Too old for tech? Not these Silicon Valley CEOs

Think leading a technology company is only for thirtysomethings? These savvy sexagenarians beg to differ.

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How did you come to your current gig?

Noerr: MuseGlobal is my fifth start-up since the late 1970s. It's just my thing. I like to build companies. My two main skills are having a vision of where the market is going and having a good sense of timing. Both have gotten sharper over time. Hey, there need to be some perks with age other than free bus passes.

Braun: When I started my career selling IBM mainframes to banks in New York City in 1972, you just expected to retire at age 60, since that was IBM's mandatory retirement age for senior executives. I actually retired in 2000 [at age 51]. But I flunked it. So I started my own recruiting firm and ran that for six years.

Then Intacct hired me to find a new CEO. I joked with them, "If I can't find you a great guy, I'll do the job myself and save you the fee." In the end, I did pull a Dick Cheney and find myself [for the role].

Massaro: I retired for six months in 2004. I hung around the house and built a lot of stuff. I ripped my two garages down to the studs and rebuilt them from scratch. There was sawdust over the entire house. When that was over, my wife pleaded with me, "Please go and find some work."

Courtot: I started off simply as an investor in Qualys. It was part of the 1999 generation of SaaS firms: Salesforce.com, NetSuite and SuccessFactors were the others. But when it came time in 2001 to make a second bigger round of investment, the VCs had disappeared. I was in South America at the time, trekking, scuba diving, getting caught in a hurricane. I cut my sabbatical short, invested $25 million of my own money and took over as CEO.

But aren't you financially set?

Massaro: I could've retired when I was 33 and Shugart [Associates, an early leading disk drive maker] was sold to Xerox. I'm not a workaholic, but if I take a one-week vacation, that's a long one for me. Retirement is going to be a coffin.

Courtot: I could've retired after selling cc:Mail [at age 47]. I was financially set. I felt accomplished both from a recognition and a financial standpoint. I could've decided to take it easy, gone and become a VC. But I wanted to continue.

Noerr: After every company, I think I won't build another. But then I start to think, "You know, this sounds fun." It's not a disease -- but it is a bit of an addiction.

Braun: I'm plenty comfortable. My kids will be plenty comfortable. But I'm not Silicon Valley landed gentry. Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin all live in my neighborhood [in Palo Alto], but in much nicer houses.

Is it ever wearying to get back on the start-up treadmill?

Courtot: No, because I know deep down what Qualys is doing is the future. We have 4,000 customers and had $40 million in recurring revenue last year. Honestly, it's taken longer than anticipated -- I thought we'd be at this stage two years ago. But the fundamental thing is: Are we providing something of value to customers? That's the path. The rest is irrelevant.

Noerr: I'm driven by wanting to make a name for my company. It doesn't bother me if I go to a party and no one's heard of us. I look at it as an opportunity to be an evangelist.

Massaro: I've done several turnarounds, mostly as favors for VCs. They're never very satisfying. I restore cars as a hobby. The statement that it's harder to unbuild something than to build it -- it's true with a car, it's true with a company. So my preference is always to do a start-up.

What special qualities do you bring to the CEO role?

Courtot: I am like a coach who constantly focuses people on two things: exercising quality and putting yourself in the customer's shoes. I don't have to micromanage on this technology or that. The mind has to trust the body, and the body will react the way it should.

Noerr: I have more drive and persistence than many people I employ. I certainly don't think of myself as old. The only difference is that now when I have to do long-haul travel, I'll treat myself to a business or first-class seat.

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