“If you don’t respect your elders, then I’ll just have to teach you to respect your betters.” — John Wayne

by James A. Bacon

Rather than compile a list of young business executives on the move, Virginia Business magazine earlier this year profiled “Eight Over 80” — old guys still active in business or in the community.

The list, which the magazine is highlighting in its end-of-year recap of top stories, included such successful entrepreneurs as 80-year-old Jim McGlothlin, CEO of the United Co., in Bristol; 84-year-old Dan Clemente, CEO of Clemente Development Co. Inc., in Vienna; 80-year-old Heywood Fralin, chairman of Medical Facilities of America, in Roanoke; and 83-year-old Jim Ukrop, co-founder of New Richmond Ventures LLC in Richmond, among others. In a class by himself, is 92-year-old Harvey L. Lindsay Jr., of Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate in Norfolk.

Jim Ukrop dishes out the best quote: “I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, I don’t go to Florida, and I threw my golf clubs in the ocean, so I have to do something.”

I had the good fortune to work for a man who had them all beat: E. Morgan Massey. Early this year, at the age of 94, he was still coming into the office every day and working on deals as I was finishing up the history of the Massey family. He didn’t have the same energy level as when he was a whipper-snapper of 75 or 80, but he managed to stay on top of things.

The project that commanded most of Morgan’s attention was Minerals Refining Company, LLC, which had licensed Virginia Tech-developed technology to extract microscopic coal particles that conventional coal-cleaning processes could not capture. As I wound up my writing engagement with Morgan, he and his start-up team of oldsters was building a refining facility for a major coal company in the U.S. and was actively pursuing projects in India. What tickled me was the age of Morgan’s cohorts. David Few, the CFO, had passed the 80-year-old milestone, and Stan Suboleski, the interim COO, was fast approaching it. The young guy on the executive team was Jim Reyher, VP of operations, whom Morgan had coaxed from retirement after a 30-year career in chemical manufacturing.

Morgan’s biggest worry at the time was finding someone to scale the company into a full-fledged business enterprise. He hadn’t managed to do so the last time I talked to him, which was about two months before he passed away from cancer. But I’m happy to see from the Minerals Refining website that Morgan’s successors have managed to recruit a CEO. The company has tremendous growth prospects, at least on paper. If it ever reaches its billion-dollar potential, Minerals Refining could well lay claim to have been launched by the oldest start-up team in history.

Old guys are society’s great untapped resource. We may need the occasional afternoon nap, and we may be slow at mastering ever-morphing technology — I had to get my young, 61-year-old wife to help me program the “smart” alarm clock she gave me for Christmas — but we still know a lot of stuff.

Indeed, Bacon’s Rebellion comes to you courtesy of old guys (and gals). All but one of our regular contributors are over 65. Our business model is to mobilize the knowledge and enthusiasm of those who, like Jim Ukrop, have given up on fishing, hunting, and golf, need something to keep them out of trouble, and still have a lot to offer.

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11 responses to “Old Guys Rule”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Our business model is to mobilize the knowledge and enthusiasm…”

    Giving new meaning to the term “pop-up ad”…

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “As Morgan saw it, A.T. Massey had four overriding objectives: (1) supply customers with coal of the best quality at a reasonable and competitive price; (2) provide acceptable rates of return on capital; (3) provide the best possible well-being for employees; and (4) be a good corporate citizen.”

    As you noted in your piece this was a hierarchical ranking. Customers and shareholders (i.e., share price) are more important than worker safety and community impact. Perhaps this is why he outlived many of his employees and members of the communities local to his operations.

  3. david Beauregard Avatar
    david Beauregard

    This is a terrific story. Long overdue. The “eight” mentioned are but a few of the many older professionals making significant contributions to the nation and the world. We should be thankful for their energy, their ideas and their ability to pull together the resources necessary to bring those to life.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    So, despite the comments of some on this blog, our President would be one of the youngsters among the folks you named.

    1. Well played, sir.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Wonder what the Cowboy and the Poet would say about it? Faster horses…

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      On the other hand, Baxter Black is retiring…

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I had not heard this one. Thanks for posting. We lost a great one in Tom T. Hall this year.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Ukrop tuxedo cake! Yum!

  7. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    The older generation has a lot to offer but running a company when you are over 80 isn’t one of the, As a general rule, you are slower, have less energy, not as mentally agile, and have a harder time keeping up with innovations ad advances in technology. There is always the exception but they are rare.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Rare? That’s why they are called the top 0.1%. But, of course, you’re correct. My company has had 2 CEOs since 1986 (mind you they were still considered technical staff as well) and the last 10 years for both were noticeably poor direction and performance years. It’s less really about age as it is about the daily grind and a willingness to change direction.

      Richard Hamming, a mathematician famous for Neural Network designs among hundreds of other contributions, delivered a well-known address to the engineers at Bell Labs in which he stressed the importance of changing jobs/work every so often, among other things to achieve success. Link to follow in edit.


      I apologize for providing a link to UVa since it is held in such disdain by the BR crowd… but then, maybe they should have read it sooner.

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