THE NEW BOSS: KIRK SANFORD BUSINESS WEEK

The New Boss: Younger Than the Old Boss

Nearly 100 public-company CEOs in the U.S. are 40 or younger. Here they share war stories and tips on how to get to their position.

Kirk Sanford started his business career at age 24, running a start-up processing company selling debit card terminals to mom and pop retailers. He went on to launch Global Cash Access in partnership with Bank of America and First Data Corp. In 2006 at age 39, Sanford was chief executive of Global Cash Access (NYSE:GCA), a Las Vegas (NV)-based gaming company with $1.36 billion market cap company.

Meet the new boss, younger than the old boss. Sanford is one of approximately 140 executives age 40 or younger who are chief executive officers of publicly traded companies around the world, according to data compiled by Capital IQ. Of these, nearly 100 are located within the U.S., while another 40 or so lead companies headquartered in other countries. The youngest, Harry Vafias, CEO of StealthGas (GASS) in Athens, Greece, is only 28.

For generations, the corner office has been the domain of experience, occupied in literature and film by crusty old-timers like Ebenezer Scrooge or It's a Wonderful Life's Mr. Potter. In more recent decades, investors grew accustomed to fresher faces, as such young visionaries as Microsoft's (MSFT) Bill Gates and Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs helped lead the 1980s personal-computing revolution. Now, a new generation of 40-and-under CEOs offers proof that today's young entrepreneurs can scale the corporate ladder, too.

Tech Ladder

The tech sector may still be the quickest road to the top. More public-company CEOs age 40 and under lead organizations involved in technology products or services than work in any other industry. These companies range from online travel publisher Travelzoo (TZOO) to semiconductor materials provider Cree (CREE) and software maker Borland (BORL).

A tech background can also help executives in related businesses, such as retail. Michael Soenen, 36-year-old chief of flower seller FTD (FTD), recalls becoming CEO of his company's Web division in 1999.
"Internet CEOs were young by nature, and the success we were having made me a logical choice," Soenen explains. "Having run that business successfully, becoming CEO of FTD Inc. was a natural extension for me."
Many of the youngest CEOs achieved their position by launching their own companies from scratch. "If you really want to be a CEO at a young age, start a company and call yourself a CEO," says David Liu, who recently turned 41 but has been CEO of wedding information Web site The Knot (KNOT) since age 30.

Experience Can't Hurt

Sometimes the hardest part may just be getting started. "You can't wait until you know all the answers," says 36-year-old Taser International (TASR) CEO Rick Smith, who started his stun-gun operation in a garage at age 23. "You never will. When your gut tells you there's an opportunity there, you have to take it."

Others suggest seeking out a broad range of experiences en route to the corner office. Jonathan Huberman, now 41, became CEO of Zip-disk storage device maker Iomega (IOM) earlier this year at age 40, following stints in tech, management consulting, venture capital, and hedge funds. "Look for diversity of experiences, because to be a CEO you need to be able to understand and set strategy for every facet of the business," Huberman says.

While it's never easy to be a CEO, for those 40 and under it can be even more challenging. "It changes your life top to bottom," says Jordan Greenhall, 35-year-old chief of digital video compression software maker DivX (DIVX). "Not as much as having children, but in that same zone."

Ready for Risk

And like having children, CEOs typically say the job is worth any sleepless nights. "I have to say I really love it," says Kirk Sanford, 39-year-old head of Global Cash Access Inc (NYSE:GCA). "I thrive on the fast pace and excitement in running a fast-growth, successful company."

The people who become CEO at a young age are increasingly unafraid to take risks, notes Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "They're willing to look for opportunities to stand out," Cappelli explains. Still, he cautions that bigger appetites for risk may have unwanted consequences, citing the Enron scandal.

Today's young CEOs are likely to have a better understanding of technology and globalization than did the bright up-and-comers of decades past, adds Michael Feiner, a management professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Business and author of The Feiner Points of Leadership. "The biggest challenge is the leading-people piece," Feiner says. "It takes a while for even really smart CEOs to understand it's people first, strategy second. That comes from experience and mistakes, and I don't think there's a shortcut."

Passion Projects

Meanwhile, new CEOs are taking on the mantle at a time of unprecedented turnover. Corner-office job changes this year are on pace to top last year's record 1,322 departures, according to Chicago consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas (see BusinessWeek, 10/30/06, "The Great CEO Exodus"). Such big-name companies as Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), Ford (F) and Viacom (VIA, VIA.B) were among those making CEO switches in 2006.

Ultimately, a CEO of any age needs to have a passion for the job. "You can have all the products and packaging and scale that you need to perform, but really none of that takes you any place if you don't have the right attitude about the business," says Mariner Kemper, 34-year-old head of Kansas City (Mo.)-based financial services company UMB Financial (UMB).

The best CEOs grow into the position because they followed what excited them, not because they set out to become CEOs, adds Mark Vadon, 36-year-old chief of online jewelry retailer Blue Nile (NILE). "Do something that you really love doing," Vadon advises. "If you're not doing something that you really like, you're not going to be that successful at it."

Click here to see the list of 40-and-under CEOs of publicly traded U.S. companies.
Hogan is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in New York.
After retiring from GCA in 2007, Kirk Sanford founded Sightline Payments in 2009 to raise gaming-transaction products to a new level again, while also making them available to casinos at a lower cost than over-priced systems already in use. The chief executive officer and president of Sightline Payments assembled his prior GCA executive team – including executive vice president of business development Tom Sears and executive vice president of sales Diran Kludjian. It will be interesting to see how they do against their former company, but Sanford states he hates losing more than he likes winning.
CEOs 40 and Under


CEO, President, and Director
Las Vegas
Industry Sector
Financial: Misc. Financial Services
Market Cap
$1.36 billion

Kirk Sanford number 19 on the list of young chief executives that oversee companies worth as much as $17 billion in a range of industries

CEO
AGE
COMPANY
TICKER
LOCATION
TITLE
SECTOR
MARKET CAP
34
Under Armour
Baltimore
Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President
Consumer Cyclical: Apparel/Accessories
$2.40 billion
38
DTS
Agoura Hills, Calif.
CEO, President, and Director
Consumer Cyclical: Audio & Video Equipment
$462.38 million
36
Color Kinetics
Boston
Co-Founder and Chairman
Consumer Cyclical: Furniture & Fixtures
$368.31 million
36
Shutterfly
Redwood City, Calif.
CEO, President, and Director
Consumer Cyclical: Photography
$355.01 million
35
Orange 21
Carlsbad, Calif.
CEO and Director
Consumer Cyclical: Recreational Products
$36.99 million
40
Volcom
Costa Mesa, Calif.
Founder, CEO, President, and Director
Consumer Cyclical: Apparel/Accessories
$789.88 million
31
Lifeway Foods
Morton Grove, Ill.
CEO, President, and Director
Consumer/Noncyclical: Food Processing
$175.84 million
37
American Italian Pasta
Kansas City, Mo.
CEO and President
Consumer/Noncyclical: Food Processing
NA
36
Encore Acquisition
Fort Worth
CEO, President, and Director
Energy: Oil & Gas Operations
1.39 billion
38
CNX Gas
South Park, Penn.
CEO, President, and Director
Energy: Oil & Gas Operations
$4.26 billion
38
Delek US Holdings
Franklin, Tenn.
CEO, President, Director, and CEO and President of MAPCO Express
Energy: Oil & Gas Operations
$892.59 million
38
Trico Marine Services
Houston
CEO, President, and Director
Energy: Oil Well Services & Equipment
$554.33 million
39
Credit Acceptance
Southfield, Mich.
CEO, President, and Director
Financial: Consumer Financial Services
$1.01 billion
38
Healthextras
Rockville, Md.
CEO, President, and Director
Financial: Insurance (Accident & Health)
$944.37 million
38
Wellcare Health Plans
Tampa
CEO, President, Director, and Chairman of Quality Improvement Committee
Financial: Insurance (Accident & Health)
$2.77 billion
39
OptionsXpress Holdings
Chicago
CEO, Director, and President of OptionsXpress Inc.
Financial: Investment Services
$1.80 billion
39
Encore Capital Group
San Diego
CEO, President, and Director
Financial: Misc. Financial Services
$309.56 million
39
Global Cash Access Holdings
Las Vegas
CEO, President, and Director
Financial: Misc. Financial Services
$1.36 billion
33
UMB Financial
Kansas City, Mo.
Chairman, CEO, Member of Executive Committee, Chairman of Western Region, and Director of UMB Bank Colorado N.A.
Financial: Regional Banks
$1.55 billion
36
Peoples Bancorp
Marietta, Ohio
CEO, President, Director, and Chairman of Executive Committee; CEO, President, COO, and Director of Peoples Bank; President of Peoples Insurance Agency
Financial: Regional Banks
$314.10 million
40
SCBT Financial
Columbia, S.C.
CEO, President, Director, Member of Executive and Policy Committees; CEO and President of South Carolina Bank & Trust N.A.
Financial: Regional Banks
$352.88 million
38
United Western Bancorp
Denver
CEO, President, and Director; Chairman, CEO, and President of United Western Bank
Financial: S&Ls/Savings Banks
$148.25 million
39
Southern Missouri Bancorp
Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Principal Executive Officer, President, CFO, Principal Accounting Officer, Director, and Member of Executive Committee; Director of Southern Missouri Bank & Trust
Financial: S&Ls/Savings Banks
$33.44 million
35
CombinatoRx
Boston
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$254.68 million
35
Osiris Therapeutics
Baltimore
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$700.67 million
38
Cytogen
Princeton, N.J.
CEO, President, Head of Sales & Marketing, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$60.08 million
39
Allos Therapeutics
Westminster, Colo.
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$395.58 million
40
Natrol
Chatsworth, Calif.
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$27.43 million
40
Oxigene
Waltham, Mass.
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$162.30 million
40
Dendreon
Seattle
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$309.02 million
40
Keryx Biopharmaceuticals
New York
Chairman and CEO
Health Care: Biotechnology & Drugs
$624.86 million
40
Option Care
Buffalo Grove, Ill.
CEO and Director
Health Care: Health-Care Facilities
$490.68 million
31
Langer
Deer Park, N.Y.
CEO, President, COO, and Director
Health Care: Medical Equipment & Supplies
$42.66 million
39
RITA Medical Systems
Fremont, Calif.
CEO, President, and Director
Health Care: Medical Equipment & Supplies
$191.59 million
39
Abiomed
Danvers, Mass.
Chairman of the Board, CEO, President, Member of Executive and Special Stock Option Committees
Health Care: Medical Equipment & Supplies
$339.93 million
40
Aptimus
San Francisco
Founder and Chairman of the Board
Services: Advertising
$49.86 million
36
Westwood One
New York
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Broadcasting & Cable TV
$581.69 million
40
LIN TV
Providence
CEO, President, CFO, VP, Treasurer, and Director
Services: Broadcasting & Cable TV
$456.21 million
40
Clear Channel Communications/
Live Nation
San Antonio/Beverly Hills
CEO/CEO and Director
Services: Broadcasting & Cable TV/Services: Recreational Activities
$17.46 billion / $1.50 billion
38
Compass Diversified Trust
Westport, Conn.
CEO and Director
Services: Business Services
$353.17 million
39
Computer Programs & Systems
Mobile, Ala.
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Business Services
$388.11 million
39
Marchex
Seattle
Chairman of the Board, CEO, and Treasurer
Services: Business Services
$532.55 million
39
Corporate Executive Board
Washington, D.C.
CEO and Director
Services: Business Services
$3.64 billion
40
Advisory Board
Washington, D.C.
Chairman, CEO, and EVP
Services: Business Services
$1.01 billion
32
American Real Estate Partners
New York
Vice-Chairman, General Partner, and CEO of American Property Investors Inc., General Partner
Services: Casinos & Gaming
$4.86 billion
33
Web.com
Atlanta
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Communications Services
$62.08 million
35
Vonage Holdings
Holmdel, N.J.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, and Chief Strategist
Services: Communications Services
$1.05 billion
37
Inphonic
Washington, D.C.
Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO, and Member of M&A Committee
Services: Communications Services
$438.86 million
38
Pegasus Wireless
Fremont, Calif.
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Communications Services
NA
40
VitalStream Holdings
Irvine, Calif.
President, COO, and Director
Services: Communications Services
234.37 million
40
Talk America Holdings
New Hope, Penn.
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Communications Services
$247.75 million
36
Expedia
Bellevue, Wash.
CEO, President, Director, and Member of Executive Committee
Services: Personal Services
$6.18 billion
40
Ambassadors Group
Spokane, Wash.
CEO, President, Director, and CEO of Ambassador Programs Inc.
Services: Personal Services
$588.24 million
39
American Greetings
Cleveland
CEO, Director, and Member of Executive Committee
Services: Printing & Publishing
$1.41 billion
38
Housevalues
Kirkland, Wash.
CEO and Director
Services: Real Estate Operations
$129.34 million
39
Anthracite Capital
New York
CEO
Services: Real Estate Operations
$734.29 million
39
Reckson Associates Realty
Uniondale, N.Y.
Chairman, CEO, Chairman of Executive Committee, and Member of Pricing Committee
Services: Real Estate Operations
$3.83 billion
40
WP Carey & Co.
New York
CEO, President, Director, Member of Executive Committee, and Vice-Chairman of W.P. Carey advised Corporate Property Associates
Services: Real Estate Operations
$1.16 billion
36
Resource Capital/
Resource America
Philadelphia
CEO, President, Director, Member of Investment Committee, CEO of Resource America Inc./CEO, Manager, President, and Director of Resource Capital Manager Inc.
Services: Real Estate Operations/Financial: Misc. Financial Services
$301.71 million / $459.59 million
36
Six Flags
New York
CEO, President, Director, and Member of Executive Committee
Services: Recreational Activities
$542.71 million
39
Vail Resorts
Avon, Colo.
CEO, Director, Chairman of Compensation Committee, Member of Executive and Audit Committees
Services: Recreational Activities
$1.83 billion
38
TAL International Group
Purchase, N.Y.
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Rental & Leasing
$790.35 million
33
Gymboree
San Francisco

Services: Retail (Apparel)
$1.27 billion
35
Varsity Group
Washington, D.C.
Founder and Chairman of the Board
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$30.18 million
36
1-800 Contacts
Draper, Utah
Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$226.38 million
36
FTD Group
Downers Grove, Ill.
CEO, President, and Director; CEO, President, and Director of FTD Inc.
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$498.96 million
37
Alloy
New York
Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, CEO, Treasurer, and Member of Administration Committee
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$156.47 million
38
Stamps.com
Los Angeles
CEO, President, and Director
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$347.53 million
39
Liquidity Services
Washington, D.C.
Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, and CEO
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$531.82 million
39
PC Mall
Torrance, Calif.
Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President
Services: Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)
$118.70 million
36
Blue Nile
Seattle
Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, CEO, President, and Member of Stock Award Committee
Services: Retail (Specialty)
$543.50 million
39
Healthstream
Nashville
Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, CEO, and President
Services: Schools
$83.54 million
40
Laureate Education
Baltimore
Chairman and CEO
Services: Schools
$2.61 billion
37
ID Systems
Hackensack, N.J.
Chairman of the Board, CEO, and General Counsel
Technology: Communications Equipment
$225.38 million
40
Belden CDT
St. Louis
CEO, President, and Director
Technology: Communications Equipment
$1.73 billion
37
Pomeroy IT Solutions
Hebron, Ky.
CEO, President, COO, Chief Accounting Officer, and Director; CEO and President of Pomeroy Select Integration Solutions Inc.
Technology: Computer Hardware
$90.57 million
38
Cray
Seattle
CEO, President, and Director
Technology: Computer Hardware
$246.15 million
37
Sonic Solutions
Novato, Calif.
CEO and President
Technology: Computer Networks
$413.27 million
33
GSI Commerce
King of Prussia, Penn.
Chairman and CEO
Technology: Computer Services
$784.10 million
39
iRobot
Burlington, Mass.
Co-Founder, CEO, and Director
Technology: Computer Services
$452.15 million
39
CNET Networks
San Francisco
CEO and EVP
Technology: Computer Services
$1.44 billion
39
TRX
Atlanta
CEO, President, and Director
Technology: Computer Services
$121.18 million
40
Travelzoo
New York
Founder, Chairman, CEO, President, and Chairman of Compensation Committee
Technology: Computer Services
$458.26 million
40
Emdeon
Elmwood Park, N.J.
CEO, Director, and Member of Executive Committee
Technology: Computer Services
$3.44 billion
33
Hoku Scientific
Kapolei, Hawaii
Founder, Chairman, CEO, President, and Member of Stock Award Committee
Technology: Electronic Instr. & Controls
$48.72 million
37
TASER International
Scottsdale, Ariz.
CEO and Director
Technology: Electronic Instr. & Controls
$518.91 million
40
Clinical Data
Newton, Mass.
CEO and President
Technology: Scientific & Technical Instr.
$164.01 million
39
Cree
Durham, N.C.
Chairman of the Board, CEO, and President
Technology: Semiconductors
$1.42 billion
32
Omniture
Orem, Utah
Co-Founder, CEO, and Director
Technology: Software & Programming
$578.62 million
35
DivX
San Diego
Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO
Technology: Software & Programming
$904.09 million
36
ActivIdentity
Fremont, Calif.
CEO, SVP of Sales & Marketing, and Director
Technology: Software & Programming
$238.93 million
35
Blackboard
Washington, D.C.
CEO and President
Technology: Software & Programming
$784.50 million
39
Websidestory
San Diego
Chairman, CEO, and President
Technology: Software & Programming
$223.39 million
39
Synchronoss Technologies
Bridgewater, N.J.
Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President
Technology: Software & Programming
$423.53 million
40
Open Solutions
Glastonbury, Conn.
Chairman of the Board and CEO
Technology: Software & Programming
$777.28 million
40
Opsware
Sunnyvale, Calif.
Co-Founder, CEO, President, and Director
Technology: Software & Programming
$894.79 million
37
Ambassadors International
Newport Beach, Calif.
Chairman, CEO, President, and Director of Ambassadors Group
Transportation: Misc. Transportation
$478.61 million
37
Hornbeck Offshore Services
Covington, La.
Chairman, CEO, President, and Secretary
Transportation: Water Transportation
$1.04 billion