MILWAUKEE - The American boss of the future might look a lot like Dana Cable Sr., who works 10 hours daily, worries over bills, meets customers and tinkers with inventions that won't hit the market for years.
Cable is 80 and refuses to quit.
"I know what I want - and it's not going to Florida to retire," said Cable, president of Milwaukee-based Growing Systems Inc., which specializes in equipment for the production of young plants.
Cable appears at the cusp of a potential trend - the graying of America's business leaders. Right now the trend is simply anecdotal, the likes of 75-year-old superinvestor Warren Buffett and 79-year-old football coach Joe Paterno showing younger colleagues a thing or two about how to succeed in business or sports.
As the country ages, though, more and more leaders in their 70s, 80s and perhaps beyond may remain on the job, their prime working years extended well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.
"It's still too much fun to work," said Cable, who has an adding machine on his desk and a couple of rocking chairs in his office. The rockers are for visitors.
A few aging business giants already roam the landscape, including media moguls Rupert Murdoch, 74, chairman and CEO of News Corp., and Sumner Redstone, 82, executive chairman of the board and founder of Viacom, Inc.
In sports, Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden, 76, matched up in the recent Orange Bowl. The Buffalo Bills recently turned to an experienced hand to serve as general manager, 80-year-old Marv Levy, who said, "I'm old enough to know my limitations and I'm young enough to exceed them."
In baseball, Frank Robinson, 70, will return for another season as manager of the Washington Nationals.
"My mind is nowhere near retiring," Robinson testified last year before a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. "I don't think retiring is good for individuals."
Demographics and the needs of both businesses and workers will drive the trend to retain experienced bosses, according to Tamara J. Erickson of the Concours Group, an advisory services firm. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population is projected to be 65 and older.
Older workers will want to work and remain active while businesses will need seniors to fill what Erickson said will be a looming shortage in skills and talent in the American workplace.
"It's going to be basically what the baby boomers want, the baby boomers will get," she said. "They're not a generation of people who want to lie around in a hammock. They're going to find a way to stay active as they move into the post-60 years."
Erickson envisions senior workers occupying the spectrum of jobs from low to high skills. Right now, she said, if you walk into a Wal-Mart or Home Depot, you might see seniors working as greeters or experts who can help a customer select the right tool. Older workers are also occupying highly skilled slots as aerospace engineers.
"Eighty isn't 80 anymore," she said. "A lot of 80-year-olds don't feel old and they feel like working."
Right now, at least at the top business levels, the older boss is a niche player, and mandatory retirement remains in place in many corporate suites. There's also a view in large corporations that the top executive jobs are so demanding that older workers aren't up to the challenge, said Peter Cappelli, management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
"In the 1950s, about a quarter of corporate executives died before they hit 65 so they died in office," Cappelli said. "There was a notion that you better get out by 65 if you want a retirement. Now, people are living longer and they're also living healthier. People don't have to retire so they say the heck with it. You see these founding CEO-type folks hanging around forever."
George Dalton retired in 2000 as chairman and CEO of Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv. He figured financial analysts half his age viewed him like they might view their fathers and realized it was time to get out. After Dalton left the company, he planned to shuttle between homes in Florida and Massachusetts and serve on some public and civic boards.
The plan lasted all of five months.
Dalton, now 77, founded Call Solutions, which became NOVO 1 Inc., a firm that employs more than 2,000 people.
"I really don't work," he said. "If I had to work, I'd quit."
Cable exudes the same attitude, the drive to get up each day and create new business for the firm he founded 35 years ago. As a sideline, he also refurbishes and rents a handful of Milwaukee apartments in a bid to help rejuvenate the neighborhood.
"Something happens at 80 when you lose just a little bit of energy," said Cable, who puts in weekend hours on the job.
He moves around his small factory like a man half his age, showing off machines, and then touring a greenhouse that he has turned into a laboratory for experimental equipment that he hopes will aid in the high volume production of starting seeds. A grin crosses his face as he discusses a new style of heating greenhouses.
Even though none of his children is in the business, Cable is confident the firm can outlast him. It will remain in good hands, he said, under Connie Gratz of Greenfield, Wis. She's 75.
But Cable said he'll be around for a while. Asked if a visitor would see him in the office 10 years from now, Cable said: "You can bank on it. That's only 90."