Marshalling Our Post-executive Network

In April, Johann Redelinghuys wrote about how we should think about retirement in innovative years.  Today he looks at those executives forced to retire because of mandatory retirement ages, but who still have much to offer.

These days, retiring senior executives are often still fit and healthy. Many are well enough to run the Comrades, and yet they are ‘put out to work-pasture’. This is because retirement at a designated age is mandatory in most organisations. However, actuaries say that with improved medical care, sound nutrition and barring anything untoward, many of those retiring now will live for another thirty years or more! The prospect of an idle retirement, especially for those who have had successful executive lives, is simply not attractive – and most would wish to continue to use their skills in some productive capacity.

As a result of outdated corporate retirement policies, there is a growing network of retired ‘post executive’ business leaders who can make a difference in our skill-starved economy. They can be deployed, for example, into coaching unemployed young people who can’t find gainful employment because they lack the most rudimentary business knowledge.

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, recently published the “National Scarce Skills List: Top 100 Occupations in Demand”. He stated that managers of all descriptions are in short supply countrywide. The list includes chief executives and general managers in most fields including construction, distribution and production, information technology, hospitality, retail and services. There are also critical shortages of tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians.

In a country with broken systems of formal education and skills training, we are unlikely to address these economy-choking black holes in the short term, or even the medium-term, unless we come up with a radical solution.

According to the 2014 “World Economic Forum’s Global Risks” report, South Africa’s youth unemployment is the third-highest in the world at around 36.1%. Government, which we know has only a very slender understanding of business, keeps pounding the notion that entrepreneurship is the way to build a more sustainable level of employment. It is often mentioned that in countries like Italy, most of the economy is driven by small enterprises built and run by entrepreneurs. Picking up on this, there are now various post-graduate programmes in entrepreneurship and many initiatives from the private sector that are training young people to become entrepreneurs.

The sad truth is that entrepreneurship cannot be taught. It is the result of a particular risk tolerance combined with individualistic personality and the business skill to understand a market and its needs that comes together in a “start-up mentality”.

A plan has been suggested. The post-executive network is a well-qualified source of business coaching and mentorship. Many of the people now ‘out to grass’ have deep business and professional skills and the desire at their later stage of life to “give something back”.

How would this work?

Perhaps groups of 10 to 12 unemployed 15 to 24 year-olds could be assigned to a volunteering post-executive coach to meet with them as a group once a month or at any other arranged interval. They can also set up appointments for individual sessions. Such small groups can develop team names and their own branding – creating a culture of enterprise.

The SETAs were intended to build a facility for skills development and to train people into productivity. But like so much else that is established and run by the government, they have not achieved their intended purpose and have, with singular exceptions, been a costly failure.

It is time for the private sector to do it – and the country’s growing post-executive network would be a great place to start.

About the Author:

Johann founded Redelinghuys & Partners, which was bought by Heidrick & Struggles, the international leadership consulting business, where he is now a partner. He has been involved in career management and executive search all his life. He is the chairman of the South African company and heads up its board practice working with chairmen and CEOs focussed on CEO succession, strategic leadership review and board evaluation.