemist who in 1907 developed a formula for hair dye. His bestselling product became the launchpad for cosmetics giant L'Oreal. Little is known of Bettencourt, who guards her privacy, except that, with an estimated fortune of pounds 9.1 billion, she is France's richest person, and the 12th-richest in the world. She is vice-chairman of Gesparal, which owns a 53.7% stake in L'Oreal. The stake links her to another retail giant, as Nestle owns 49% of Gesparal. Bettencourt still wields huge power at L'Oreal, so it's just as well she gets on with Lindsay Owen-Jones, the Welshman who has headed the company since 1984.

FAMILY: Liliane's late husband was Andre Bettencourt, whose name was besmirched after the second world war by claims of association with extreme right-wing groups. Their daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, also sits on the L'Oreal board of directors.

HOW DOES SHE DO IT? In her rare statements to the press, Bettencourt gives the impression that she will continue at L'Oreal for as long as she can. In May this year, she was re-elected to the board of directors. Given her love of privacy, it's hard to discern what keeps her going. Perhaps L'Oreal's many 'age-defying' cosmetics brands really do have a significant effect.

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