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Every generation misjudges the next

Throughout history, each generation tends to think that the next generation, being a younger one, is inexperienced and lacks maturity to take efficient decisions. As an older generation, you might recognize that we tend to think youths take too many risks with the little information – we are sure – they have, thus, we anticipate that the outcome of those risks and decisions will not be the one they aspire to, as they sure have an impact in their businesses, their families and also the world.

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Numerous studies may confirm this thinking – older vs younger generations. But as a pediatrician once put it, the average schoolchild in 1900 would today be brought up in an overstimulating environment, sometimes by ‘special-needs’ standards.

Allow me to give you a different view using an intuitive example of the advantages that today’s digital natives enjoy in my experience. Only a few decades back, when I was an ‘analogue native’ student, the hottest game in town was ‘networked thinking’ and ‘cybernetics’. After downloading fancy programs (by audio tape – no kidding) to our Commodore computers, we played resource-allocation games, attributing resources to four or five dimensions. After every step, we could go for a coffee while the beeping computer calculated the outcome. Fifteen minutes later, we could start the next level in our game.

Today, my daughter plays a resource-allocation game called ‘Hay Day’ in which she allocates resources in almost unlimited dimensions, with immediate recalculation of the outcome. (Or, with some delay, if the in-game fees are not paid). My daughter is six years old. She has probably done more cybernetics in the past three months than I did in all my studies. My teenage son, after playing the ‘Best Brokers’ real-time stock-market game, probably knows more about the workings of financial markets than I did after my whole first year at university. It is hard to acknowledge, but my kids (and yours, if you have any) will be far more able to think interconnectedly than any Baby-boomer or Gen-X-er. These family anecdotes reflect the speed at which the world is evolving and at a pace that seems to have accelerated since COVID-19, as well as the capacities and skills of the next generations. Think for a moment about yours.

Of course, the future is uncertain. But Millennials are likely to share the destiny of every generation:

  1.  A better education than any previous generation
  2. Constant underestimation of their abilities by society at large
  3.  A chance to counter the odds by making the world a better place

Granted, today’s youth have the misfortune of joining the workforce during and after a widespread financial crisis as well as a pandemic. How Millennials and Centennials will turn this situation into an opportunity remains to be seen, but they have made a virtue of financial necessity, launched the sharing economy and gone almost fully ‘virtual’. Millennials’ next heavy lift is to team up with Centennials (or Gen-Z) to tackle the economic, social, and environmental challenges of today’s world. Think of climate change. I’m optimistic.

The challenge for Millennials in entrepreneurial families
With the similarities they share with previous generations, Millennials will surely make a difference – all the more in their family businesses. This is exactly what you will read and discover along the chapters of this study: Families, and within them, their different generations, have a lot in common.

“Well of course they do,” you might respond, but from the media and popular culture, one might not think so. They live in completely different worlds!

Millennials, Centennials (Gen Z), Gen X, Baby-boomers and all the rest… they’re all so different, right?

Not so fast. As this groundbreaking White Paper shows from five reputable international institutions, there is plenty of commonality to build on, along with enough diversity to keep the firm and the family healthy. The challenge for Millennials in entrepreneurial families is to understand how to create a shared vision for the future of the family enterprise, in conjunction with the current leading generation, so that their shared family projects continue to create value for them and their stakeholders for many generations.

White Paper contents
This White Paper presents in detail the findings and conclusions of original research by a strong team of 12 academics, analysts and consultants based in five countries on four continents. The study is the result of over a year of work, and it focuses on countries that are 2021 both dynamic and diverse, namely Chile, China, Mexico, Spain and the United States. It also represents the voices of a little over 1,300 family enterprise members in across close to 40 countries.

From its origins as a family business and for more than 130 years, Julius Baer has supported families to navigate through difficult times. From this experience, we know that wealth can unite families. And it can divide them as well. We have seen that it is important that families build up on commonality, unity and success. Whether it is governance and how the family leaders will endure changes in the family enterprise, or agenda setting and leadership alignment, it is as important to talk early about what matters the most to them.

You will find evidence of this commonality, unity and success, necessary in the family enterprise throughout this White Paper. We hope this study will contribute to a better understanding of these aspects in the multi-generational family business.

Family Enterprise: Global Survey on Generational Perspectives

Are millennials and younger generations really different from older generations in the family firm? Do they think, feel and act differently? A group of researchers have collaborated to understand the interests and perceptions of members of different generations that belong to enterprising families in different parts of the world. Please download a copy of the survey to learn more.

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