Peter Cardy on how to deal with ageism

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. The trustees want me to replace my finance director on the grounds he's inefficient, not up with current technologies and costs us money. He's 68 and admits he's slowing down, but he gets things done, has a clean audit every year with no dramas, tackles every new problem cheerfully and has huge support from the senior management team and the staff. Is there not a bit of ageism here on the part of the young board tycoons?

A. If your principles are strong, you'll outface the pressure from the young tycoons, producing your own evidence of his worth. Of course, it's a risk for your tenure afterwards. But sooner or later he will have to retire and it's up to you to ensure he leaves with dignity and the assurance of a job well done. You need to start preparing him now.

Q. Until the end of last year I was chief executive of a medium-sized charity. The trustees and I agreed that it was time to move on and they gave me a "soft landing". I was quite relaxed about finding another job, knowing that there are plenty about, that I have a good track record and transferable skills. It hasn't turned out like that – to begin with, I'm limited by family commitments to not too long a commute, and there have been fewer jobs than I thought in this area. I've got onto the shortlist of more than a dozen and into the last two several times, but I have been turned down each time. My cash is running out and I'm getting a bit anxious. Should I get out of the third sector?

A. You need to keep your nerve – you have acquired some distinctive management skills. The biggest part of the non-profit labour market, and most of the senior end of it, is located in London, so it isn't surprising that fewer vacancies appear where you live. It's only a matter of persistence until you find the right slot. When you're thinking about taking other jobs for the time being to fill in the hole in your finances, think about how they will make your CV look.

Q. After a couple of decades in industry I have the reputation of a turnaround man. Last year I made the move from private profit to public good and I am now heading an organisation that provides respite, holidays and continuing care. I understood that I was recruited to turn this old-fashioned body around and make it more businesslike and efficient. But the resistance to change from local committees and the board is making me tear my hair out. Should I go ahead anyway with what has to be done?

A. If you go ahead anyway, it's at your own risk. The board is the steward of the organisation and from what you say it is highly influenced by the committees. You are proposing a change of culture (= the way we do things around here), which is invariably a lengthy process of five, maybe 10 years. My advice would be to reset your calendar and decide, first, if you really believe in the mission and, second, if you are really in it for the long haul.

Q. In my charity there are endless meetings, involving vast numbers of staff and volunteers and related bodies, soaking up travel costs and time. I have tried to kill some of the meetings off, but every time I do new ones sprout up. What can I do?

A: Edict probably won't work because good reasons will always be produced for each event, but you could try budget control – calculating shadow prices, controlling the meeting room timetable... use your ingenuity. When I found, conversely, that no one wanted to meet even when I thought it essential, I promised no more than 15 minutes, nobody sits down, minutes on a postcard... Again, it's all in the culture of the organisation and the professions concerned, which is hard to change.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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