Five octogenarian family business leaders still going strong

Leonardo del Vecchio. Photo: Luxxotica. 
Leonardo del Vecchio. Photo: Luxxotica. 

Last week Rupert Murdoch, the boss of 21st Century Fox, handed more power to his two sons, Lachlan and James. But nobody really believes that the 84-year-old has stepped away from running his media empire. He is one of an ever-expanding group of octogenarians who are still clinging to power. 

Family business governance experts say that succession should be dealt with fully when leaders enter their 60s and that it shouldn’t be left until they are in their 70s or 80s. But as people live longer, is it not time for succession specialists to reconsider when great business leaders should step down? Or are they indeed hanging on for too long?

Here’s another five leaders in their 80s – and more – still exercising their special something, and determined to continue to go on doing so.

Sumner Redstone, 92

The chairman of National Amusements and executive chairman of subsidiaries CBS Corporation and Viacom has just turned 92 and isn’t retiring anytime soon. Indeed, Redstone often says he plans to live for ever – and he isn’t joking. He’s longevity at the top of one of America’s biggest media empires is legendary, to such an extent that the nonagenarian has articles written about him with headlines like Endless Sumner. He has had very public arguments with his daughter, Shari Redstone, who owns the 20% of National Amusements and Redstone once said his daughter would take over from him, but later changed his mind. Increasingly, it appears that succession isn’t an issue for the man who’s going to live for ever.

Li Ka-shing – 86

Just about to turn 87, the chairman of Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa has an ageless quality about him. Commentators who’ve known him since the 1980s say his appearance has hardly changed in the last 40 years. Sometimes known as “superman” for his extraordinary business acumen, Li certainly has a superman quality when it comes to longevity. He’s still doing deals, including most recently a move to buy a huge UK mobile network group. Li’s two sons – Victor and Richard – are very much waiting in the wings to replace their father when he eventually steps down. But there is no sign he’s stepping aside anytime soon. And unlike the other names on this list, there is little speculation about his plans to move on. In fact, there appears to be an acceptance that he’ll remain at the top until he dies.  

Warren Buffett – 84

The world’s best known investor might have brought his eldest son Howard into the business, Berkshire Hathaway, but he shows no signs of easing off as he reaches his mid-80s. He’s still buying companies, just recently acquiring a $500 million stake in an Australian insurance company. Rather like Li Ka-shing, Buffett still pretty much looks the same as he did when he was in his 50s. Investors like that and it helps to create the mystique around the Sage of Omaha.

Leonardo Del Vecchio  – 80

Italy’s wealthiest man and arguably the country’s greatest entrepreneur, Del Vecchio recently appointed himself as executive chairman of his sprawling fashion empire Luxxotica, which includes brands like Ray-Ban and Persol, and appointed two chief executives. Of course, the real power continues to reside with Del Vecchio and he shows no signs of relinquishing it any time soon, despite one of his sons taking a bigger role in the business.

Serge Dassault – 90

Unlike all the others on this list, Dassault hasn’t even given up the chief executive role of his family business, the Dassault Group. The nonagenarian also retains the chairmanship position at the group that includes the famous aviation business set up by his father. When not running the family business, Dassault is a member of the French senate. Day-to-day running of the aviation business has been handed over to non-family business professionals, but Dassault still exerts considerable influence within the business empire, which includes ownership of one of France’s biggest newspapers, Le Figaro.