Millennials in the C-Suite

Millennials get a bad rap from the media and the older generations. They’re selfish. They’re not motivated. They live in their parent’s basement. They take too many selfies. They don’t have all of the same dreams and aspirations of prior generations.

Maybe these things are true about some Millennials but I have a hard time making sweeping generalizations about a group that numbers roughly 75 million strong. I was born in 1981, so technically I’m close to the inaugural class of this generation. My experience with Millennials has been completely different from the way they’re portrayed in the media.

When I was going through my MBA program I was shocked at how idealistic my fellow classmates were. They all seemed to care more about doing the right thing than figuring out ways to maximize shareholder value. They were just as worried about making decisions in the best interests of stakeholders in a company as they were about shareholders. They want to work with good people and treat their co-workers fairly. They were angry about the financial crisis and the excesses in CEO pay.

The cynic in me thought, “Well, just wait until they’re in higher up management roles. Their ideas about compensation and how to run a business will change.”

But now I don’t know. I receive several emails a month from young people in the finance industry who are fed up with the old ways of doing things. They want to be successful, but they also want to do things the right way. They want to help their clients, not milk them for all they’re worth in fees and commissions. They’re disgusted by many of the industrywide practices that have been in place for a number of years now.

I find the same thing with the young bloggers and investment professionals I’ve gotten to know the past few years through this blog. They’re entrepreneurial. They have great ideas. They want to make things better. They want to work with the right people. And they want to be able to go to bed at night with a clear conscience.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post — yesterday Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be giving 99% of his $45 billion in Facebook stock to charity. The surprising thing about this announcement to me is how cynical the media was about it. People were saying it’s all about dodging taxes. He’ll still have more money than he knows what to do with. And it’s not really a true foundation because he set it up as an LLC.

I’ll admit, I used to think Zuckerberg was a weasel after reading the admittedly embellished Ben Mezrich book The Accidental Billionaires (the book that the movie Social Network was based on). Then I started reading about all of the multi-million and billion dollar buyout offers he was turning down left and right for the company he created. He seemed to care more about the company and building a great product than selling out for a quick payday. He’s quickly turned Facebook into one of the largest, most powerful companies in the world.

As the most well-known Millennial executive on the planet, I think this giving pledge sets a great example to other young people. I think the naysayers are being far too skeptical on this one. The guy is only 31 years old. He’s basically going to spend the rest of his life giving away billions of dollars to causes he believes in.

Maybe I’m using a small sample size and anecdotal evidence to draw this conclusion, but I think Millennials are going to end up surprising people when they start taking on leadership roles and more responsibility in their careers. It’s an extreme example, but Zuckerberg just got the ball rolling in a big way.

Further Reading:
Don’t Sleep on the Millennials

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web
  1. mikemasland commented on Dec 02

    Totally agree with you on all points.

  2. UofODuck commented on Dec 03

    Time will tell whether Mr. Zukerberg’s plan will benefit others. At the moment, it is little more than a transfer from one pocket to another. My hope is that he will use this vehicle to do good with the wealth he was amassed.

    • Ben commented on Dec 03

      Yup, who knows but I think it will be interesting to see what he does with it, especially if FB is able to stay relevant and continue growing.

  3. Jim Clark commented on Dec 03

    My understanding is back in the 1930s a lot of adults were skeptical about what we now call The Greatest Generation. From what I see as a Baby Boomer, the kids today are mostly pretty good. Well, our music was better but they will be saying that in 2055

    • Ben commented on Dec 03

      I think there will always be a sense of the ‘get off my lawn’ syndrome from some in previous generations. The music debate will also never die, but I think you may be right on that one.