A.G. Lafley's Biggest Deal

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 2:  A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble, attends a session of the World Economic F
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 2: A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble, attends a session of the World Economic Forum in New York, 02 February 2002. (Photo credit should read DANIEL ACKER/AFP/Getty Images)

In a time when most businesses are obsessed with the newest, latest, greatest thing, Proctor and Gamble has reached back into its past. The iconic American company has ousted its current CEO and brought back the 66-year-old A.G. Lafley for another go as Chief Executive. The business world is abuzz after this executive shake up, trying to figure out what the future holds for the massive global company.

What's interesting and overlooked about the move is that the P&G board decided the best person to reinvigorate the $83 billion company is a "senior citizen." Despite his advanced age, Lafley is still seen as the go-to genius who can save P&G.

Perhaps Lafley's age has gone unnoticed because it has become common sense that people in their 60s are still at the top of their game. And in our 21st century, we are already adding 70 and 80s to the list. In business, science, entertainment, government, and even fashion, adults who are past "retirement age" continue to contribute at the highest levels. Our longstanding notions of what it means to age and grow have been shattered by the accomplishments of the A.J. Lafleys and Mick Jaggers of the world.

But public and private policies haven't caught on. Retirement ages remain inflexible. Numerous nations have state-mandated retirement ages. Globally, one in every five companies with revenue over $20 billion forces its CEO to retire at a predetermined age. It's amazing, but in 20 percent of global companies, Lafley would've been barred from the top job solely because of his age. And global institutions across the UN system also mandate retirement as if we were still living in the 1950s, when the post-WWII institutions were just getting started.

This mismatch -- between common sense and traditional age-related policies -- reveals two lessons that all global businesses would be wise to recognize.

First, "old age" isn't what it used to be. Roughly thirty years have been added to an individual's lifespan over the past century, and old benchmarks of aging - "retirement age," "senior citizen," "pensioner," etc. - are obsolete. If a 66-year-old Lafley can be tapped to run one of the world's most complex and competitive organizations, why are other aging Boomers expected to (and expecting to) call it quits with decades of life remaining?

Second, as Mr. Lafley and his peers age, the traditional market obsession with youth is off the mark. By as soon as 2020, there will be over one billion people in the world over 60, and the businesses that offer goods and services for this huge demographic cohort are the ones that will succeed in the coming decades. In a sense, focusing on the young is the old way to do things. The world's "seniors" are giving up Bingo parlors for corner offices. And their power to drive economic consumption follows suit.

So, while congratulations are due to Mr. Lafley, the real win is for the rest of society, globally. As long as older adults can drive business, the 21st century's "gift of longevity" can become the engine of economic growth and wealth creation. Mr. Lafley has been tapped to lead P&G; now P&G can lead business, and business can lead society, by showing that traditional, off-the-shelf notions of retirement have no place in 21st century life.

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