Monday’s roundtable at WWD’s CEO Summit, “Finding and Fostering the Next Generation of Retail Leaders,” could just as easily have been called, “What’s Up With Generation Y?”
This story first appeared in the November 16, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The cohort of young people born between the mid-Seventies and early-Aughts, are more entrepreneurial than previous generations and eager to start companies straight out of college. “People are coming to us because they think there will be jobs in the internet and digital space,” said Susan Lyne, chairman of Gilt Groupe, and one of three panelists. “Young people now all want to start their own businesses.”
Members of Gen-Y also get bored easily and want things on their own terms.
Denise Incandela, chief marketing officer and president of Saks Direct, Saks Fifth Avenue, said some of the most in-demand job candidates are Web site designers. “People who understand how to create the visual product and create a user experience are hard to find,” she said. “Marketing requires a different skill set today — a left brain competency. We’re turning into a bit of a media company,” she said, noting that people who understand social media and technology command a premium. “We’re looking for people who can take us ahead.”
“Five to 10 years ago, internet people came from catalogues,” said Harold Reiter, chairman and chief executive officer of Herbert Mines Associates, a search firm. Today, that is far less the case. “Product jobs are the hardest to find candidates for. At the ceo level it’s not uncommon to find people who haven’t been in the retail industry. Ceo’s aren’t afraid to go out and look for [marketing] people who are completely out of the box.”
“Gen-Y is a group who have to be engaged,” said Incandela. “They’re constantly thinking about their next step. We can move them laterally [so they don’t get bored.] There’s a difference in their work ethic, too. They have an expectation of a greater work-life balance.”
Lyne agreed, adding that 95 percent of the people she works with could be her children — she has two daughters in their 20s. “My daughters will never own a landline phone,” she said. “They program their TV shows” so that they can watch what they want, when they want. “I see an enormous amount that’s positive in these young people,” Lyne said. “There’s enormous transparency. They’re very direct.”
In order to give employees the flexibility and freedom they crave, Lyne said that a lot of Gilt Groupe employees work a day a week from home.”
“The challenge is to accommodate these folks,” said Reiter. “If we burn these kids out they won’t be here when we need them to run businesses.”
According to Lyne, Gen-Y employees are worth the challenges they bring to an organization. “We spend a lot of time mentoring,” she said. “We think they can bring something new. We do a lot of internal recruiting. There’s a sense that you have mobility here and can apply for jobs and we won’t go outside” for candidates.
Incandela said the key to nurturing Gen-Yers is making them feel they have an impact on the business. “We’re giving them opportunities across the organization,” she said. “We’re identifying the top talent and giving them unusual exposure to the president or putting them on steering committees.”
Asked how long people stay in junior positions, Incandela said one to two years. “A lot of people get moved within a year,” added Lyne.
In terms of breaking into Gilt Groupe, Lyne, who was president and ceo of Martha Stewart Omnimedia Inc. before joining Gilt, advised getting a job as an assistant to the editor in chief. “You’ve got the attention of someone that can be important to you long term,” she said.
“We’ve had people who’ve left, come back and then left us again,” said Incandela. “This is a very difficult generation and you manage it the best you can and give them career opportunities.”