ARE you one of these people who gets seriously frustrated when stuck behind a flat-capped pensioner doing his Sunday driving routine during the rush hour? Do you feel your blood pressure soar sitting at the traffic lights behind a little old lady who can’t get her rusty Maestro into first gear? Do you have to contain aggressive outbursts towards crusty shoppers who dawdle their way down Buchanan Street?

Personally I think that old people should only be allowed to shop in town between the hours of 10am and 4pm on a Wednesday and leave the rest of the shopping time to serious shoppers like myself, those of us on a mission, battling against significant time constraints. As for Christmas shopping, there should be a law stating that they must complete it during the summer holiday season when most of us are sunning ourselves abroad and won’t be bothered by the dithering and dosying along. I also think that anyone over the age of 60 should have to sit an annual driving test – and have their clapped out old bangers confiscated if they don’t meet the standard.

I know I’ll be old one day. If I’m anything like my Gran I’ll still have my health and independence at 96, soon to be 97, actually. (I can hear the editor muttering away, and making notes to consult legal counsel about the duration of contracts for business a.m. columnists.)

But I won’t be a dithering old fool with a heid full of cotton wool and the ability to send the youth of the day into paroxysms of rage at my driving skills. I want to be a “silver panther”.

I read about this during the week. There’s some business support scheme up north – Grampian I think – which encourages entrepreneurs to hire silver panthers to their Board. I think it’s a brilliant idea. And I know that the system works.

You see, I hired a silver panther to the Board of my IT company a number of years ago. Actually, we christened him the silver fox. My business plan even described him as such. His real name was John Shankland and he came to us through the excellent Company Growth Team.

Based in Stirling (the Old Town Jail, believe it or not), the Company Growth Team is a group of “older” but wiser businessmen and women who have experienced the ups and downs, ins and outs of running a business and are willing to share their knowledge with success-hungry entrepreneurs and their companies.

It’s not free, although in some cases the fees can be supported through the local nterprise company (one of the few good things the LECs actually do for entrepreneurs) but it is truly invaluable.

Most ambitious, growth-driven businesses are populated with the under-35s, indeed, under-25s in a number of cases. The ability to work incredible hours, under huge stress, does take its toll and some of these under-35s do tend to look like over-60s. But looking older and acting older are two very different things.

The experience that can be shared with a young team is vast. And the wealth of contacts and favours on which a silver panther can call is immense. We learned short-cuts to success, we learned the lessons of previous mistakes and as a result we achieved faster and saved money in the process. I learned how to chair a board meeting – effectively. I learned how to read between the lines of the management accounts – quickly and accurately. I also learned that I still had to learn a huge amount about business.

My silver panther, John, became more than a company advisor: he also became a mentor and I’m truly grateful to him for his patient endurance while he coached me to become a far better businesswoman than I could ever have imagined.

I’m certainly not “silver” – although to be fair I haven’t seen my natural colour in a long time, so that may be a moot point – but I do have some advice to share. It is this:

Keep a place for the silver panther on your Board. Actively seek out that wise head with the youthful outlook. But check out their driving skills first!


So, 10 years ago when this column first appeard my gran was soon to be 97. She’s now soon to be 107. Ten years ago I was MD of an IT company with 36 employees. Today, my business is much smaller but I still believe in the power of the non-exec director on your board. You don’t – can’t – know everything. It’s about recognising what you’re really really good at and focusing on doing that better each day. Everything else needs somebody else.

Find the best in their field.

Find somebody better than you.

It’s the only way your business will grow beyond your capabilities.