How to become the oldest guy in the room – 5 Top Tips

All my career I was the youngest guy in the room.  Then, overnight, I looked around and was shocked to discover I was the oldest guy in the room. What had I done to survive: to stay one step ahead?

It was a reality check. From youngest intern, youngest Vice President, office managing director, country manager, regional leader, to ‘overnight, at 50, being one of the very oldest amongst our 2,500 staff. Yet I feel no fear about the value I bring and my ability to keep delivering relevance in a young person’s industry going through rapid change.

Here are my TOP FIVE TIPS on how to keep ‘one step ahead’ and to keep refining our employee value proposition:

  1. Embrace change: Darwin said it was not the strongest of the species that survived, but the most able to adapt to change. There will be more change in the next five years that we’ve seen in the past 50. Get excited by change.
  2. Do not rest on your laurels. “There is nothing more dangerous to business success than a great last result.” We are ‘only as good as our next result’… whether financial performance, or an outcome for a client. Stay paranoid.
  3. Be a productivity ‘ninja’. I am one of the most productive people I know. I get more of the important things done every day. I am obsessed with getting priorities right, and getting these done. Get focused on what’s really important, every day.
  4. Work on yourself as a project. Hairdressing icon Vidal Sassoon told me he was most famous for having said: ”The only place you’ll find success coming before work is in a dictionary.” We have to work on ourselves. Put pressure on ourselves. Critique our days. Give ourselves feedback. Be our own very best coaches. And cheer squads.
  5. Stay Connected. Woody Allen said: “85% of the secret of success is just turning up.” Turn up to events. Make that phone call. Read that book. Do that training. Have the courage to ask that question. Make the effort. Stay connected to what’s happening around you. And read newspapers- please. Every day. First thing. On line or off.


We’ve got one shot at our careers. Work hard on yourself to stay relevant if you want the chance to be the oldest guy in the room one day.

> View a video of Chris retelling this post

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32 Responses to How to become the oldest guy in the room – 5 Top Tips

  1. Brian Vella May 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Great stuff Chris.

    I would add one thing from my experience.

    Be confident. Being the youngest in the room, or in your role, can created shadows of doubt. Believe in yourself and remember what you’ve achieved to get there. Never fear, age is nothing but a number. There are countless examples of young, inspirational leaders.

    This goes hand in hand with your point two. While having confidence is important, never ever get ahead of yourself. Staying humble with a healthy dose of paranoia are equally essential to long term success.

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      thanks Brian- good additional points!

    • Jenny June 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      A good point, staying humble

  2. Melanie June 15, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    So true Chris,

    I am at that stage where i am ‘the youngest’ or near to, and staying that one step ahead is so important to knowing what trends are coming so that you can be a part of the conversations and dialogue when it comes around rather than being a ‘band-waggoner.’

    I agree with Brian that staying confident in whatever you do is the way to get yourself noticed. More often than not even if you are confident and wrong, your idea will be heard and recognised. Isn’t that one of the most important things in adding value…just putting ideas out there?

    I have found that finding that niche, that something that you are good at that you specialise in makes it easier to stay relavent to your industry.

    I have already adopted your ‘stay green’ philosophy…now i am ready to rock the ‘productivity ninja status’

    🙂 Keep truckin’


    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks Mel- great feedback. Chris

  3. Craig Middleton June 15, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Experience and treachery will always overcome youthful enthusiasm 😉

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

      Insightful indeed. They say friends stab you in the front! Which is what I always tried to do to you at university!

  4. Kadir June 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Excellent advice! So many people though are not aware of point 4 and what it implies. Point 4 requires honesty within yourself that results in a healthy attitude and confidence. Get this wrong and you’ll be an arrogant toad.

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      Fair point. Watching my video I can see where the thought ‘arrogant toad’ came from!

  5. iain Good June 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Great content.
    Age is simply what you want to make of it.
    Find a method to draw on a wider range of experiences and surprise younger people with your hunger.
    Try Jack Welch’s Winning mentality by taking responsibility for building others confidence. A lack of hair can give us a head start, in the credible coach stakes.
    Jack said many wise things, here’s two that the older I get the more I appreciate.

    “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be”.

    “Control your own destiny or someone else will”.

    Try be the fittest guy too – keeps you competitive!

    I’m off for my afternoon nap now!

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

      Energy is the key Iain and you have heaps of it so good chance you will be the oldest guy in the room one day- though maybe you already are at Shift? Actually no- Sauerman would be- he’s actually older than me!!! Just….

    • Iain Good June 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Despite the t-shirts and leather jacket, you are correct. Ricardo is proudly the most experienced human being at Shift or in the words of his latest brand manifesto, he has been actively ageing longer than anyone else.
      Watch out for his ARV work – Old People Rock- even in a white shirt!

  6. Kelvin Chang June 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Great article Chris. So true.

    I would like to add 2 points.

    1) Be resourceful and create your own network – you may not be an expert at all things. Shock horror… having a group of passionate people around you helps you solve problems easily.

    2) Have an opinion – no matter right or wrong, be prepared to be challenged but listen to what others have to say. Being an elder, we tend to forget the importance of fresh young minds. Also, the youngest person in your company is probably the best source of verdict on how you or your business is going.

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

      Thanks Kelvin- very valuable points.

  7. Simon June 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Maybe the white shirt should change too!! Great stuff, Chris

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      The white shirt stays- it’s hip again

  8. Jeanne LaBash-Lewis June 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Of course it helps to be young at heart and still feel like you’re in your 20s. A wise person named Savage once told me to always break up with a client or fire a staff member with dignity and respect. You never know when they’ll be your next client.

    Has stood me in good stead for too many years to admit to!

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Jeanne- now I remember… I wasn’t the oldest person in the room…you were!

  9. Mike Howorth June 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    Great points Chris. I would like to add the following to Point 3 on productivity:

    “People who get things done know what is best left undone.” and

    “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

    No idea who said these!

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks Mike- appreciate the comments. Action brings clarity- another great saying -one of yours I think?

  10. Paul Adams June 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Terrific top 5, Chris. #1 is the key. And your point about reading the newspapers every day — before work — is something I tried to preach too, with varied success!

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks Paul- very good to hear from you and thanks for making the comment. Chris

  11. Naomi Beames June 16, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    From one old person to another … loved this. Just what I needed to hear and be reminded of. Look forward to seeing you soon. Naomi

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks Naomi. I remember when we first met we were both in the first flush of youth! You have done an outstanding job with Wendy at Spectrum. Hats off to you. Thanks for your contribution to my blog. Chris

  12. Kylea Tink June 16, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    Ah – my wise and not so very old friend Chris – I love what you’ve said but there is one thing I would add and that is – never be afraid to employ someone who is smarter than you! I’ve been so lucky to have worked with some very clever, motivated people over the years and inevitably, by working together, and really leveraging everyone’s strengths somehow you really do get further faster and surprisingly you seem to survive longer! Well done on this and everything else with the amazing world that is STW. Looking forward to catching up somewhere along the way soon.

  13. Luca Penati June 18, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Great post, Chris. I can tell you that I have felt the same over the years. And still I think I am the youngest, when, most of the time, I am the oldest.

    Your list is a good one. I’d add curiosity, taking calculated risks and being a great listener.

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2011 at 9:50 am #

      Thanks Luca, great insight. Chris

  14. Alan Parker June 18, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    One thing missing Chris…. As a great man once told me: Sharpen the Sword. Every now and again, you have to step away and get those “Ninja” skills sharpened up and come back with a fresh perspective and a fresh opinion.

    Key to longevity is is looking at both the destination and the journey, as a great women once told me….


    • Chris Savage June 20, 2011 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks Alan! Good points. You’ll see the “Sharpen ” story included in the “why apricots are the key to leadership” post. Hope you are well. All the best. Chris

  15. Mark@MakeThemClick July 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Wow, deja vu all over again.

    The other day somebody told me I seemed a bit old to be in online marketing.

    I pointed out that the web and ecommerce had been around for several decades, and I’d been involved in it for almost as long.

    (marketing even longer, but let’s not go there.)


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