Senior Executive Redeployment


It’s no secret.  The insurance industry (as well as many others) are graying with greater numbers of baby boomers beginning to collect social security and embark on their golden retirement years.  The trade press articles and blog posts (mine included) have been warning of the looming talent crisis with relatively few young people pursuing risk and insurance careers.  It’s a problem, but a fixable problem.

Personally, I sense the tide may be turning with so much attention being paid to the industry’s talent needs and the more aggressive communication of opportunities to young people.  Though it may be presumptuous of me to pronounce the talent crisis problem “solved,” I want to address something today that may be a transitional issue/opportunity for the industry as more young people come aboard and the “seasoned” executives feel more comfortable heading for the exits as a result.  This may ruffle some feathers, but it’s a conversation worth having.

Late last year (2014) I received a copy of the book “The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done” by Peter F. Drucker with Joseph A. Maciariello (2004, HarperBusiness).  It’s a collection of Drucker wisdom from a cross-section of his many management books over the years, each formatted as a one-page quick-read daily dose of Drucker.  I have been journeying through this little gem, one day at a time, throughout 2015.  Here’s an excerpt that recently resonated with me:

An employer should have in place a policy for the over-sixties in managerial and professional ranks.  The basic rule, and one that should be clearly established and firmly enforced, is that people beyond their early sixties should ease out of major managerial responsibilities.  It is a sensible rule for anyone, and not only for the executive, to stay out of decisions if one won’t be around to help bail out the company when the decisions cause trouble a few years down the road – as most of them do.  The older executive should move into work one performs on one’s own rather than be the “boss.”  This way, he or she specializes and concentrates on one major contribution, advises, teaches, sets standards, and resolves conflicts, rather than works as a “manager.”  The Japanese have “counselors,” and they work effectively, sometimes well into their eighties.

First, I do not interpret this as a renewed call for “mandatory retirement” so let’s take that off the table.  Instead, Drucker recommends a shifting of roles for older executives toward more project-oriented and advisory work while the next generation of executive management steps into the decision-making roles.  The premise is simple and easily understood – Do you really want people making impactful, long-term strategic decisions when they are not going to be around for the outcomes/consequences?

This is not industry specific, but I found it fascinating to think of this in terms of the “gray” insurance industry, an industry that routinely makes long-term decisions about the lines of business and types of risks it will underwrite.  So now for the potential ruffling of feathers. To my risk and insurance industry colleagues occupying senior executive positions and blowing out 60+ birthday candles these days…  As we attract more talented young people to the industry in the next few years, and have an increasingly capable group of mid-level managers waiting in the wings, can you step aside and take on the type of role that Drucker recommends to help the next generation to fill your shoes successfully?

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