I like Mark Zuckerberg. I really do. He seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, and it’s because of him (and his college buds) that I can know what my retired mom in Florida is thinking about at almost any given moment. But as a GenX-er, I do grow weary of the Millennial/Genius/Entrepreneur narrative.
I get the whole Wunderkind thing that Zuck has going on. And with Millennials poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history, it’s easy to focus on the paradigm-shifters of that generation.
But Millennial business leaders aren’t the only ones who are changing the game. Some of today’s most well-known companies are being led by Generation X-ers. These are but a few, in no particular order as innovation is innovation, whether it’s applied to insurance, space travel or shoe selling.
- Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: What started as an online shoe store has grown into the gold standard of employee empowerment. Zappos brings the same kind of innovation that earned them the reputation of customer service mastery to their employee relations. Example: every (as in EVERY) new employee spends the first three weeks working in the Zappos call center to understand the business. When that time is up, the employee is offered $3,000 to leave the company.
- Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: You don’t have to be a renegade CEO of a hi-tech business to be innovative. Erdoes, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management since 2009, spearheaded several initiatives geared toward helping women in the male-dominated world of finance, including a program that recruits women who once worked in financial services but paused their careers to have children. She was #60 on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list in 2016.
- Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and of Square: One of “the Twitter guys”, Dorsey co-founded Twitter, left in 2008 and came back as CEO in 2015. In between, he launched and continues to run online payment company Square. Dorsey joins Gates, Jobs and Zuck in the pantheon of billionaire tech college dropouts.
- Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx: With $5,000, Blakely took antiquated undergarments, made them comfortable, called them “shapewear” and created a whole new category in the fashion industry. That kind of GenX ingenuity will get you on Forbes Billionaire list, where Blakely is one of the youngest women.
- Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman, Tesla: Okay, if you don’t know this guy, I don’t know what to tell you. Electric cars, space exploration, model/actress girlfriends. He’s the rumored inspiration for Tony Stark.
- David Wehner, Mike Shroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg: Also known as Facebook’s management team (CFO, CTO and COO respectively). I told you I thought Zuck was a bright guy—smart move stocking the C-suite with GenX talent.
- Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow group: Whether you’ve bought a house recently, tried to find out what your neighbors paid for their house, or you just enjoy perusing the local listings, you probably know the real estate marketplace Zillow, where Rascoff’s been the CEO since 2010. Thanks to their “zestimates”, you can find out what your home is worth at any given second.
- Tricia Griffith, CEO, Progressive Insurance: If Flo is the only person you know from Progressive, take a closer look. Griffith was the driving force behind the decision to expand into home coverage in 2015. She built her career at Progressive, starting as a claims rep in 1988. She’s now on the list of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
- Larry Page, CEO, Alphabet: You probably know Alphabet better as the parent company of Google, the company that Page co-founded with fellow GenX-er and current Alphabet President Sergey Brin in 1998. Known for his somewhat unorthodox management style, he is credited as the brains behind PageRank, the algorithm that determines search engine results and has marketers like me obsessing over them. And with Google consistently topping “Best Place to Work” lists everywhere, he and Brin are viewed as the standard-bearers for innovative 21-st century corporate culture.
- Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube: Wojcicki began her career at Google as their first marketing manager in 1999 (Page and Brin were already working out of her garage—sweet commute). Seven years later she convinced them the company should buy YouTube and the rest is television-killing history.
The hallmarks of successful leadership– pragmatism, empathy, loyalty, innovation—are the same characteristics that are attributed to Generation X. In a competitive global business environment where organizations must adapt quickly to market forces that shift beneath their feet, it’s easy to see how GenX leaders are blazing trails.
Readers: this list merely scratches the surface. Got a GenX leader you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments.