Sam Bankman-Fried, Where Were Your Modern Elders?

December 21, 2022

Sam Bankman-Fried, Where Were Your Modern Elders?

May 29, 2023

Haven't we seen this movie before?

A young, charismatic disruptive entrepreneur rides a wave of adoring press to great heights based upon what might be an exciting business premise. He (and it usually is a he) charms investors and is a magnet for other brilliant young bucks who join his company as they yearn to surf this once-in-a-lifetime wave with him.

The entrepreneur becomes the front man for his company and, often, his fledgling industry, leaving his generational peers to grow the organization. No one seems to ask whether any of these smart technologists have ever run a company.

In the case of Bankman-Fried, 30, and his crypto firm FTX, there was only one senior person on his leadership team. But, this was no modern elder. Dan Friedberg, 50 (the Chief Compliance Officer), had a checkered professional history that suggests that compliance was far from his mind. Beyond Friedberg, the leadership team was exclusively people around Bankman-Fried's age or younger.

Where was the in-house "modern elder" in this company? While Uber, We Work, and Theranos had some older investors, they—similarly—didn't have the balance of elders on the full-time leadership team, and their CEOs lost their jobs as a result.

What does an age-diverse leadership team bring to the table?

  • Process knowledge: understanding how to get things done in a fast-growing organization.
  • Peripheral vision: the ability to see the long-term consequences of actions taken today.
  • Challenging group-think: the unvarnished insight and willingness to speak the truth.

These are qualities that an older leader can bring to the table. I could add to this list, but you get the idea.

How many more times do we need to see a $30 billion company crash and burn like this before we start minting more "wisdom workers" to support the knowledge workers in these fast-growing start-ups?

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