One on One: Age and experience, a priceless combination

Published 4:12 pm Monday, December 11, 2023

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By D.G. Martin

Can an 80-year-old person still lead and run important businesses?

Duke University president Vincent Price recently reminded us of the continuing value of people such as Jim Goodnight. In the Nov. 24 edition of The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer, Price wrote, “As a young professor at N.C. State, Jim Goodnight teamed with colleagues in the mid-1970s to build software to analyze agricultural data. That team turned a good idea into a great one, spinning that innovation into a product line that birthed SAS, the Cary-based software giant that recorded $3 billion in sales last year and employs more than 12,000 people. That’s the sort of success story we need more of in North Carolina …”

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Born in Salisbury in 1943, Goodnight is, according to Forbes magazine, the richest person in North Carolina. His business strategy focuses on employees. “Innovation is the key to success in this business, and creativity fuels innovation,” he says. “Creativity is especially important to SAS because software is a product of the mind. Ninety-five percent of my assets drive out the gate every evening. It’s my job to maintain a work environment that keeps those people coming back every morning.”

At 80 years, Goodnight’s experience and wisdom continue to make him one of North Carolina’s most valuable assets.

Similarly, Jim Goodmon, also 80, continues to serve as CEO and chairman of the board of Capitol Broadcasting Company (the parent company of WRAL-TV), the Durham Bulls, and other media and real estate ventures.

He grew up in Raleigh working at his grandfather’s radio and TV stations. In 1968 he became operations manager and in 1975 became president and then in 1979 became CEO. According to the company’s website Goodmon “has guided the growth of CBC’s broadcast holdings and led the company’s expansion into satellite communications, new media, real estate and professional sports.”

The website has more about Goodmon. “Known as a trailblazer and a pioneer, Goodmon explores new technology with passion and energy – always seeking out the latest and best methods of serving audiences, clients and community partners.”

With his successful experience and the wisdom that comes with age, Goodmon will be an asset to his company for years to come. No one would suggest he is too old to lead the company.

Dennis Gillings will not be 80 until April. Born in England, he taught biostatistics at UNC-Chapel Hill and became the founder, CEO and chairman of the clinical research firm Quintiles Transnational, which changed its name to IQVIA in 2017. The success of Quintiles made him wealthy. Forbes estimated his net worth to be $2.2 billion. After retirement from Quintiles he has served as a partner of healthcare-focused investment firm NovaQuest Capital, which values his experience and judgment notwithstanding his advancing age.

Perhaps the best example of the value of post-80 maturity and long experience is at the firm of Berkshire Hathaway.

When an emergency hits the stock market, the investors at that firm do not panic. They know that Warren Buffett has been there for 50-plus years dealing in investments and that that experience will help him guide the firm through all challenges.

Buffett is 92 years old, but none of his investors is worried that his advanced age will keep him from handling the stock market and investment challenges.

They tell themselves, “He has been there before.”

Or, “You can’t buy that kind of experience.”

And maybe, just as important, you know that after all these years he will not panic.

Maybe young people coming out of graduate school and some success in business have more energy, maybe they have more great ideas, but Buffett shows that a blend of years of experience and wisdom can be priceless.

The lesson these people teach us: If you are involved in an enterprise led by an experienced 80-year-old, count your blessings.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.