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Generation „Silverback“

Boris Pistorius: A lesson for companies and testimony to the importance of employees aged 50+


Blog post by Stefano Pettinella - Partner & Pet Industry Lead of Riebensahm Agribusiness Recruiting


Boris Pistorius (63) is a phenomenon. No sooner than he was appointed as new German Defense Minister early 2023, the ZDF-Politbarometer (the renowned polling institute of a leading German TV channel) listed him as the most popular politician in Germany by a wide margin. Why is that and what conclusions should I as an employer draw from this?


The German defense minister is a classic “silverback”. Silverbacks are employees over the age of 50 whose added value is regularly underestimated by companies, especially in times of the significant shortage of qualified candidates in Germany.


Silverbacks - Ungenutzte Potentiale

Silverbacks have decades of experience, silverbacks have “shed their antlers”. Silverbacks have “been there, done that” in their professional lives. Silverbacks no longer need to flaunt their egos or puff their chests to look better to their superiors. Silverbacks can deal with a wide variety of characters. Silverbacks don't waste time on things that are a waste of time.


Boris Pistorius had never been perceived as an expert for the job as defense minister, and yet he has done almost everything right so far. He learned his profession, politics, from scratch – first as mayor in local politics, then as a simple member of the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament and in various ministerial offices at state level. Because of his breadth and depth of experience, he has his current job at the federal level firmly under control. From the beginning there was never the slightest doubt that he would not shy away from the upcoming challenges within the Bundeswehr and in the Ukraine war, but instead would take them head on. He didn't hesitate make his mark either. Why? On the one hand, he had the experience to see things as they are and the knowledge that timidity and reluctance in decision-making are not effective. On the other hand, Boris Pistorius has nothing to lose, nor the need to position himself as "everybody's darling" to secure better chances for the next promotion.


Boris Pistorius is an outstanding example of how older, "more experienced" employees are an asset to companies (there are undoubtedly exceptions, such as Pistorius' predecessor in office). And given the omnipresent shortage of qualified talents and executives, one should think that this has also reached the management level of most companies. But it has not! In reality, finding a job for the 50+ demographic in Germany is still very challenging. This is mainly based on prejudices: too expensive, no longer able to learn, not motivated, health problems, etc. But these are prejudices that must be checked in each individual case.


It has happened to me repeatedly that candidates presented were immediately rejected because of their age and without our dossier having been looked through in detail - although the refusal was of course worded much more diplomatically. As soon as you get to know many of the candidates aged 50+ better, take a closer look at their rich and long-standing experience and know-how, their aspirations and creativity, you will find that the vast majority have what I consider to be the single most important virtue: serenity! This more confident approach to challenges and far-sightedness usually leads to better results. This target group also has a high degree of social competence and a stronger sense of loyalty. And as long as you treat silverbacks with respect, they are rather unlikely to change jobs before retirement.


It is obvious: Boris Pistorius does not suffer from a big ego. Should he ever be put up as next German Chancellor, it would be ok for him. And if not, then that would be okay too. And in the meantime, he courageously and with a lot of tenacity is focusing on his tasks and does a very good job that is widely recognized by the German public.


Stefano Pettinella

Senior Consultant & Partner

Riebensahm Agribusiness Recruiting

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