Don't call me SLACKER! Meet America's top talents under 30. They are unorthodox, rebellious, and a challenge to manage.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – YOU probably wouldn't hire Robb Gaynor. His resume -- if he had a resume -- would betray that he hopped from college to college to college to college. Then he dropped out for good. Delve deeper into this 27-year-old life, and you might conclude that Gaynor's restiveness comes from his dad, a FORTUNE 500 executive turned Zen Buddhist monk. The son has weird habits: Co-workers at Charles Schwab & Co. headquarters in San Francisco say he sneaks out some sunny afternoons -- to fish, they guess. Personally, the guy's a deadbeat. He doesn't pay his Pacific Bell bills. He's drawn 12 late-payment fees on his car loan in four years. Laughs John Philip Coghlan, executive vice president of Charles Schwab, the world's largest discount brokerage: "Robb's our chief slacker." Slacker? Not. Gaynor developed and manages SchwabLink, an electronic trading service that has helped Schwab add billions in assets. He is the fastest- rising star under age 30 at the 6,100-person company. Meet the best and brightest workers of the new generation. Peer beyond your bifocals, baby-boomers, for these hotshot twentysomethings, who will eventually replace you, are hard to spot and even harder to manage. If you haven't noticed Generation Xers infiltrating your executive corridors, you soon will, because a milestone is upcoming: As of December 31, 1994, every working American under 30 will officially be a post-boomer, a buster, a Gen Xer, a slacker. These are the 44.5 million people born between 1965 and 1976 (the baby boom ended in 1964). They are stereotyped as cynical underachievers with dilatory work habits and derelict ambitions. Even the future-CEO types among them think untraditionally -- often subversively -- about jobs and companies. Boomers can learn plenty about the new rules of career building from this bunch.
MANAGERS need new ways to harness the Xers' combustible talents. "This generation is much more individualistic than the boomers ever were," says Ed Valencia, 50, executive vice president of human resources at Schwab. "If we don't tolerate a broader style, we'll be in real trouble." Adds Maury Hanigan, president of Hanigan Consulting Group: "These young managers come with skills that companies wish they could instill in older workers -- computer literacy, an understanding of diversity, a global mindset. But companies don't know how to manage the Xers and complain that they can't retain them. Very few corporations are set up to allow young superstars to emerge and get satisfaction from their work." There's only one brand-name Generation X success: Michael Dell. He started selling computers from his apartment in Austin, Texas, at age 17 and has built Dell Computer into a $2-billion-a-year company. The techno-buster hits 30 in February. To unearth other nascent leaders from the mosh pit, FORTUNE queried 350 companies, consultants, executive recruiters, and leading business schools. A dozen or so companies, including Merck, Boeing, and Nestl, refused to uncurtain their prodigies, noting that profiles in FORTUNE would draw hungry headhunters or disrupt "team culture." Other companies, including Coca- Cola, J.C. Penney, and CBS, report that they have no worthy hotshots under 30 -- support, perhaps, for the Generation X complaint that boomers are clogging the corporate pipeline even while businesses are downsizing and colleges are graduating record numbers of job seekers. FORTUNE's 20 twentysomethings, selected from 133 candidates, are audacious odds-buckers. Beyond displaying some inexplicable similarities (seven are males of Irish descent), this group is marvelously eclectic. Their annual pay ranges from $35,000 to several million dollars. Three besides Gaynor did not complete college -- actually four, if you count Oklahoma's Jeff Thompson, who at 16 used $2,500 earned from his paper route to start Peripheral Outlet Inc. in his parents' basement. Thompson, now 23, is CEO of the $20-million-a-year computer-parts retailer and a full-time college student, set to graduate December 16. Only four of our 20 standouts have MBAs or graduate degrees. Most had rocky, uprooted childhoods. None were raised by stay-at-home moms. Perhaps the biggest surprise: Only five are women, among them Beth Randolph, 27, who manages several hundred employees and helps generate $150 million in sales for Choice Hotels, the world's second-largest hotel company. She calls Gen X "constructively rebellious." FORTUNE conducted in-depth interviews with the 20, their bosses and mentors, and management experts, hearing stories of success and failure -- and intriguing tips on how to manage the new generation. Principal insights:
-- The career is a jungle gym. These young stars don't climb ladders. They swing like acrobats from job to job, going wherever the action is. Liz Landon first got acrobatic experience a decade ago as captain of her high school varsity cheerleading squad in St. Louis. Today, at 29, Landon lives in Chicago and is the fastest tracker under age 30 at Andersen Consulting, which has more than 29,000 employees. "Most people who come into Andersen spend the next ten years working their butts off in whatever division they were originally assigned to," says Landon, who joined in 1986 after graduating from the University of Chicago in three years. She, on the other hand, jumped around as no other young consultant at Andersen ever has. Landon has worked in all three "practice areas": process/technology (upgrading clients' computer systems); strategic services (customer focus and quality); and change management, her current specialty, which involves navigating clients through reengineering. She is "almost fearless to try anything," says her boss, managing partner Carla Paonessa. "My moving around had to do with a variety of things," explains Landon. "I wasn't very good in technology, and just more interested in big-picture consulting." No one urged Landon to job hop, and in fact her zigzagging delayed a promotion a full year. "But I more than made up," she says. Before her 30th birthday next October, Landon is likely to become an associate partner, earning at least $115,000 a year. Andersen management views her as a "model consultant," but Landon does not return the compliment: "There are still ten or 15 different ladders against the wall, and the company is not doing much to move them close together. We should have more options to develop our expertise broadly or deeply." In an age of merging, converging, and cross-functional teaming, these twentysomethings seek to be multidimensional and multitalented. Tim Dunley, 29, a 6-foot-6-incher who is launching Sega of America's 64-bit videogame machine, is an Asian studies graduate of the University of Puget Sound with an MBA from the University of San Francisco. He spent four years at Microsoft, where he worked closely with Bill Gates on Gates' pet interactive-TV project. After making presentations to visitors like John Malone and Rupert Murdoch -- and seeing the info-highway honchos confused about where to drive -- Dunley motored to Sega last year. "I wanted immediate gratification," he says, sounding very Gen Xish. "The stuff I was working on for Microsoft was five to seven years from reaching the marketplace. Sega's new technology was one to two years away." Welcome to the next level, Tim. Sega COO Paul Rioux, 49, says Dunley's diverse background makes him eminently promotable, "maybe to a senior position at a new operation like our Sega Channel, maybe running a business as we do joint ventures with movie and computer companies." Says Dunley: "As long as there's a chance for me to do a lot of different things here, I'll be happy." -- Don't set career goals. FORTUNE's 20 superstars all got prodded early on by parents and teachers to choose a career, but hardly anyone did. Warren Bennis, leadership guru and management professor at the University of Southern California, is not surprised. "A lot of successful people I interview never said that they wanted to be a leader or a certain kind of success," he says. "Instead, they find needs. They're very proactive in looking for opportunities." Pat Ryan Jr., a renaissance man at 27, says, "My father uses the term 'fuzzy vision.' You have this idea of what you want to do in life, but it's way in the distance. As you get experience, you move closer to it, and you can sort of describe it. Eventually, you say, 'That's it!'" For Ryan the father, "That's it!" was Aon, an insurance company that he co-founded in 1964 and made into a FORTUNE Service 500 company with $16.3 billion in assets. Ryan the son is still squinting at his own "fuzzy vision." Since earning a bachelor's degree from Georgetown four years ago, he has graduated from the Chicago Police Academy, worked long-haired and undercover as a narcotics cop, seized $1.1 million in cocaine, taught school on Chicago's tough west side, and founded the Inner-City Teaching Corps, a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates to teach in Chicago's poorest Catholic schools. "Why should I look at a career as a block of time in a FORTUNE 500 company?" he asks. With his brown hair now clean-cut, Ryan spends 40 hours a week running the ICTC and 50 more studying for his law and MBA degrees at Northwestern University. Post-graduation, he intends to move back (temporarily, he says) into law enforcement. These best and brightest twentysomethings seek out a good industry or company, not a particular job. Thomas Neff, president of Spencer Stuart, the executive search firm, says this is smart. "There are certain environments where young hotshots can thrive. I'd recommend solid growth companies like consumer products and fast-growing companies -- anything related to the information highway, certain sectors of technology, and telecommunications." You'd never guess that John Donoghue, a skinny look-alike of that movie teen Ferris Bueller, is vice president of marketing at MCI's $7-billion-a-year business markets division. At 28, he oversees 300 people and a budget estimated at more than $200 million. Donoghue had no idea what kind of career he wanted until an MCI attorney spoke to his government class at George Washington University in 1987. "It sounded like a cool company to work at, and that David vs. Goliath battle ((with AT&T)) made me think anything is possible," says Donoghue, whose Atlanta office is as unfussy as a college guy's dorm room. He turned down offers from Martin Marietta and Shawmut National because, he says, "The norm was to change jobs every two years. It wasn't so much the long time that bothered me. It was the predictability." Donoghue jumped around MCI and impressed Tim Price, president of business markets, with his adaptability and energy. "We don't believe that experience counts for much in a business that changes so fast," says Price, who at 42 is a decade older than his average employee. When Price recently consolidated three jobs -- product development, brand strategies, and advertising -- into one, marketing, he worried about putting someone as young as Donoghue in charge. "I haven't looked back," says Price. Now Donoghue is directing MCI's first major foray out of long-distance: Network MCI Business, a software product that gives PC users a bundle of services, including E-mail, videoconferencing, and Internet access. Have you seen that unusual, soap- opera-like TV campaign about the people at "Gramercy Press" who warily adopt Network MCI? The acclaimed ad series was Donoghue's idea. -- Persist through failure, even self-induced. Leaders are made, not born. And failure helps mold them. Abundant self-confidence is a common trait of the star twentysomethings. Kevin Fitzpatrick, 28, is the youngest plant manager ever at General Mills. An engineering graduate of Notre Dame, Fitzpatrick got recognized early as an agile full-service manager -- a plant guy who did a stint at Minneapolis headquarters as assistant marketing manager for Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. He did fine learning cerealspeak, such as "FSI" (free- standing insert) and "BOGO" (buy-one-get-one-free). But then he almost botched the most important job of his life. When Fitzpatrick began running General Mills' Squeezit juice plant in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, two years ago, he called the factory a "shittin' little" operation in front of his employees. And though he vowed to spend lots of time walking the factory floor, work so overwhelmed him that he was inaccessible. Bill Bealles, 53, Fitzpatrick's mentor and the manager of oat operations at General Mills, says contrition came when the plant workers, all 125 of whom report directly to Fitzpatrick, criticized him during company retreats. "Kevin did an amazing job discussing his problems," says Bealles. What did he learn? "Shut up, and think before you speak," says Fitzpatrick, reformed. Today his Squeezit plant is one of General Mills' best performers. Adversity also shaped Alphonse "Buddy" Fletcher Jr. When you visit the elegant, 13,000-square-foot offices of Fletcher Asset Management atop New York's General Motors building, when you meet the excessively polite 28-year- old antislacker who is CEO, when you learn that he is chauffeured around town in a Bentley and that he donates about $1 million a year to charities, you figure: This guy is on top of the world. He says he is not. Though he is the top earner of our twentysomethings, he says, "It was never my intention to have an entrepreneurial startup firm." Fletcher grew up middle class in Waterford, Connecticut, and graduated from Harvard. By age 25 he was a senior vice president paid more than $2 million as the top equity trader at Kidder Peabody, then owned by General Electric. But in 1991 Fletcher quit and sued Kidder because he said the firm shortchanged him on his bonus. He won a $1.3 million award. Now he is awaiting an arbitrator's decision on another lawsuit, for racial discrimination related to the bonus issue, and he is asking Kidder for $5 million plus punitive damages. His guiding principle comes from his grandmother's preacher at the Mount Moriah Fire Baptized Holiness Church in New London, Connecticut: "Bite off more than you can chew. Then chew it." Now math wizards at his ten-person firm use complex computer programs to do an arcane form of stock trading timed to dividend payouts. Audited reports from Goldstein Golub Kessler & Co., Fletcher's accountant, show that his firm achieved average annual returns of over 300% during the past two years, trading for his own account and for a few institutional clients, including Dow Chemical. For all his success, though, Fletcher seems anxious, dissatisfied, and years older than 28. "I would have loved to have been an executive at GE someday," he says, suggesting that his bridge is burned. -- The uprooted child thrives. "A lot of successful leaders were uprooted in childhood," says USC's Bennis. Most of FORTUNE's fast-trackers moved frequently growing up and were raised by working moms and entrepreneurial dads. Many endured financial troubles or parental breakups. Says Bennis: ^ "These people grow up either to be dysfunctional or to adapt to change and ambiguity very well." Sitting at a weathered picnic table at the Dutch Goose, a dive bar in Menlo Park, California, Robb Gaynor tells his tale of slacker success. "I come from two great parents who divorced when I was 12," says the gregarious Schwab manager, who hung out at the Goose in his youth. Gaynor's father, a marketing executive for Chevron in New York City, quit his job in his 40s, moved the family to California, and opened a chain of La-Z-Boy stores. They were unsuccessful. "In a two-year period, he lost his business, his wife, and his kids," Gaynor says. Marvin Gaynor became a monk at Green Gulch, a Zen Buddhist retreat in Marin County. Now, at 64, he is an artist. Robb resents his dad's leaving but says it had some positive effects: "I became independent and resourceful because I had to." His hero is his mother, who worked full-time to raise Robb and his three older sisters. Gaynor, who has the unchiseled good looks of a jock a decade past prime, was a B student and a baseball star at Menlo Atherton High School. Quick-witted but impetuous, he saw college as an invitation to party, hang out at the beach, and attend Grateful Dead concerts (87 at last count). Not until his senior year at San Francisco State, college No. 4, did he sense a calling: a $7-an-hour internship with Schwab. John Coghlan, who hired him, says, "We called him Boy Wonder. He'd race off on his own and come back with ideas outside his job area." Gaynor clicked with Schwab, which is itself a rebel of sorts, having transformed the brokerage industry after the Securities and Exchange Commission abolished mandatory fixed commissions in 1975. Gaynor conceived the idea for SchwabLink at 22, bagged college, and pleaded to oversee the system's development. Coghlan agreed. SchwabLink hooks the company's computers to those of institutional clients so the clients can get account information and trade securities online. Schwab is known mainly as a retail operation serving individual investors, but since 1989 the brokerage has attracted 1,800 institutional managers who use SchwabLink. Its $30 billion of institutional assets, up from $1 billion five years ago, is almost one-third of the company's total. Gaynor manages a group of programmers who continually upgrade SchwabLink. He meets with clients and speaks at conferences. He makes his deadlines, if not his loan payments. Don't call him an Organization Man, though. "I consider myself on a wave. If that wave doesn't continue at its current pace, I'm outta there." Desk averse, he prefers to work on his laptop inside Schwab's conference room or at home. Says senior VP Gloria Lau, Gaynor's new boss, who recently joined Schwab from Citicorp: "If you're looking for someone to deliver a report every week, you don't want Robb. But for creative ideas and making things happen, he's terrific. He doesn't seem bound by doing things the Schwab way. I like his healthy disrespect for authority." Antiestablishment from his head (he normally shaves every two days) to his toes (tonight he wears his socks inside out), Gaynor typifies the Gen X manager. "People like Robb are forcing companies to loosen up," says Coghlan, 43. "You have to create an environment where they enjoy their work and where they're measured on performance rather than on which shirt they wear, and all that garbage." Schwab is revamping its employee-evaluation process to emphasize bottom-line contributions; until now the focus has been on communication and teamwork. -- Where are the women? More than half of college graduates are women, more than one-third of MBA recipients are women, and 47% of all U.S. managerial and professional jobs are held by women. But of the 133 candidates identified for this story, only 29 -- 22% -- are women. Says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a New York City-based group that studies women in the workplace: "Even for women under 30, the myth remains that they are less qualified than men, that they are less committed to careers, that they don't need to work, and that they're not tough enough." Women tend to do best at the same tradition-trashing companies that promote young males. Schwab's senior management, for example, is one-third female. Pepsi-Cola's top twentysomething, marketing manager Kim Huffard, 29, is inspired by COO Brenda Barnes, 41. "I absolutely think I could be the next Brenda Barnes," says Huffard. FORTUNE's other female fast-trackers have been resourceful and resilient. Didem Altop, 25, the youngest of 75 consultants in the Washington office of EDS Management Consulting Services, worked for nothing at her first job out of college. The eldest child of Turkish immigrants, she grew up shy and sheltered in Pittsburgh, earned her BA in international relations from Johns Hopkins, and so wanted a job at the World Bank that she pleaded to work without pay. "People in the bank advised me not to do it," says Altop, deceptively soft- spoken. She listened to her inner voice. "I thought if I could get my foot in the door, I could establish my competence." Within two months, Altop, who is fluent in Turkish and proficient in French, became a paid research analyst for Algeria and Morocco and traveled there every six weeks for over a year. She was one of the World Bank's first research analysts who didn't have, or wasn't working toward, a master's degree. Like Altop, Beth Randolph is a self-motivated achiever. She manages a major reservations center for Choice Hotels, which operates Quality and Comfort Inns. Randolph grew up in tiny Reedsville, Ohio (pop. under 2,000). Her father disappeared when she was 8, so she and her two younger sisters were raised by their mother on a high school secretary's salary. Randolph put herself through two-year Hocking College in Nelsonville, south of Columbus, by working in a telemarketing facility that Choice operated. "I was a sponge," says Randolph, who managed the center when her boss was away. "I love travel. I absolutely love the hospitality industry. And yes, I had seen my mom struggle. I wanted more for myself." After graduation, Randolph worked as a travel agent. Then Choice called to say that the company planned to open a large reservations center in North Dakota. Would she like to go along? In February 1991, at 23, Randolph moved to Minot (average February temperature: nine degrees) and built a business from scratch. She interviewed most job candidates, trained the supervisors, and negotiated contracts for office equipment, cleaning supplies, and even food for the kitchen. "I was scared to death of supervising people older than me," Randolph says, "and at first I hired passive people like I used to be." Refreshingly unjaded, this "simple Midwestern gal," as she calls herself, would stun most MBA types with her ideas for motivating workers. Her best, which helped make Minot a model of productivity for Choice, is her hokiest: "My communication highway," she says excitedly. Last February, when some of her 18 supervisors were acting cranky and apathetic, she plastered her office wall with a self- constructed cardboard highway. She designated a vehicle for each supervisor and called herself "the 911 car." In three-hour, one-on-one discussions, Ms. 911 learned that some supervisors viewed her as intimidating. Others wanted more praise. She told them: "Some of you are on one-way highways. You're the yes people who never tell me you disagree, and then go bitch outside of meetings. Others are on roads with potholes. You blame everyone around you for problems. I want everyone to travel on my four-lane highway, constantly passing, on-ramping, and off-ramping." -- School doesn't always matter. As Randolph shows, success doesn't necessarily require a fancy sheepskin. Recently she told Don Brockway, Choice's vice president of reservations operations, "I'm ready to be more creative and solve problems at a higher level." In November he offered her a job overseeing Choice's rapidly expanding reservations system across Europe. "This was a huge decision," says Brockway, who chose Randolph over three older candidates. "She's a fireball who always gets the job done." Soon Randolph will be London-bound. It will be her first trip abroad. Most of FORTUNE's other twentysomethings were B, not A, high school students. Most did not attend topnotch colleges or universities. Their hero is Bill Gates -- Harvard dropout, co-founder of Microsoft at 19, billionaire at 31. These smarties, members of the best-educated generation in history, view a degree not as a job ticket but as the commodity it has become. Says MCI's Donoghue about the MBA: "I'm not sure it teaches you how to interact with people, which is probably the most important thing in becoming successful." Donoghue ditched business school to ride his career wave. So did Fitzpatrick of General Mills, Jeff Zucker, 29, who became executive producer of NBC's Today at 26, and Eric Mindich, 27, recently named Goldman Sach's youngest partner ever. Jeff Thompson, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1994, couldn't read a financial statement four years ago when he was generating $3 million in revenues at Peripheral Outlet. Now he understands the numbers. He is a finance major with a 3.8 GPA at the University of Oklahoma, an hour north of his Ada headquarters. "The company always comes first," says Thompson, who spends 50 hours weekly managing, mainly by E-mail. Father Bill, 47, who came in as COO two years ago, helps a lot, overseeing 23 employees and mail-order sales to India, China, and 38 other foreign countries. Reports Bill: "Every semester, Jeff says, 'I'm not goin' back to school.' I say, 'Yes, you are.' " Jeff is resigned to his fate: "I'm gonna finish so I have something to fall back on. But a lot of the stuff you learn in school, you can learn better on the job." Another entrepreneur, Marc Andreessen, 23, was more into working for $6.85 | an hour at the University of Illinois's National Center for Supercomputing Applications than attending classes. At the center, Andreessen and his buddies created Mosaic, the software program that people use to navigate the Internet. Now he is a partner with Jim Clark, 50, founder and ex-chairman of Silicon Graphics, in a hot Silicon Valley startup. Says this cocky computer jock from New Lisbon, Wisconsin (pop. 1,450): "Most business courses have as much relevance to real-world business as computer science courses have to commercial computer science." Inside the messy headquarters of Netscape Communications (formerly Mosaic Communications), six of 25 engineers do not have college degrees. Observes Andreessen: "The environment is changing so fast that it's best to operate in nontraditional ways." Ready to buy the Ferrari instead of sending Johnny to Harvard? Don't. But get Johnny to work part-time at school. Listen to Neff, the blue-chip headhunter: "I've never in my 20 years of recruiting given great weight to education. What counts is job performance." Employers that elevate non-grads, he says, are "enlightened companies." -- The busters are not loyal. This is the bad news for the wise companies that learn to love the busters. Landon, of Andersen, expects at 40 to be "working part-time as a consultant and spending time with my family." Her hero: George Bailey, the soul-searching do-gooder in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Bailey, says Landon, "wasn't terribly successful in business, but he was successful in life." Landon says her best advice has come from her boss, Carla Paonessa: "Don't get crispy fried in the business. The insidious suction of achievement could leave you with no soul." Only seven of FORTUNE's 20 twentysomethings, including Landon, are married. All seem desperate to strike a balance in their lives. "Our generation has learned from seeing 50% divorce rates," says the unmarried Fitzpatrick. "If my wife is a stable provider, I would love to stay home with the kids and maybe run a small business out of the house. I would have no problem scrapping this whole deal and being Mr. Mom." Don't look for Robb Gaynor at the helm of Charles Schwab someday. "If I stay, it's because I feel I'm at a company that I can retire from at 40," says the young man who might go anywhere. Gaynor's got a vision, a fuzzy vision, of teaching at a college, coaching baseball, and relishing life at 40 with a wife and five rowdy kids. No, he is not your paradigm. But he does make you wonder: - Shouldn't he be?
BOX: Career Advice From Top Busters
-- CHOOSE A GREAT COMPANY OR INDUSTRY, NOT A PARTICULAR JOB. DO GRUNT WORK TO GET IN THE DOOR. -- DON'T HAVE SPECIFIC CAREER AMBITIONS. BROADEN YOUR TALENTS BY JOB HOPPING ACROSS FUNCTIONS AND SEGMENTS OF AN INDUSTRY. -- EMBRACE ADVERSITY. IT CREATES LEADERS. -- TRUST YOUR INNER VOICE OVER OUTSIDE ADVISERS WHO TEND TO ENDORSE THE STATUS QUO. -- DO WHAT YOU LOVE. QUIT A JOB WHEN IT STOPS BEING FUN.
BOX: How to Manage The Busters
-- DON'T GET HUNG UP ON EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND. ENERGY AND PREVIOUS JOB PERFORMANCE COUNT MORE THAN A DEGREE. -- OFFER UNPREDICTABLE CAREER PATHS. ALLOW HOTSHOTS TO JUMP AROUND THE COMPANY. -- DISPENSE WITH WRITTEN JOB DESCRIPTIONS. ASSIGNMENTS NEED TO BE FLUID IN A FAST- CHANGING ENVIRONMENT. -- GIVE PRAISE. BUSTERS LOOK FOR QUICK GRATIFICATION. -- LOOSEN UP. GET RID OF DRESS CODES AND OTHER RULES THAT CRIMP ORIGINALITY.