It may seem that younger CEOs have an edge on their older, over-50 counterparts. They have more energy, they can take more risks, and they bring new ideas to the table. But as you’ll see in our list of differences, both sides bring different skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses when it comes to leadership—and the youngest lion doesn’t always win. Whether it’s working outside the typical 9-to-5 day, balancing priorities besides work, or figuring out what clothing style fits the image they want to project, younger CEOs are eager to set the pace for the business world in general. But they don’t always need to break the mold to be successful. Check out our list of key things young CEOs do that sets them apart from executives who got there decades before them.
15. Sleep later
Waking up early is considered a key factor to financial success, but many younger CEOs get up significantly later than their older counterparts. While older CEOs have been known to almost brag about their super-early waking hours—Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne wakes up at 3:30 a.m. daily to keep in sync with the European market, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is up by 4:00 a.m., and Disney CEO Bob Iger rolls out of bed by 4:30 a.m.—younger leaders tend to stay in bed at least an hour longer, stretching up at 5:30 a.m. or even well beyond that. As long as they don’t have a plane to catch, of course.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Richard Branson gets up at around 5:45 a.m., using the sun as his alarm clock—he keeps the curtains open so he can see the first rays of the morning. And young CEO Lexy Funk of Brooklyn Industries is up by 4:00 a.m.
14. Meditate or work out
Square CEO Jack Dorsey meditates each morning, followed by a six-mile jog, and he’s not the only young executive to do so. Ryan Kania, founder and CEO of Advocates for World Health, plans a different hike every weekend, researching trails ahead of time. He does it to “relieve stress and unpack the ideas from the week,” carrying a notepad and pencil with him.
This is a big change from the routines of older CEOs, many of whom seem stuck in the ‘80s when it comes to starting their day. Disney’s Bob Iger says he multitasks, watching TV, reading the newspaper, checking his e-mail and exercises. Many CEOs start their day staring at financial news channels like CNBC on television while they drink coffee. Virgin America CEO David Cush starts sending e-mails to his East Coast staff by 4:15 a.m., which must be a joy to see in one’s inbox first thing in the morning. Apple CEO Tim Cook rises super-early to crank out e-mails to employees and colleagues.
13. Flip-flop their schedules
Remeet Chawla, founder of Fueled, starts his workday at 11:00 p.m. and pushes through work until 3:30 a.m., going to bed at 4:00 a.m. And he’s not the only young CEO who works well outside the 9-to-5 range. Cory Nieves, founder and CEO of Mr. Cory’s Cookies, has to go to school first before working on building his cookie empire, because he’s 13 years old. He founded the company at age 5, working around that killer kindergarten schedule. The typical work routine clearly does not apply to all CEOs. One great aspect about being an entrepreneur is that you get to establish your own schedule, the one that works best for you.
12. Avoid insane work schedules
Apple’s Tim Cook prides himself on being the first person into the office and the last one out. Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox and now chairperson of its board, often works until midnight before starting the next day before 5:30 a.m. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, claims he has worked 100-hour weeks almost without interruption for well over a quarter-century. “There are 24 hours in a day, and you can use all of them,” Immelt says.
On the other hand, many younger CEOs make a point of emphasizing about the fewer hours they put in. “If you want work-life balance, you’ve got to have a life,” said Jon Gillon, co-founder and CEO of parking-spot sharing app Roost, in a Fortune article. He works as efficiently as possible in order to free up time to spend with his girlfriend. Full Circle Insights CEO Bonnie Crater said she typically works just 40 to 50 hours a week. “I was a much better performer if I had good balance in my life,” she said. Younger leaders may be on to something: a 2014 Stanford study found that productivity sharply decreases after 50 hours, and after 55 hours there’s no point in working any more.
11. Concentrate in the tech industry
HBO’s hit series “Silicon Valley” is accurate for a number of reasons, and one of those is the sheer number of young CEOs who congregate in the technology mecca. “Like so many before us, we went West in pursuit of a gold rush — this modern-day one fuelled by the Internet and a severe case of being bitten by the TechCrunch bug,” Zendesk co-founder and CEO Mikkel Svane told Recode. What’s even more interesting is that, despite the area’s reputation as a male-dominated bro culture, many Silicon Valley tech companies are led by women, minorities or immigrants. In fact, 43 percent of tech companies founded between 2008 and 2015 have at least one immigrant as a founder, according to Forbes.
10. Reduce meetings
“Meetings are a waste of time unless you are closing a deal,” Mark Cuban told Inc. a few years back—and that advice remains true. Younger CEOs may sleep a little later and work a few hours less, but they know just as well as their older counterparts that time equals money. And sitting in long meetings with no clear objective or time limit is a waste of both. BrandYourself co-founder Patrick Ambron said his company meets just once a week to review goals, find out if anything went wrong, and start working to fix it. “It’s a lot easier to say ‘what went wrong this week’ than ‘what went wrong this quarter,’” he told Entrepreneur.
9. Relate to others differently (not always in a good way)
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s argument with one of his own ride-share drivers served as an example of leaders whose rapid rise to the top ranks of the corporate world meant they missed some important lessons along the way. And one of those lessons is in how to interact with others—not just investors writing out checks, but the person driving you from the airport to your hotel. While experience isn’t necessary to start a business, as it grows “you do have to evolve your leadership style to fit your different stakeholders,” said Jason Dorsey, founder and lead researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics, to Marketwatch.
Older CEOs bring their depth of experience into play when dealing with others. They “tend to be more skilled at managing both people and processes, to be more balanced and nuanced in their judgement of complex issues, and to bring to bear their wider range of experience in solving problems,” wrote Erika Andersen, founding partner at Proteus, in a Forbes article. At the core of their behavior is the knowledge that controlling their image in others’ eyes is part of what will keep them at the top of the business world as long as possible.
8. Pair up with older mentors
One thing younger CEOs do that is essentially timeless, is they find a more experienced, usually older mentor who has already walked the path that they’re on. This gives them an opportunity to learn the ropes at their company, build new business ideas, and learn how to interface with other people, particularly business investors and leaders. “Once or twice a week, I go for a walk in Central Park with a young person seeking my advice. This is my way of helping bring along the next generation,” said former Oxygen CEO Gerry Laybourne to Business Insider.
7. Make family a priority
Zillow CEO and Hotwire co-founder Spencer Rascoff never goes into the office on weekends. With three kids, he wants to unplug and spend as much time with them as possible. If he’s traveling, he flies home for the weekend no matter where he is—even if he has to be back in the same city the following week. “I have three young children so weekends are usually an exhausting but fun smorgasbord of fort-building, bike-riding, soccer-playing, chess-tournament-competing, stroller-pushing, zoo-going, diaper-changing, book-reading and birthday-party-going,” he said in a Forbes profile.
6. Try to stand out from others
Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie wears colorful sneakers, and sometimes snazzy socks, with his tailored suits when presenting at various events. Of course, not all of them stand out as much as they think they do—Silicon Valley is overrun with young men in hoodies and sneakers emulating the Zuckerberg look, or dressing for that big presentation in tortoise-shell glasses, blazers and jeans a la Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. And sneakers, of course.
A few young CEOs take style in a different direction. Jack Dorsey prefers appearing in top fashions by Prada and Hermes, for example. Ali Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane, also opts for standout designs by Isabel Marant, J Brand, and Chloe.
5. Get social
You’ll have no problem finding out what young CEOs think about the day’s business, political or global news—many of them have already sounded off on Twitter about it. Elon Musk often updates the world on the latest doings at SpaceX before his PR flacks even have the chance to craft a message. Others like David Karp just entertain readers on social media, not just through his own app Tumblr but on Twitter as well. Of course, quite a few older CEOs also understand and leverage social media to boost their image and their company’s stocks. One of them even managed to tweet his way into the presidency.
4. Take more risks
Younger CEOs naturally take more risks, and perhaps bigger risks, than older CEOs. There are a number of factors working for them, thanks to their age: they have more time left in their working life, hence the opportunity to attempt more than one risky venture. They can tolerate debt better than older CEOs, who are focusing more on their retirement funds and investment returns. A 2014 study by doctoral candidate Matthew Serfling found that older CEOs really do take fewer risks, based on the volatility of their firms’ stock prices—the wilder the stock price ran over a given period, the more risks a company’s leadership may be taking, the study surmised. Older CEOs work to shed debt from a company and slash research and development—two costly areas for any firm. But younger CEOs tend to work toward faster growth and keeping a company competitive, taking on debt and launching new initiatives to spur sales and investor confidence.
3. Catch more investors’ ears
An unfortunate consequence of being an older CEO is that one’s presence doesn’t always boost share prices. That partly is due to the more conservative approach to preserving a company’s profitability that many more experienced leaders take, as noted just above. However, for investors and venture capitalists looking for a relatively fast return on their money, “preserve” isn’t the word they want to hear. And most assume that younger CEOs are the ones that are going to take bigger risks, be more directly competitive, and generate the biggest returns. Even if they’re wrong, an older entrepreneur or CEO is far more visionary—and able to do more to achieve success thanks to his or her experience, compared to younger CEOs.
2. Come from diverse walks of life
Young CEOs are jumping into the business world from many different walks of life, not just taking the business track at college. David Karp, founder and CEO of Tumblr, was once a J. Crew model. Cory Nieves is just finishing up middle school. Slack CEO (and Flickr founder) Stewart Butterfield has a master’s degree in philosophy with a focus on biology, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. Ben Silbermann, CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, started his career answering phones as a customer support rep for Google—an experience that absolutely guided how he developed Pinterest, by learning what users want.
1. Think one day at a time
While consistency is important in a busy CEO’s life, younger CEOs are learning that they have to evaluate and adjust their priorities in order to respond to changes. That’s why more and more of the younger set are repeating the mantra that they take life day by day. V.I.P. Waste Services co-founder Jesse Lears said he evaluates each day before he goes to bed, making sure the actions he took that day line up with his priorities. “The future is shaped one day at a time, and it’s never as far away as we think,” he said.
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