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On November 23, 2007, the MS Explorer, a polar cruise ship that had proved itself fit and capable in the northern hemisphere, sank after hitting ice and puncturing its hull in the Southern Ocean near the coast of Antarctica. Luckily, all 154 passengers and crew were rescued. The 49-year-old captain, who was inexperienced in that area and commanding the ship for the first time, received most of the blame.

Sam Walker, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in his February 2019 article Sending Inexperience Into a Storm that Captain Bengt Wiman, underestimating the danger, impatiently plowed into a wall of ice at excessive speed. To make matters worse, he had not made himself familiar with the Explorer before sailing. If he had, the captain would have known that his ship had been fitted recently with a powerful emergency bilge pump that could have prevented it from sinking.

Mr. Walker also comments on this years Super Bowl, where Sean McVay, the talented but less-experienced 33-year-old head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, lost to 66-year-old veteran coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.

Walker suggests that businesses ought to think twice before sending a lightly seasoned manager on a perilous new assignment. The problem, he says, is that when first-time leaders fail, they often do so spectacularly. The main reason veteran leaders rarely fail dramatically is that theyve failed before. Theyve learned where problems come from and how to spot them in the larval stages.

Which brings us around to the older, more-experienced employees who have kept businesses like yours running over the years.

Historically, a quick way for a company to cut costs during tough times has been to reduce its wage burden. That usually meant laying off workers and encouraging early retirements, with or without golden handshakes. Naturally, employees who had been around for a long time and who were being paid higher wages were at the top of the hit list. We saw a lot of that during the recent recession.

Most of these oldsters showed up on time every day, quietly performing their jobs efficiently and effectively with few personal demands. They made their work look deceptively easy because they had learned from past errors and were the wiser for their experiences.

We know today that it was a mistake for companies to let these people go; filling their positions with less experienced personnel often turned out to be more costly. And now that the U.S. economy has shifted back into high gear, with unemployment unusually low, employers are regretting their loss.

Fortunately, there are still some of those veterans around. And, surprisingly, they are now in great demand. Businesses, contrary to custom, are actively recruiting seasoned and experienced workers whom they might not have even bothered to interview in the past.

So be kind to those old folks in your company. Let them know that they are appreciated and reward them when you can. Dont let someone else hire them away; you will need their talent now more than ever before.

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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