Gray notes that the greatest disparity or change in executive experience levels is seen when "actual decision-making is no longer in the hands of individuals with knowledge and experience in the business." For example, when outside investors buy out innovative firms, or outside financial firms become majority stakeholders. "Both are more interested in extracting wealth rather than in building the business," according to Gray.
As proof, Gray cites statistics that show that the average EVP or CEO at a small or even midsize company is now 31 to 33 years old, while ten years ago they were 38 to 44 years old. Further, the tenure at the executive levels is dropping: in the early 1990s executives had 17 years at the executive levels before reaching the income plateau. Today they only have an average of 11 years of experience before their incomes level off or begin to decline. These executives are also getting their first executive jobs at an earlier age: Today Gray sees 28 and 29 year olds - barely out of MBA school - entering their first senior executive jobs, versus 10 to 15 years ago, when people didn't get their first executive-level job until they were around 38 or 39 years old. While this demographic shift might be somewhat expected as Baby Boomers start retiring, Gray's research shows that "the declining average age of executives is moving far faster than generational statistics predict."
To Gray, a key piece of supporting evidence is the downward trend of executives' average salaries as they enter their late thirties and early forties. Top executives who used to make $1 million per year at or above age 37 are now making as little as $120,000 per year at age 43.
Gray has coined the term, "Achievement Discrimination" to describe the resulting decline in the hiring potential of previously highly sought after executives based on their years of experience, education, certifications, industry experience, mentoring and other criteria.
Others are starting to note this trend, too. For example, the senior managing director with executive compensation specialists Steven Hall & Partners in New York, notes in the Forbes' article "Are You Making Too Much Money?", "We've had an intense dispersion of power, first from management to the board, and then from the board to the various outside forces."
Gray also finds some agreement from David Winston, a principal with Heidrick & Struggles, that the claim of a 'skills shortage' is "grossly misrepresented". Both argue that there are innumerable highly-skilled and experienced executives available for the right firm and the right opportunity. At issue, according to Gray, is not the availability of these skills by executives ready, willing and able to build businesses through good times and bad. Rather, it is more a matter of valuing - and paying for - the experience these leaders can bring to the table in a global economy fixated on quarterly profits instead of long-term growth and business stability.
While I find Gray's research very interesting intellectually, I also find it disheartening. It almost creates a feeling of hopelessness for me as an individual job seeker, that someone else is pulling my strings - not to mention the carpet out from under my feet. Indeed, after I worked on several drafts of this blog entry, I had some reservations about posting it because the message seemed so depressing. This CIO Job Search blog is supposed to give people ideas and solutions ... hope. This entry, meanwhile, began feeling like the antithesis of that. After discussing this with my editor, we agreed that Gray's research was worth sharing and debating because this topic is interesting, it does affect us, and it needs to be open for discussion. And for some people struggling to find a new executive-level job, who think the reason they can't get a job is all their fault, we thought it might be helpful for them to know that much larger socio-economic forces are influencing some executive-level hiring and firing decisions today.
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