How will Gen Y handle the big chair?

Generation Y is tech savvy, self-confident, lifestyle conscious and has been cotton-wooled from competition. Now its ranks are moving into management – and are set to shake up the role.

The media’s attention on Generation Y misses the point of what’s about to happen. Not much has been said about what kind of managers they’re going to be. It’s a bad oversight – with the oldest of them turning 30 this year, more will start entering management ranks.

Now, no one knows for sure what they will be like. One thing for is sure, they’ll be different from the class of managers we’re seeing now. Expect the unexpected. Some might be more entrepreneurial than the current breed of managers. Remember, this is a generation that was told they could do anything, that grew up watching Idol and thinking with supreme confidence: "I could do that.”

Potentially, the new Gen Y managers could change Australia’s management culture and transform an economy that has traditionally relied on digging rocks out of the ground. With the mining boom ending, we’ll need it.

This is a generation that could not remember a time without mobile phones, laptops and desktops. Cheque books, fax machines, even radios, might as well be from the Jurassic period. Raised by doting parents who told them they were special, they played in competitions where there were no losers, everyone was a winner and everyone got a trophy. It’s a generation that grew up on the internet. Many of them might end up launching viable online businesses. Facebook, after all, began in a college dorm room. And whereas Generation X gave us the concept of work-life balance, Generation Y tends to blend work and life together. As Clarius chief executive Kym Quick says, Gen Y workers are now more drawn to companies offering flexible work environments. "They will forego $10,000 in their base salary to be able to go surfing, or work from home or telecommute two days a week. That’s more important to them than the extra dollars in their pocket.”

As managers, they are likely to value flexibility more than boomer and Gen X managers. And it goes without saying that they are more likely to embrace technology.

Still, some might question whether they would be any good. What happens, some ask, when someone who has been indulged gets into a management position and employees start making demands on them. What kind of managers would they be if they haven’t had the depth of experience and have moved from job to job? And would a protected generation be resilient in the face of setbacks? All these are valid questions. Watch this space.

Dan Schawbel from Boston, a personal branding expert, best selling author and the managing partner of Gen Y research company Millennial Branding, believes they will be more entrepreneurial.

His research has found that most of them are not employed in the biggest companies and prefer instead to work for smaller firms with fewer than 100 employees that allow for more flexibility and development without strict corporate guidelines. They are more likely to have studied unusual courses. They tend to have studied off-the-wall stuff like neuroscience and bioengineering. Many of them went and did entrepreneurial studies. This is not to say a good number didn’t stick to the more conventional courses of law and accounting, it’s just that there was more off-the-wall stuff with this group. Once again, they’re running contrary to the conventional.

The most common Gen Y job skills, he found, were in areas like online marketing, social media and software that analyses data. Most would prefer working for technology based companies.

Schawbel argues that Gen Y managers will be different. Flexi-time and remote working will be par for the course. He says they are more likely to let their employees work from wherever they want, and whenever they want, provided they deliver the results. He says they are also more likely to value team work and collaboration.

Perhaps we are seeing signs of this new entrepreneurialism coming through. Witness for example the way Ruslan Kogan, 29, has challenged Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi with his online electronics store that he founded in his parents' garage six years ago. Kogan is the big disruptor in the electronics industry. While JB Hi Fi and Harvey Norman’s profits are falling, self-made millionaire Kogan’s business reportedly did a $1 million turnover in a single day and had a $20 million turnover last year.

Again, it’s about the unconventional. Kogan has taken the Gen Y approach, challenging the standard business model of his competitors. He designs, builds and delivers his own branded products, including televisions, home appliances and computers. In doing so, he has removed costs and ties with middle-man suppliers and distributors.

Kogan was co-founder with Dean Ramler, 30, of of Milan Direct, which sells replica designer home and office furniture online to customers in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Europe. The company is going head to head with IKEA and other furniture retailers.

Another is James Griffin, 28, who founded social media research company SR7. It’s a unique niche, something few had ventured into. SR7 now has struck partnerships with larger corporate players like KPMG and AON.

Or Nicole Kersh, 27, who six years was annoyed when she saw Australia did not have an online wholesaler for electronic cables. Her company 4Cabling in Sydney sells everything from server racks and network cabinets to fibre optics and cables for voice, data and electricity. The business, which started in a garage, now reportedly generates $5.2 million in turnover. A young woman running a large electronics company might be regarded as unusual but Gen Y is like that. Like Kogan, Ramler and Griffin, Kersh did the Y thing. She identified a niche that no one was in and moved into it.

There are many young 20-something entrepreneurs now coming up, challenging traditional management and business models of corporate Australia. It might just be the entrepreneurial spirit this country badly needs and broaden the economy beyond wool, wheat and rocks. The transition of Gen Y into management might well shake up management incumbents.

There are signs Gen Y is already reshaping work relations. Managers of the large accounting firms for example say new recruits have much better communicators and engage in more conversational styles than the boomers and Xers. And Gen Y is already starting to have an impact in the workplace with more companies embracing flexi-time and remote working. That could be a taste of things to come.

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