Silver Industries-Lessons for Tomorrow's Business Leaders

By Cutler, Neal E. | Aging Today, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

Silver Industries-Lessons for Tomorrow's Business Leaders


Cutler, Neal E., Aging Today


Could Bluetoothed shoes become a "silver industry?" One of my MBA students thought so, and decided to apply the new Adidas athletic shoe, which is embedded with Bluetooth technology, to the needs of older consumers.

A high-tech shoe? Bluetooth technology is typically used to link wireless devices for phone calls or to enable people to print from BlackBerry-like personal digital assistants. My student developed a case study examining how such a shoe could be adapted to the aging foot-and the middle-aged market. For example, a Bluetooth shoe might enable older users to monitor their pace, heart rate and blood pressure as they run or walk and transmit this information to a PalmPilot. Later, they could download these real-time data and e-mail the file to their physician.

BUSINESS SEMINAR

Another student in my graduate seminar. Business Implications of an Aging Workforce and Consumer Market, came up with Silver Nurses-a temp agency of retired nursing professors-to respond to the shortage of faculty in the field, which is one major factor contributing to the current nursing shortage in the United States. Using realistic workforce data, yet another student's case study simulated a small business, then analyzed the potential benefits to the company's financial well-being and productivity engendered by providing employer-paid geriatric case-management services to employees.

The idea of asking MBA students to develop real-market case studies as their term projects emerged from my work on the "Silver Industries" issue of Generations (Winter 2004-2005), the journal of the American Society on Aging. As guest editors of the issue, Sandra Timmermann, director of MetLife's Mature Market Institute, Westport, Conn., and I worked with some of the best minds in business and gerontology to generate a series of topical articles, including a section of examples and cases in financial services, the auto industry and other business areas ripe for entering the silver industries.

Silver industries refer to businesses that create, produce, adapt, market, and sell goods and services to middle-aged and older people. The idea describes both large existing companies that adapt their products-such as cars outfitted with easier-to-read dashboards-to an older market, as well as small start-up firms that, for example, modify PalmPilots to monitor diabetes and compliance with medication regimens.

After the aforementioned issue of Generations was published, I directed each of my MBA students to replicate and expand on the case studies in the journal, creating the next wave of silver industries case studies. By semester's end, they had completed 10 papers that I was delighted to see were creative, clever, innovative, well documented and appropriately gerontological.

Although many gerontologists recognize that aging boomers (the first of them now turning age 60) present an obvious focus of attention for students seeking careers in business, teaching aging in a very traditional business school program is a challenge. At the beginning of the semester, three of the 10 students in my seminar, an elective course, acknowledged that they were taking it because the other two MBA electives were filled. From an educational perspective, the challenge is how best to teach the concepts and issues of aging to future business leaders-how to infuse aging content into business education.

AGING X 4

The first part of the semester focused on the four kinds of aging-individual aging, family aging, generational aging, population aging-which can help business students understand the complexity of aging and see how to analyze and segment potential markets for products and services. Whichever one of die four kinds of aging the students read about, discussed or wrote about became their analytic mantra. I've used this framework in the last couple of decades to teach gerontology courses in such diverse areas as political science, social policy, sociology and clinical psychology-and it works just as well for teaching business administration. …

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