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Fountain of Youth: Under 40 in the Corner Office


Barnes and Noble's new CEO joins an exclusive club.

Barnes and Noble (BKS) surprised shareholders today by announcing a management shake-up: Steve Riggio, 55, is no longer CEO and his successor is William Lynch, 39, who had been the head of the retailer's Web business. Fun fact: When Riggio joined the company in 1975, Lynch was just four years old.

With the announcement, Lynch joins a very exclusive club: The youngest CEOs of public companies.

Some young CEOs have shown impressive leadership qualities. Last September, Adobe (ADBE) paid $1.8 billion to buy Web analytics firm Omniture, a 45% premium to its market value. The company was founded in 1996 by Josh James, who, at 36, was still running the firm at the time of the sale.

Others haven't been so fortunate. Six Flags, the theme park chain, is currently fighting a contentious battle with creditors and bondholders in bankruptcy court. Its CEO, Mark Shapiro, is just 39.

And it's impossible not to mention that Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo (YHOO), was replaced as CEO by Carol Bartz, who is 20 years his senior, after merger talks with Microsoft (MSFT) broke down in 2008.

There are still plenty of old geezers running the country's biggest companies. Most are white, and male, too. But as we emerge from this Great Recession, perhaps it's time more boards of directors looked beyond the gray hairs when it's time to fill the corner office. If experience is what got us here, maybe it's time we start gambling on those with a little less of it.

The 40 and Under Set:

Matthew McCauley, 37
Gymboree (GYMB)
Born in 1973, McCauley joined the children's clothing retailer in 2001 and eventually worked his way up to CEO by 2006. He was named chairman of the board just a few months later.

Dara Khosrowshahi, 40
Expedia (EXPE)
When Barry Diller's IAC (IACI) spun off the online travel site Expedia in 2005, an up-and-coming IAC executive was tapped to lead it. According to a 2008 profile of him in the London Times, the young leader is a "dedicated player of World of Warcraft, the online, role-playing game beloved of nerds and teenagers," a claim not many CEOs can make.

Kevin Plank, 38
Under Armour
Plank founded the sports apparel brand in 1996, when he was just 24 years old. Most young founders eventually get bumped by investors as the company reaches maturity, but not Plank. Under Armour is now a $1.4 billion company trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Michael Rubin, 37
GSI Commerce
GSI Commerce is a Web marketing firm with a $1.7 billion market cap and a 37-year-old CEO. Want to know more about him? Watch Undercover Boss this Sunday.

Patrick Smith, 39
Taser Internat'l
Smith founded the maker of stun guns with his brother Tom in 1991. The Taser was developed just a few years later and by 2001 it was trading on the NASDAQ.

Jeffrey Housenbold, 40
In one respect, Shutterfly has defied the odds: It survived the dot-com crash. The online photo company launched with funding from Netscape founder James Clark before the bubble burst, but it survived to go public in 2006. Housenbold joined the company from eBay (EBAY) in 2005.

Mariner Kemper, 37
UMB Financial
UMB is a $1.7 billion financial services firm based in Kansas City. Its 37-year-old CEO has been running the company since 2004. Getting to the top isn't always easy, but it does help when it's a family business -- the firm was founded in 1913 by his great grandfather William Kemper.
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