Time to Make Way for Millennials


To borrow heavily from Mark Twain, the rumors of the demise of Los Angeles are greatly exaggerated. In fact, I’m optimistic about the future of Los Angeles.

In a recent letter to city leaders, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin advised that by 2018, almost half of civilian employees will be eligible for retirement. Many of those positions will be filled by millennials – individuals in their 20s and early 30s who, based on chronological progression, will eventually run our city.

Since 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025, how can those of us in the business community teach these newer entrants to the workforce to boldly fill the shoes of the great Angelenos who built our city? How can we help them become visionary?

We can start by not viewing them as a caricature. Much of what has been written about millennials reads like a “care and feeding” guide, as if these young people are a new breed that we should approach delicately and with caution. Certainly, there are some nuances to this generation: They are technologically advanced and want meaning and recognition in their professional lives. But while some characterize that as lazy, entitled or narcissistic, I find that this complex, competitive world and this enormous metropolis have made their path confusing.

We can also help by letting them define success on their own terms in this new era, while remaining true to the “feet on the ground, head in the clouds” mantra that the Greatest Generation drew upon to build Los Angeles. How else do we encourage the development of leaders such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York’s passionate e-storyteller? In his commencement speech at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management recently, Dun & Bradstreet’s Jeffrey Stibel issued a directional challenge: Start small, but don’t stop thinking big.

Stibel should know. The self-proclaimed “pretty dumb kid” told the graduates that in high school, he got into trouble, had bad grades and “took comfort in my ordinary strand of marginal fiber.” Stibel went on to tell the assembled students, “All of my life, people have been telling me what I can’t do. But for me, the impossible has become a rally call.” Since then, he has become an author, entrepreneur and brain scientist. He previously served as chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and chief executive of Web.com Inc.; he is currently vice chair of Dun & Bradstreet as well as a board member of a number of private and public companies. He also was the recipient of a Brain and Behavior Fellowship while studying for a Ph.D. at Brown University.


Finally, we can encourage millennials. After Stibel started college, a professor told him his writing was so bad that he needed to go back to high school. But another professor admired his confidence and agreed to be his mentor, starting him down a path of direction and meaning.

As business people in Los Angeles, we must similarly act in a manner that best supports the development of visionary leaders. Stibel says, “Negative words are daggers in this world. They cut away people’s ambitions, spirits, their passion.” Do we contribute to the defeat of our next generation of leaders or do we inspire? Do we educate young employees about the possibilities of entrepreneurship and rewards of civic responsibility? Do we mentor millennials on their professional path, a tactic specifically recommended by Controller Galperin?

Do we, like Stibel, encourage them to dream big about taking the reins: “Let them tell you that you can’t do it, but don’t listen. If it’s something you believe in, find a path to making it happen. And if no one is telling you it’s impossible, then think bigger, act bigger, until someone starts saying no. Push the envelope and the ball further than others think possible. Hear the word ‘impossible,’ and think ‘maybe,’ then build a plan and do it.”

Business leaders will guide millennials into the future. With some effort, we can be assured that we are leaving Los Angeles in good hands.

John K. Paglia, Ph.D., M.B.A., CPA, CFA, is associate dean and associate professor of finance at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

No posts to display