There has been a lot of discussion in Iceland recently about the difficulty ex-politicians face when looking for work, which is the opposite of the situation ex-politicians face in many countries. Ex-politicians should be considered valuable employees as there is real practical knowledge and experience generated in politics. For some reason, however, this knowledge is not highly valued in Iceland. It can also be said that knowledge and experience from the corporate scene are undervalued. The reality for most executives in Iceland is that they can’t rely on lifetime employment and 5-10 years is not an unusual tenure for a CEO of a large corporation in a competitive industry in Iceland. Sometimes an executive position is followed up by another executive position, but sometimes it isn’t, and as people get older the odds of being rehired worsen, this has led to an ever-increasing pool of “ex-executives” many of which would gladly give out valuable advice and remain active than go into early retirement. We, therefore, wonder: How valuable are grey hairs in Iceland?
The current population of Iceland is 330,000 people. Therefore the proportional value of each employable adult is greater than in most countries. The fact that we are few means we have even more to gain by utilizing the experience and knowledge of the individuals mentioned here above in an optimal way. In order to accomplish that goal, we need to establish a national culture where it is encouraged that people with extensive experience and a valuable business network share their knowledge and for example by becoming an advisor to a startup company. We are talking about the managers and employees of companies that operate internationally, buying and selling products and services to foreign companies.
The authors of this article have for example in their business been in touch with one of the most skilled retail managers of Iceland with the purpose of connecting him to a startup which can utilize his know-how and experience in its entrance to foreign markets in the field of retail. The effect of such a cooperation was quickly apparent. The access to the business network opened doors which would have otherwise remained closed.
There is an abundance of promising Icelandic startups spanning many different sectors. The startups are diverse when it comes the stage of development and the strength of the team. Knowledge in key areas—for example, law, business administration, and engineering—can make the difference between success and failure for these companies. The same can be said when it comes to access to industry-specific knowledge and access to a powerful business network.
It can be highly beneficial to bring together powerful entrepreneurs and experienced individuals that can join the board of directors or advisors of the entrepreneur’s startup. The collaboration possibilities are not limited to boards of startups. In the US, the culture of mentor relationships has been growing where highly experienced individuals coach and give advice to less experienced individuals not unlike what is common in fields like carpentry, plumbing, etc. This kind of cooperation is also highly beneficial in other fields and could see more utilization in Iceland.
It is often said that you only learn by mistakes, but they don’t, however, have to be your own mistakes. You can take the advice of experienced people who have faced similar challenges to the ones you have before you in your career.
Various Icelandic business accelerators like for example Startup Reykjavik and Startup Tourism have done great work in this regard connecting startup teams with experienced parties from the business world who offer them advice in a meeting that can evolve into further cooperation.
Scheduled cooperation between mentors and less experienced individuals creates more value however than meetings at a startup accelerator. It is important that young people don’t hesitate to seek such a collaboration, and it is also important that there is a place where such cooperation can develop.
It is clear that companies are competing on their human resources to an increasing amount and we estimate that this development will continue. The fact that the inhabitants of Iceland are few, the channels of communication are short, and “everyone knows everyone” makes it important that us Icelanders play to our strengths and mobilize experienced individuals who are well suited to serve as members of the board of directors of startups or as mentors.