Is youth everything ?

The recently released Hollywood movie ‘The Intern’ starring veteran actor Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway is about a 70 year old who doesn’t want to live an ‘average retired old man’ kind of existence because he still feels he has life in him to contribute. So he takes up a job as a senior intern at an online fashion site where the environment and people are poles apart from what he has worked with all his life.

The movie portrays how a ‘baby boomer’ generation old school veteran brings peace and stability to a ‘millennial’ generation woman entrepreneur lost in the chaotic and intensely demanding business world. The movie depicts how a typical Type A – rapid fire, paranoid, no non-sense-boss (Anne Hathaway) works with a composed, experienced, intern, who is twice her age, (Robert De Niro) who ends up becoming her confidant and mentor.

What we are witnessing now in this era of ‘start ups’ is a repeat of what happened during the heady ‘dot com’ bubble era of the late ‘90s which witnessed the founding (and, in many cases, spectacular failure) of dozens of new Internet-based companies (the dot-coms). This was a time when companies manipulated to increase their stock prices by simply adding an “e-” prefix to their name and/or suffixing it with “.com”! Widely available venture capital created an environment in which many investors were willing to overlook traditional metrics, such as P/E ratio, in favor of basing confidence on technological advancements.

The offshoot of all this was discarding the ‘traditional’ way of doing business and embracing the ‘new economy’ approach which celebrated youth, energy and passion.Unfortunately, this ‘new way’ also came along with fancy furniture, exotic titles and the like that didn’t make companies a profit.

Investors ended up paying for potential or what the companies ‘could be’ .
Fast-forward to the present day where we are in the midst of a boom in start-ups founded by freshly minted graduates from elite institutes fuelled by investor money. But as the recent fiasco  in a heavily funded reality start up firm shows, having a spark of an idea is just the beginning. What sets apart the winner from the pack of ‘also rans’ is persistence, patience, humility and  staying focused-in short,execution excellence.

That brings us to the central theme of this post- how to manage the workplace challenge of youth vs. experience?

As Jack Kraft, former Vice Chairman and COO of Leo Burnett Company and an active founder, investor, advisor and board member of a number of technology service firms says “the problem with experience is that it only comes with time and sometimes costly lessons”.

An argument could also be made that experience may blunt innovation-fair enough!

Companies, especially those in the start up mode, need to find and strike that balance between youth, energy, enthusiasm, intelligence and creativity and the wisdom that comes with having fought many battles (and hopefully learnt the lessons).

One way would be to pair a young entrepreneur(s) with an experienced board of advisors or to pair up young talent with an elder mentor.

Closer home, the Chairman Emeritus of the the Tata Group, Mr.Ratan Tata, investing  in several startups (in his personal capacity) is a healthy precedent. One does hope these startups will capitalise on Mr.Tata’s wisdom and experience besides, of course, being benefited by the infusion of capital!

Which brings us back to the central theme of the movie ‘The Intern’-there is something in it after all!