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Friday, Apr 19, 2024

The Age Issue: It’s Always There

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth annual report focusing on young businesspeople who are making a name for themselves locally. As part of the coverage, we selected 40 “honorees” to profile in the pages inside but talked to dozens of others under 40 as part of the overall coverage. Company founders, CEOs and presidents under the age of 40, just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re wet behind the ears. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being youthful in one’s respective industry. Weighing in on the age issue were entrepreneurs among those honored in the Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 annual special report, recognizing young business leaders in the greater San Fernando Valley. Jill Jackson, 39, CEO of Dessert Alert! Inc., a specialty confectionary bakery in Valencia, said age can be an issue with others. “It can mean sometimes not being taken seriously, taken as being not educated or knowledgeable,” Jackson said, but she’s undeterred by such reactions to her. “I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself,” she said. Max Haghighi, 39, CEO of Syndicated Insurance Agency in Tarzana, said with the particular demands of his industry, being younger can convey inexperience to potential customers, an impression they work hard to disprove. “In insurance, we usually deal with an older crowd. They may wonder ‘What do you know about life insurance, or financial planning?’ They may feel we don’t have the knowledge,” he said, making it a matter of overcoming that impression. “You let them ask questions and listen to their needs,” Haghighi said. “They can see we’re not just there to repeat information but we have their best interests at heart,” he said. “It comes down to communication.” Similar experiences have happened to Scott Berejikian, 39, president of CenterPoint M & A; Advisors, an investment banking firm in Woodland Hills. “In our business a young age can be a negative,” he said. “Those times when we’re being interviewed, they may think they’d be more comfortable with someone who looks older, or looks more seasoned; even though my partner and I may have more experience.” Berejikian said he understands the reticence because when people hire the firm, “It’s a pretty significant decision.” He overcomes that by “demonstrating we’re serious,” he said. “We show enthusiasm, and that we’re, for lack of a better word, ‘hungrier’ for a deal,” Berejikian said. “We put more time and preparation and that is definitely recognized by the client.” That was how Haghighi described it, too: “The younger you are, the hungrier you are,” he said. His firm is more technologically savvy, compared with some older agencies he knows. “We’re more apt to use the Internet to research ways to satisfy clients’ needs,” Haghighi said, adding how digital file management saves a lot of time and paper shuffling. “We’re a little more prepared to move in a faster world,” he said. Likewise, it’s a generational advantage also for Dustin White, 32, Capital Networks Leasing’s founder and CEO. “It’s an asset in hiring,” he said. “We’re a young and energetic company. Someone who is just out of college, maybe they’d go look at the Morgan Stanleys, but they’ll feel more at home here,” White said. “We are more ‘this generation.'” It was his own youth that caused hiring challenges for William Fikhman, 23, who opened his first iSoldIt store at 19. “The biggest challenge was managing people, learning how to hire, train, motivate and retain,” he said. When sharing a generation with employees, that can create a management issue of its own. Jeanna Crawford, 31, president and co-publisher of SCV Magazine in Santa Clarita, said that because the employees are a pretty young group themselves there is the friend/boss dilemma, every now and again she has to remind someone “don’t forget I’m the boss.” She said since she always worked for herself and always among people older it’s not different than when she was a hairdresser or a model. “I never though of myself as ‘the young one,’ just the one with different ideas,” Crawford said. Overcoming Misconceptions: Jill Jackson makes lemon bars from life’s lemons. Ideas and energy of youth can be what makes their companies better, said some who run their own area firms. Investment banker Berejikian said, “It’s an advantage we’re open to doing the ‘hands-on’ ourselves. When people are older they may not tend to do the detail work,” referring to research and presentation tasks. “We’re very excited to do that work; it’s not something we pass on to a junior associate,” he said. There’s a business nimbleness in being younger, Crawford said. “It’s easy to twist and bend to what the needs are.” Sometimes business management inexperience has its pitfalls. Insurance firm founder Haghighi had a business misstep he credits to just “not knowing,” in regards to advertising. He spent maybe $15,000 on advertising to bring in about $1,000 in business. All the time he’s spent networking maybe cost him, he guesses, $1,000 and it has reaped “probably 40 times that.” Being na & #271;ve didn’t deter Agoura Hills-based iSoldIt owner Fikhman, from opening a second store, he said. “I wasn’t thinking what the strain would be. It was probably too fast,” he said, but in hindsight, it worked out for him. “Looking back, it’s OK now.” Haghighi said that it was inexperience that led him to join up with another young agency and found after six months that it just didn’t work out, the philosophies didn’t mesh. “I learned everybody does things differently,” he said. Such business risks are character building, said Jackson, the dessert baker and caterer. “I think I have more enthusiasm than I thought and an ambition and drive undiscovered even by myself,” she said. “I believe you don’t know what you have until you’re challenged.” But those can be challenges only suited for the young. Fikhman said, “One good thing is the energy, I can work all day. And I don’t have the life commitments of a wife and kids. I can focus more.” With the benefit of an only slightly longer perspective is CapNet founder White. “The cost and energy to get where we are, if you were to ask me to do that today, “I’d say ‘no.’ I have a wife and a beautiful daughter now. “Quality of life matters now,” he said. “When you’re young, when you put all your money back into the business What do you have to lose?,” said like a guy who did just that. “Worst thing is you get knocked over, you can get back up in your 20s,” White said. “If you have a bad month, ‘so what?’ Rent can wait.” The advantage of taking business risks when you’re younger is an advantage he equates to his young daughter, now trying to walk. “When she falls, she’s so much closer to the ground.”

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