Millennials on board

Diego Alcázar Benjumea. Vice President. IE Business School

30 July 2015

The Millennials are creating a major power hub for themselves. The achievements of these young digital natives, entrepreneurs and innovators are already shaping political and corporate landscapes.

India-born consultant Ram Charan recently visited Madrid to take part in a strategy and management forum. Charan is an expert in international strategy who has advised some of the most influential CEOS in the corporate world, including the heads of companies like Bank of America, DuPont, Novartis, 3M or Verizon. I was struck by something he said in an interview with Spanish daily Expansión: “We need more millennials in positions of leadership”.

Millennials are young people aged between 18 and 35 who were born into the digital era. They know this environment and everything about it comes naturally to them, especially social networks, which means they are building lives that are enmeshed with a major power hub.  The figures speak for themselves: three out of four Millennials are able to influence decisions made by other generations, according to a study carried out by Deloitte in 2014. 

One example of their influence lies in the new political environment in Spain, where in the last year we have witnessed how two political forces -Ciudadanos and Podemos- have emerged in disruptive fashion.  They have certainly influenced a series a social factors, but who is behind this new way of doing politics? Millennials. The new faces of the world of Spanish politics -Iglesias, Rivera, Errejón, Arrimadas, Rodriguez, etc. - are young people in their thirties, as are many of their followers. They knew what their voters needed and knew how to reach them and what to say to them. They gained influence swiftly and effectively, while traditional actors looked on impassively, almost as if they were in a state of shock.

Such knock out tactics are not limited to the political arena. Mark Zuckerberg, (Facebook), Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Garrett Camp (Uber) and Daniel Ek (Spotify) are also Millennials. The number of entrepreneurs who have revolutionized the way big corporations work is growing by the day. In a market that is more complex and fast-changing than ever before, if companies want to be competitive they have to learn to spot major trends and take effective action. Millennials can be of enormous help when it comes to understanding the needs of a company’s most digitally active clients and generating new business opportunities. The worst threats no longer come from big competitors, but rather from start-ups with their relentless innovation.

Management boards are traditionally comprised of members that bring experience, and said experience has always been associated with age. Meanwhile a study carried out by Heidrick & Struggles in 2014 revealed that the average ages of board members of companies in Spain is 61.2 years old, the highest in the EU. If we take a closer look at the composition of management boards, Spain is the second country in the EU for the lowest percentage of board members (12.9%) who are under 50 years of age (the youngest age group). Spain is also the second country for the most members aged over 70 (14.9%). But the average age of management boards is not the only thing we should be looking at. We have to go beyond that to tackle the real problem, given that the exponential growth of technology and the digital environment has created a huge generation gap. And it is not only about understanding the new environment, but rather about grasping the fact that it is the natural habitat of new generations.  

Another factor to take into account is how well the most loyal stakeholders of big corporations are represented on their boards. It is in company’s interests to have a board of directors that is diverse enough to understand the needs of plural stakeholders, with sufficient diversity of experiences among its members to drive constructive discussion dynamics. Intergenerational experience sharing is key in this context.

Youth, entrepreneurialism, innovation, the focus on social interaction, diversity, globalization, and the ability to handle digital and technological environments are trending values that millennials embody almost without meaning to. Companies have to realize that they can bring much greater impetus to their management boards if they join forces with a generation that was born into the technology revolution and which is brimming with ambitious long-term vision. We are living in an era of deep transformation, of searches for new models, of redefinition and reconstruction. All these things require analysis and a new and different way of seeing things that is unhindered by the conditionings of the past making it free, courageous and creative.

 

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