Typically, when we think about America and its obsession with youth, we think of Hollywood celebrities with their facelifts and Botox shots or gymnasts and swimmers who are over the hill at 25. However, the fact is that ageism has permeated every aspect of American society, and that includes the business world.
Each year, business publications publish lists celebrating youth, like Fortune's 40 Under 40 list of hot rising business stars and Business Insider's 25 and under list of "Hot Young Stars in New York Tech." Yes, thanks to the digital revolution, we've seen the rise of young hotshot gazillionaire CEOs like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google's (GOOG) Larry Page, Groupon's (GRPN) Andrew Mason, and Zillow's (Z) Spencer Rascoff.
Because of the success of this Silicon Valley set, being youthful has increasingly come to be viewed as a positive leadership trait, one that indicates bountiful energy, endless creativity, intense curiosity, and ambitious risk-taking.
Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg and Co. deserve to be celebrated for what they've accomplished, but enough ink, virtual or not, has been spilled about them already. What about a celebration of old age and experience instead? Yes, while it's incredible to have founded a billion-dollar company at age 18 or whatever, it's also pretty impressive to still be running a multinational when you're over 80, an age when most of your peers have already been retired for a good decade possibly.
So, inspired by the sea of 40 Under 40 Tech Gurus or 10 Under 10 Super Genius Babies lists out there, we decided to come up with our list of 15 business leaders who are still going strong after 80. This collection of men contains some familiar faces and some lower-profile ones, but one thing binds them all together – their staying power, mental acuity, and obviously, boatloads of cash. --Sterling Wong
Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), Born: 1930
"… (I)nvesting is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date." So wrote 81-year-old Buffett in his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Buffett, who bought his first shares of preferred stock when he was only 11 years old, has forgone enough consumption to be worth an estimated $39 billion in his golden years. With more than 20% compounded annual gain between 1964 and 2010, his Berkshire Hathaway hasn't done too badly in the delayed gratification sector, either. If there's anywhere the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO is showing his vintage, it's that he bought his very first tech stock just last year, an approximately 5% stake in IBM (IBM) worth about $11 billion. Considering that Buffett's conglomerate has a market cap of $196 billion, it's hard to make fun of that delayed tech investment for very long. (Also read Debunking the Warren Buffett Tax Deception.)
Jim Pattison, Jim Pattison Group, Born: 1928
He who dies with the most toys might just be Pattison, the 83-year-old sole owner of his namesake Jim Pattison Group, Canada's third-largest private company. Pattison's conglomerate has holdings in car dealerships, entertainment, the financial industry, export, food, packaging, media, and magazine distribution. Pattison majority or wholly owns the Guinness World Records and Ripley Entertainment franchises, as well as the illuminated signs that McDonald's, Best Buy, Goodyear, and others use. The 33,000-employee Pattison Group likely also distributes magazines to your nearest drugstore or grocery store. All those activities amounted to sales of more than $7.2 billion in 2010 — and make Pattison himself worth around $5.8 billion, the third-wealthiest citizen of Canada, according to Forbes.
Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. (NWS), Born: 1931
Eighty-year-old Murdoch runs and chairs News Corp., one of the handful of conglomerates that own the world's mainstream media. Worth an estimated $7.6 billion and with a beautiful wife roughly half his age, Murdoch is living the life of a movie star, complete with entanglement in public scandals. Despite the PR nightmare resulting from employees of UK newspaper The Sun hacking into celebrity phone calls, News Corp. stock has gained almost 10% since the beginning of 2012, and second-quarter earnings are up 65%, proving that well-performing film and television businesses can override money-draining controversies in the publishing sector. (See also Top 10 Moments in Rupert Murdoch's Checkered Career.)
Walter J. Zable, Cubic Corp. (CUB), Born: 1915
Hewlett Packard (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman noted as she was leaving eBay (EBAY) that a tech company CEO's tenure should only last about 10 years. Zable, who has served as president and CEO of defense service provider Cubic Corp. for the past 60 years, would adamantly disagree. "Why would I retire?" the 95-year-old Zable has been quoted as saying. Shareholders might agree. This past December, Cubic reported a 12% year-over-year increase in sales, 8% rise in net shareholder income, and $0.80 earnings per share. Since 1990, when Zable was 73 years young, Cubic's stock price has increased by more than 1,500%. Why should he retire, indeed?
Alfred Mann, MannKind Corp. (MNKD), Born: 1925
Since founding his first company at the age of 21, 86-year-old entrepreneur Mann has launched 17 new companies, the equivalent of one nearly every four years. A commercial-engineering Da Vinci of sorts, Mann's prolific career covers aerospace, semiconductors, solar cells, pacemakers, insulin pumps, cochlear implants, and currently, inhalable insulin and cancer vaccines. Because the Food and Drug Administration wouldn't approve Afrezza, MannKind's insulin inhaler, Mann's net worth — and that of his company — has fallen on hard times. In Mann's case, that means a personal net worth of $1 billion and a move to tax-unburdened Las Vegas. MannKind shares are currently hovering around the $2.40 mark, compared to a high of nearly $10 a little over a year ago. To recoup its losses and continue to attempt to drive Afrezza to market, MannKind recently raised an estimated $86.3 million by issuing about 36 million new shares. Nobody knows what's next for MannKind, but if the FDA approves Afrezza, millions of diabetics will jump in line for a break from injections — and Mann himself will have commercialized another impressive invention.
Edward C. "Ned'' Johnson III, Fidelity Investments, Born: 1930
Johnson's favorite pastimes include heli-skiing, tennis, and cutting-edge Alzheimer's research. Those are impressive hobbies for any 81-year-old, let alone the full-time CEO and chairman of the nation's biggest 401(k) provider, which has about $1.6 trillion under management, according to Forbes. Johnson has been working at the family- and employee-owned company in some capacity for the past 54 years and, like some of the other CEOs on this list, has "no plans to retire." But when he does, daughter Abigail, personally worth $11.3 billion to Ned's $6.5 billion, is rumored to be next in line.
J.W. Marriott Jr., Marriott International Inc. (MAR), Born: 1932
Marriott Jr., son of Marriott founder J. Willard the first, turns 80 on March 23. That date also edges on the one-year anniversary of his retirement from his 39-year stint as CEO, which he relinquished on March 31, 2011. Marriott is currently continuing his 56-year tenure with the company as executive chairman. Marriott's influence has by all accounts been a positive one, with the Marriott, Residence Inn, Courtyard, and Ritz-Carlton brands all boasting industry-leading reputations for quality. Stock price has recovered relatively well from the shock of the 2008 financial crisis, thanks in part to BRIC market revenue growth. Share buybacks have also helped: one of $1.4 billion last year, and another repurchase of 40 million shares this year. In its latest earnings report, the company announced that quarterly earnings were up 31% year over year. Now the 1,099-foot-tall Dubai JW Marriott Marquis is poised to debut as the world's tallest hotel, becoming the figurative cherry on top of the Marriott brand. To his more personal credit, J.W. Marriott is also the only executive on this list to have his own blog.
Eighty-five-year-old O. Bruton Smith didn't found NASCAR, but he is arguably the man who made it famous. In 1959, Smith, an ardent racer himself, borrowed $1.5 million to build the Charlotte Motor Speedway, now NASCAR's home track. That flagship track launched an innovative and colorful career spanning more than half a century. Today, Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc. is behind eight US racetracks, race marketing and promotion, racetrack hospitality services, race cars and parts, radio programs, and motorsports merchandise. As if that weren't enough, the billionaire also owns and runs Sonic Automotive, Inc., America's third-largest car retailer. At 12.5%, Sonic also has the highest earnings yield of any American automotive retailer. Speedway Motorsports, with a dividend yield of 3.1% and an earnings yield of 5.5%, isn't doing too badly itself.
What does the outspoken CEO of both companies, with a net worth somewhere north of $1 billion, think about retirement? "Retiring is a bad thing," Smith is quoted as saying in this 2005 Las Vegas Review Journal article. "Six months later you're usually dead."
Perhaps it's inevitable given that Redstone owns media giants like Viacom and CBS, but we're pretty sure he's the only octogenarian (on this list, at least) who still makes the gossip pages of the New York Post. Yes, the billionaire media mogul is certainly controversial – divorcing his wife of 55 years in 1999, marrying a second wife in 2002 only to divorce in 2008, trying to bribe a reporter to disclose a source – these are only some of the highlights. Such tawdry news unfortunately distracts from Redstone's business genius – no one grows conglomerates like Viacom and CBS without the kind of IQ points he possesses. (He also completed his Harvard education in three years.) The Boston native did, however, make a lucky mistake when Viacom failed to acquire MySpace. Redstone was furious to lose out to arch-nemesis and fellow media titan Rupert Murdoch. "I don't want to lose to him. Just like he wouldn't want to lose to me. It was a humiliating experience," he told Vanity Fair in 2006. With the hindsight we now have, Mr. Redstone, perhaps you could stop beating yourself up over this lucky escape!
Warren Eisenberg, Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY), Born: 1930
Together with co-founder Leonard Feinstein (who, at 74, didn't quite make our cut), Eisenberg foresaw the specialist retailer trend and started Bed 'N' Bath just as the trend began to take off in 1971. The first two 2,000-square-foot stores were located in high-traffic strip malls in suburban New York. The business grew steadily in the next decade, and by 1985, there were 17 Bed 'N' Bath stores. Eisenberg then took yet another revolutionary step by introducing the new 20,000-square-foot big-box store that offered just about every home furnishing product out there. To better capture the store's product lineup, Eisenberg and Feinstein changed their surging company's name to Bed Bath & Beyond in 1987. Five years later, the company went public, with a $17-a-share offering price. After serving as co-CEO for 32 years, Eisenberg stepped down in 2003 and is now a co-chairman of the board. 2011 was a pretty sweet year for the New Bedford, Massachusetts, native as he sold 300,000 company shares and took home a nifty $7.2 million – not bad for a guy who started off as an employee of the now-defunct humble discount chain Arlan's.
Bruce Crawford, Omnicom Group (OMC), Born: 1929
After graduating with an economics degree from Wharton, Crawford began his long, storied career in advertising in 1956. In 1963, Crawford joined advertising giant BBDO and rose through the ranks to serve as the agency's president and CEO from 1977 to 1985. A year later, in his position as chairman, Crawford presided over the creation of a new holding company, Omnicom, which brought together BBDO, DDB Needham, and the Diversified Agency Services unit. Since then, Omnicom has acquired numerous other agencies, like TBWA and Abbott Mead Vickers. Crawford served as Omincom's president and CEO from 1989 to 1995, before stepping down to become the chairman of the board. The native of West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, is also a noted arts fan – he's nursed both the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center back to financial health in his leadership stints at the two organizations with his no-nonsense approach.
David Murdock, Dole Food (DOLE), Born: 1923
The rise of Murdock is a classic tale of the American dream. An Ohio native who was dyslexic and did not complete high school, Murdock served in the army during World War II but was left homeless and destitute in Detroit afterward. A chance encounter with a Good Samaritan helped him purchase a $1,200 diner, which he later flipped for a $700 profit. Murdock used that money to buy an old car and drove to Arizona, where he began building his real estate empire. In 1984, Murdock acquired Dole Food, which he took public in 2009. Today, Murdock is worth some $2.7 billion, a chunk of which he is devoting to research into extending the human life span through the California Health and Longevity Institute and the North Carolina Research Campus. Murdock's ambition is to live to 125. A sample Murdock lunch, according to the New York Times, is "a six-fruit smoothie; a mixed-leaf salad with toasted walnuts, fennel and blood orange; a soup with more than eight vegetables and beans; a sliver of grilled Dover sole on a bed of baby carrots, broccoli and brown rice."
Melvin Gordon, Tootsie Roll Industries (TR), Born: 1919
Tootsie Roll, the famous Leo Hirshfield-founded candy company that Gordon heads, is 115 years old. Gordon, who has served as chairman and CEO of the Chicago-based corporation since 1962, is not much younger at 92. Tootsie Roll is run very much like a family firm, with the Gordons owning a controlling interest in the company since the 1930s. Gordon's wife, 79-year-old Ellen, serves as president and chief operating officer. Under his watch, Tootsie Roll has diversified its business, acquiring candy makers Cella's Confection, the Charms Co., and Andes Candies. Thanks to our collective love for Tootsie Rolls and Pops, Melvin and Ellen Gordon have amassed a fortune of some $566.7 million, according to Forbes. This power couple hasn't let the sweet taste of success go to their heads, though – they still greet workers at the firm's plant by name and also provide a steady candy supply for employees.
Dr. Ray R. Irani, Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY), Born: 1935
Having joined the company in 1983 before quickly getting promoted to president, Irani served as the chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum from 1990. He stepped down as CEO in 2011, but currently still holds his chairman position. Of Palestinian origin, Irani was born in Lebanon in 1935. After obtaining a chemistry degree from the American University of Beirut, he moved to Los Angeles in 1953 to pursue his PhD in physical chemistry in 1957. Irani's first job was a researcher for Monsanto Co. (MON). He later worked for the Shamrock Corp. and Olin Corp.(OLN) before joining Occidental. Irani was well-known for his immense compensation packages. In 2006, thanks to a sharp rise in oil prices, he banked more than $460 million. He retired as CEO in May 2011 after two major institutional investors, California State Teachers' Retirement System and Relational Investors, complained about his excessive pay package, saying that Irani's salary amounted to a "corporate giveaway program."
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