Bridging the IT Generation Gap

When Martin Schneider visits the Reef
surfwear company in San Diego, he knows
the natives think of him as a “tucker from

Greensboro, N.C., is home to the corporate
headquarters of VF Corp., the $6.1
billion apparel giant that has owned Reef
since 2005.

“Tucker?” That means that Schneider,
VF’s CIO, tucks in his shirt, a rarity at laidback
Reef. “Men wear shorts and flip-flops,
they carry their iPods,” Schneider says. All of
which is fine by the folks back in the home
office. “When we buy a company, we keep
the culture intact,” he says. “That might
mean enabling Macs instead of Windows,
or allowing people to come in early or late,
depending on the surf conditions.”

Reef’s beach-bum vibe gives it a special
feel, but in other ways the culture seems
like the wave of the future, a future defined
by a new generation of workers that brings
different expectations to the job than their
elders did, in everything from career paths
to technology. “We’re seeing the differences
every day,” Schneider says. “Younger
workers don’t talk about the long term.
They need to be trained differently and
managed differently from the people who
came before them.”

Sometimes called Generation Y or millennials,
the cohort of people born after
1977 is making its presence felt in the workplace.
It is a large group, numbering nearly
80 million, about the size of the post-World
War II baby boom generation and far larger than the Generation X of 48 million born between
1965 and 1977. The implications of these numbers are
profound, and have led to much hand-wringing in the
executive suite: As the boomers begin to retire, finding
younger workers to replace them will be critical, and
making sure different generations can coexist in the
workplace becomes increasingly important. If that
doesn’t happen, says Tammy Erickson, president of the
Concours Institute consultancy and author of Workforce
Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills
and Talent, companies could find themselves without
enough workers to keep the economy humming.

Ominously, some of the sharpest generational
conflicts exist between Generations X and Y, the two
younger groups. “I’m very worried about the ability
of corporations to hold onto Xers, and many Xers are
nervous about the future,” Erickson says. For one thing,
the sheer numbers of millennials guarantees them a
measure of attention that their somewhat older colleagues
have not received. For another, Generation
Yers may work relatively easily with the boomers, who
are about the age of their own parents, leaving the
Generation X workers feeling frustrated and stuck in
the middle.

Page 2: New Energy

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