I read in the paper today that REO Speedwagon was the guest performer at not one but two Major League Baseball opening games. Those of you who remember this Illinois band's sappy power ballads in the '80s might cringe. Few sights are sillier than geriatrics croaking out teen love songs. Get off the stage, already!

What's true for rockers with receding hairlines could become the case at your dealership as well. Demographers are warning about a "gray ceiling" that is clamping down at businesses nationwide as baby boomers cling to their jobs into their mid-60s and beyond. As a result, they block members of Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) and the subsequent generations from going up corporate ladders.

Craig Webb, Editor 202.736.3307 [email protected] Photo: James Kegley This is a new problem. There weren't anywhere near as many babies born during the Depression and World War II years as in the 15 succeeding ones, and working lives then didn't last so long. A lot of boomers got good jobs early. And now, expecting to live longer and fearing an impoverished retirement, many are expected to hang on to their paychecks.

If your company has a gray ceiling, it might well be choking off the fresh talents your organization needs. As our profile of a half-dozen up-and-coming executives ("The Kids Are Alright," page 74) suggests, the next generation of LBM leaders are bringing to yards a wider variety of skills than did their predecessors, many of whom didn't go to college and never worked outside of a lumberyard. The new breed has energy, creativity, and an understanding of our industry's core values. What it often lacks, I fear, is a chance to show its worth.

This fear arises in part because I've heard a lot of griping by boomer-era executives that younger folk are unwilling to work hard and take their turn on each rung of the corporate ladder. And don't get the boomers started on younger folks' pay expectations. You'll see some of those comments in this month's letters (page 16). I see the writers' point, but I also can't help but feel we boomers bear some responsibility for this situation. After all, at work it was our and our predecessors' generations that, in the name of lean operating processes, cut out the very middle management positions that provided rungs on our corporate ladders and that provided many of the wise corporate mentors who helped us find our way. And at home, our natural desire to give our children a richer, hopefully better upbringing than we had certainly encouraged these kids–now our prospective workers–to expect more than we did when we were in our 20s and 30s.

Yes, Gen Xers and those following them aren't exactly like boomers. But smart dealer executives are learning to recognize not only what's different in succeeding generations but also what core attributes–stuff like loyalty, dedication, honesty, and concern for others–remain unchanged. Steve Kelly, chairman of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, did that when he noticed the unusual maturity of Brandon Coppage, an employee at his Covington, Ky.?based Kelly Bros. Lumber. Now Kelly has handed over a lot of day-to-day management responsibilities to Coppage while Kelly travels nationwide on behalf of NLBMDA. Coppage is 25.

The next generation's tastes may run more to hip-hop than Hendrix, but that doesn't mean they won't do a great job for you–provided you give them a chance. As the boys of REO Speedwagon sang, you need to roll with the changes.

One change that we're experiencing this month is the departure of executive editor Chris Wood, who has moved to take on new responsibilities at a pair of our sister Hanley Wood publications. We wish him the best of success.