What is an Elder in Residence Program and Why Does Your Business Need One?

In a previous post (Here’s How Older Generations Can Reinvent as Elders and Continue Their Impact) I talk about the importantance of older generations reinventing themselves as elders. I refer to two fantastic examples of individuals joining high tech Silicon Valley companies when they are in their early 50’s. Both have had a profound effect on their respective businesses: Fred Kofman at LinkedIn and Chip Conley at airbnb.

These are relatively ad hoc arrangements and testament to the foresight of the CEOs of those companies for pioneering this path. And then it struck me: what if this was formalised and crystallised into a program that other companies can follow, add to and learn from?

And so I began thinking: when I was at NICTA I had a problem – 600 very, very smart scientists on staff and a remit to create an entrepreneurial culture and commercialise their research. How was I going to help these academically-driven people reinvent as entrepreneurs? And I needed to do so on rocket boosters as we had enormous pressure to produce results.

One of the most successful things I did was to set up an Entrepreneur in Residence Program. I recruited a number of serial entrepreneurs to join us for a year. In this time they firstly acted as mentors to our scientists and secondly identified a project they could work closely with to fast track a spin out. If they were successful in spinning out a new venture they would take the CEO role and lead it through its growth.

The result of this EiR Program was a definite boost to the organization’s entrepreneurial culture and a slew of venture-backed spin outs in record time.

My aim is to take this learning and apply it to creating an Elder in Residence Program. I see the benefits to a company, particularly one that is growing rapidly and dealing with how to scale leadership, being:

1. A close trusted confidante for the CEO – part adviser, part mentor, part CEO coach;

2. A leadership program that will boost compassion, resilience, wisdom and, ultimately, increase diversity, engagement and organizational transformation.

CEOs often have excellent advisers and investors in their milieu, but I see this to be a role more embedded inside the business – working closely with the CEO one on one as well as building up the leadership team for the purposes of scaling – as they transition say from 150 to 300 staff it is imperative that they are ready for this growth inflection point and the rule of 3 and 10 (at 3 and at 10 things change in any organization and as it scales simply add zeroes onto 3 and 10 and the principle continues to be applicable).

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3 thoughts on “What is an Elder in Residence Program and Why Does Your Business Need One?

  1. Fred,
    This same issue applies with cutting edge biopharmaceuticals. As organizations move from universities, garages, small suites to the 30 person company and on to 100 people, there are definitely issues that I have seen. I went from working with a company founder (two of us in a 1200 square foot suite to 10 in the same suite). I have gone from a company of 100 to 1000 in a little over two years (twice), and also been on downsizing of companies. Each of these resulted in vastly different implications for the Founder/CEO. An Elder in Residence sounds like something multiple companies could use. Often the CEO understands the stress impact of these situations on himself, but may not understand the impact on those two or more layers under them. I hope you are successful in generating LinkedIn spinoffs. If you run into a situation where a Biopharmaceutical organization is in the same situation, please let me know.

  2. Another example is Annalie Killian who was so bored with the slowness of change, myopic vision and lack of diversity of thinking at a large corporation where she worked tirelessly to bring about change, that she quit a cushy job at 55 when others advised to simply sit it out and retire rich, and moved to the city that never sleeps reinventing herself for the 4th time on a 3rd continent. There she joined one of the most innovative advertising and marketing agencies in the world where she’s building a networked global intelligence community to track trends and change in real time in an industry renowned for its obsession with youth. Her greatest asset is her vast global network of deep relationships – something that is the result of many many years of investment of time and energy. “You don’t have that when you’re 25- its the product of emotional intelligence.” And, she says: “I couldn’t be happier! Whilst there were initial adjustments to become scrappier working in a fast-moving start-up culture, these are the very things that frustrated me working in the slow dinosaur organisation, so I embraced it quickly and quickly learnt to thrive alongside my brilliant GenZ and Millennial colleagues who value what I add. Old is a term I associate with being closed and insular, being a knower rather than a learner. As long as you are curious, open, receptive and humble- you can fit in anywhere and create new value. “

  3. Absolutely Annalie, you are without a doubt one of the most versatile serial reinventors and elders. I am so pleased that you are enjoying NYC!

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