Young CEOs: Are They Up to the Job? | Change Leadership Watch |

It's creativity vs. experience as a new flock of leaders take their companies to public markets.

Management theorist Vivek Wadhwa argued in a recent essay that Silicon Valley's obsession with youth may help explain the venture industry's recent rash of poor returns. He drew that conclusion after studying more than 500 technology and engineering companies that had more than $1 million in sales and at least five employees.

How young is too young to be a CEO? WSJ's Dennis Berman and Mean Street host Evan Newmark discuss. Photo: Getty Images.

Mr. Wadhwa found that the average age of the founders of those successful companies was 39, and that twice as many founders were older than 50 as were younger than 25. Experience, he concluded, trumps youth more often than many believe. "Age provides a distinct advantage," he wrote.

Ben Horowitz of the venture firm Andreessen & Horowitz laid out the counterargument in a long post in 2010 on his firm's website. In it, he explained that he would prefer to bet on companies led by founders, who tend to be younger, because they are better at finding innovative products. They are worse than experienced CEOs at squeezing money out of those products, he conceded, but he argued that skill is easier to teach.

James W. Breyer, a director of Facebook who works closely with Mr. Zuckerberg, said age matters less and less. "Skills, passion, intense curiosity and extremely high IQ are more important," he added.