A new generation of community leaders is making its presence felt in the Triangle.
“There is an evolution taking place out there in leadership circles,” said Harvey Schmitt, who retired in 2015 after two decades as CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of people in leadership roles who are at the retirement level.”
The changing of the guard reflects the changing area.
When you scrutinize the demographics in Wake County, said Raleigh councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, “71 percent is Generation X, Y, Z – meaning people 45 and under, which is so unbelievable. So when you look at those demographic shifts, you know that you are going to see a younger population taking over.”
But the up-and-coming generations that grew up with multitasking tend to be selective about adding to their already extensive to-do lists, Baldwin said.
“A lot of them have started their own companies, so there is this conflict between being an entrepreneur and growing your company and then getting involved in the community – and finding the time and making the time to do that,” Baldwin said. “But when they get involved, they are 100 percent committed.”
Brooks Bell’s drive to become involved is rooted in a technology conference she attended in Aspen, Colo., years ago. Offended that her “credibility would sink like a stone” when she told others there that her business was in Raleigh, she decided something needed to be done about it.
“I recognized we had a lot of talent here … but at the time we didn’t have a very strong tech community,” Bell said.
She and husband Jesse Lipson teamed with others to create HQ Raleigh, a startup space for entrepreneurs, and ThinkHouse Raleigh, a co-living space for young entrepreneurs.
Others, including Torry and Terrence Holt, are starting organizations with missions that align with their passion. The former N.C. State football and NFL players created Holt Brothers Foundation, a nonprofit that provides emotional support to children who have a parent with cancer.
Measurable results are also key for these millennials, said Joan Siefert Rose, president and CEO of entrepreneurial support group CED.
“There is much more of a focus on data and outcomes from this group, partly because they have grown up with data and outcomes,” Rose said. “The idea of giving to a cause just because it’s a good cause isn’t going to be enough.”
Past generations of leaders have tended to be very focused on their own careers for the first 10 years or so of their professional life before deciding to devote time and energy to making “a bigger difference” beyond work, said Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Impact and a fellow in innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke University. He describes that transition as moving “from success to significance.”
“They’re thinking about the ability for them to have an impact as early as possible,” he said.