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Meet The Millennials

As their numbers grow here, we report on what they want, how they operate and what their impact will be.

The fastest growing segments of Southwest Florida? Retiring boomers, no big shock there, and—we never thought this day would come—young adults. The millennials, 20- and early 30- somethings, are saying “no” to big-city life and all the “excitement” it purports and looking instead for a more balanced and meaningful existence in the ’burbs. Nationally, the millennials have surpassed the boomers as the nation’s largest generation, and they now comprise the biggest segment of the U.S. workforce. They’re ready to make their mark.

“I never thought I would end up back in Naples after going to the university,” says Andrew Nelson, 24, a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual who attended Furman University in South Carolina.

But Southwest Florida suits this generation: They’re close to their parents and glad to return to them; they’re seeking lifestyle first, jobs second and reporting that this community offers both. They’re craving community connections and want to make an impact—goals more readily achieved in a smaller community than in a big one.

“Naples was kind of a blank canvas to create something special,” says Winston Justice, 31, a California native and former NFL player who chose Naples as a place to build his career in finance and raise his three children.

Sara Stensrud, the chief human resources officer at Chico’s FAS, notes that the Cape Coral-Fort Myers housing market is one of the top 10 regions of the country attracting young adults, according to Census surveys. That’s welcome news to employers like hers who want social media-savvy, hyperconnected associates who know how to keep the brand relevant.

Like every generation, the millennials have their idiosyncrasies. They can be a little more audacious than workplace rookies of the past, a bit enamored with the meteoric rise of Zuckerberg and his ilk, somewhat obsessed with the appendage known as the smartphone, a little too tight with mom and dad, but the region’s young professionals (and some of their bosses) think their contributions outweigh their quirks.

No matter what you think of Generation Y, you cannot ignore them. These young adults are shaping the community in all sorts of ways—from altering workplace cultures to pushing for new kinds of housing to demanding corporate transparency and social responsibility. Here, they tell us what matters to them, what they expect in their jobs and what they hope to contribute to the community. In turn, their bosses and community leaders reflect on how they’re responding to this techsavvy, idealistic, attention-loving generation. Meet the millennials.


When Kelsey Griffin was hired by Fort Myers accounting firm Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., she wasted no time making her ambitions known.

“I want to be partner one day. I want to be partner one day. I want to be partner one day,” she says, laughing at the memory of her refrain.

She’d first encountered the firm as a high school intern, grew fascinated with forensic accounting and admired founder Gail Markham. Markham hired her even before she finished her degree at the University of South Florida.

“I’m about a year away,” the 29-year-old says. Her push for partnership was welcome. Markham and her partners, who are approaching retirement age, needed to start succession planning. They placed five employees in a formal partner training program. Griffin is the youngest.

“Once she got on board full time, she was very quick to ask me what she could do to be a partner in the firm,” Markham recalls. “She was very professional about it. I told her, ‘Thank you for telling me. I will show you the path.’”

Every generation has its go-getters. This one just happens to be particularly brazen. They want to start contributing, sharing opinions, pitching ideas and laying out their ambitions right away. That whole concept of deferring to seniority—not real big with this group.

“I thought I was going to get in trouble,” says 27-year-old Brown & Brown Insurance agent Corey Walker of a conference call he organized among his firm’s top producing agents nationwide (he’s one of them) in order to pick their brains and then chime in on what was working for him. His superiors, once they found out, thanked him for his initiative.

This attribute should hardly surprise anyone. After all, the millennials grew up broadcasting their opinions, likes, dislikes, causes, beliefs, dreams and accomplishments to whoever would listen.

Please, don’t misunderstand, urges Kayla Collier, 25, a social media specialist and account manager for Brilliant Lens, a marketing firm in Fort Myers.

Kayla Collier, social media specalist and account manager for Brilliant Lens.

“When millennials ask a lot of questions in a meeting or they’re trying to challenge the status quo, they’re not being defiant. They’re just trying to grow and learn. We’re not a silent generation by any means. Everyone has a voice on social media,” she says. “That mentality transcends into what we are looking for in the workplace. How can I grow? What are the possibilities? What can I learn? Here are my ideas. We’re not saying we know it all, but we do have a different perspective since we are the technology generation and see different ways of being effective in our jobs.”

Stensrud at Chico’s likes the outspokenness.

“This generation of associates readily expresses their opinion and is hungry to prove themselves and succeed,” she says. Some 30 percent of the retailer’s workforce is composed of millennials.

They kind of have to be pushy. The millennials are the nation’s most educated generation with record numbers of people going to graduate school. It’s competitive. The economy is still rebounding. And they’re carrying mega student debt, so good jobs are a must.

The entire generation, of course, isn’t made up of people like Griffin and Walker.

Matt Ganzak, 32, of Naples, is both millennial and employer of millennials. He’s an author and founder of ScaleUP Academy, an online training program for entrepreneurs looking to grow Internet-based businesses. Ganzak is not always impressed with those at the tail end of his generation.

“They work Monday through Friday, and their weekends are sacred. You’ll never get ahead if you carve out this time and say, ‘Oh, this weekend is sacred and I don’t do anything on the weekends.’ That mentality is going to hold you back,” he says.

And, lest we not forget, this is the generation that’s clinging to their childhood homes. Four out of 10 20-somethings have returned to live with their parents at some point, according to the Pew Research Center. No wonder the Gen X’ers and boomers like to rag on them.

Sometimes the extended stay comes with good reason. Nelson, whose income is based on commission, came home after college to save money while building a clientele.

“I think it is stupid to not live at home for a little bit to build up a little savings,” he says. “I think it is common if you are going back to your hometown, and I think it’s wise.”

And sometimes, it’s just ’cuz a full fridge is hard to give up.

“He is totally OK with living with mom and dad right now,” Collier says of her 22-yearold brother (she herself is married and a new mom). “His friends are doing the same thing. I just don’t think there’s an urgency. It’s comfortable. Why would they go?”


The whole entitlement thing—the instant VP/CEO expectation— may be overblown. At least that’s the impression one gets from some of the region’s young professionals, who understand that success is the product of ingenuity, hard work—and, yes, time.

“Entrepreneurship is hard. Eighty percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months,” says Ganzak. “We keep working at it and we keep pivoting. I’ve been working at my business since 2005. It’s not an overnight success for me.”

As millennials sprint up the career ladder, what they crave is mentorship.

“All generations are different in their approach, but millennials want to have more coaching and feedback than the other generations,” says Yemisi Oloruntola- Coates, the manager of diversity and language services at Lee Memorial Health System, who works to facilitate communications among the system’s five generations of employees (millennials comprise 16 percent).

Walker likes to seek input from his divisional president— and appreciates that the executive will take the time to coach him.

“It’s amazing that I can have that phone call and not worry about whether it’s OK to call and will this person have time for me,” he says.

Louis Bruno, 27, started his company Bruno Air in 2012 after working for several years for a family-owned air-conditioning firm. Among his first steps: Form an advisory board of business leaders whom he admired.

“It was probably the best decision I made. They helped keep me from making a lot of mistakes,” Bruno says.

Employers and community organizations are taking note.

“[Millennials] are not afraid to tell you what their wants and needs are. I have always liked that,” Markham says. “That’s important to me, and important to the firm. We have always had an open-door policy: What do you need to be successful at our firm?”

Beyond formal mentoring, millennials just want your time.

“They want personal connections at work. They like continuous feedback instead of the annual review,” says Angela Pruitt, executive director of human resources for the Lee County School District. If a millennial leaves a teaching job, it’s usually not because he or she didn’t enjoy interactions with students; it’s because the teacher felt disconnected from, or unsupported or unvalued by, his or her superiors. The school district has long given teachers multiple evaluations each year, but administrators are learning to respond even further to young instructors’ desires for a sounding board.


Feedback is good. There’s a line, though, between seeking support and clinging to the proverbial cord.

Both Oloruntola-Coates and Pruitt can cite instances of parents intervening in their adult children’s work lives; showing up at disciplinary hearings, for example. Call it helicopter parenting to the extreme.

“It’s just amazing,” Pruitt says.

And sometimes the need for feedback can hinder decision- making. Oloruntola-Coates says millennials may find it hard to lead teams or take on leadership roles because they want more consensus when dealing with problems. Her organization offers leadership programs to help young up-and-comers address that and other challenges.


Impatience carries negative connotations. To Bruno, however, it’s the fuel that gets things done.

“Instant gratification is real,” he says. “But I was on the front side of it. I just always wanted to be better.”

Immediacy is the foundation for his decision-making. Bruno decided he’d surpass his competition if he could offer same- or next-day service.

“My management team said there’s no way; we don’t have the people. I said, ‘OK, well, get the people.’”

Louis Bruno, founder of Bruno Air.

They recruited, trained and dispatched technicians. Bruno didn’t wait to grow an inventory, either. Instead, he pulled needed parts out of units he had on hand or ordered the parts shipped overnight. Volume offset shipping fees.

“It blew our business up,” Bruno says.


Millennials are masterful at finding and sharing data. But they struggle to analyze it, says Mary Krome, an assistant professor in FGCU’s department of management whose scholarly interests include tracking generational changes.

“They’re sharing data; they’re not sharing information,” she says. “The interpretive element has been removed.”

They have a hard time seeing the big picture, Krome continues. And it’s no wonder, she says. They look at bits of information on tiny screens, not complete documents.

“It’s very fragmented,” she says. “They can bring all the data in ... they can rephrase all of the information in their own words, but if you ask them what’s the core of the problem, what’s the real issue, that’s hard for them.”

It’s hard to deny, though, that technology has given millennials a slate of enviable skills—efficiency, creativity, adaptability and problem-solving.

Bruno discovered that dispatching staffers to run parts to job sites was costing him hundreds of dollars an hour in lost productivity, fuel and staff time. His solution? Uber. The ride-share service costs him an average of $20 per trip.


Nationally, millennials, who came of age during the Great Recession, tend to be a little risk-adverse. Federal data suggests they’re less likely to start businesses than the Gen Xers or boomers were at their ages. But that doesn’t appear to be true in Southwest Florida, where young entrepreneurs are thriving. Maybe it’s the influence of a strong small-business community. Or maybe, the real estate crash taught young Southwest Floridians not to rely too heavily on any one revenue stream.

“I really like the fact that almost everybody I bump into has something else going on, a side project,” notes chiropractor Dr. Dane Cunningham, 31, co-founder of Simply Spine Centers in Bonita Springs. He’s developing an exercise program for motorcycle riders to ease the effects of long hours on the road.


Flexibility is one of the millennials’ biggest demands, says Joe Nugent, 38, director of sales and marketing for the Holiday Inn Airport in Fort Myers and also owns a home watch and inspection company.

“What do we want right now? We want work and life balance. You don’t live to work ... and it’s not always about being in at 8 a.m. and clocking out at 5,” Nugent says. “I think that workplaces in general are going to have to start embracing those initiatives and those movements.”

“We get a really bad rap,” he adds. “It’s not that we’re lazy; it’s just that we have figured out a way to get it done faster.”

Technology (for better or for worse) allows people to work anywhere at any time. So why not, millennials figure, burn midnight oil in exchange for time to volunteer, take a class, drop in for lunch at the elementary school? “You can manage your platform, manage your image, manage your brand from your phone,” says Kevin Omar Williams, an investment professional in Naples.

Millennials know what their grandparents did—40 years of reporting to the same place, working the same schedule. Their parents were a bit more liberated in their career choices and are encouraging their kids to seek even further fulfillment.


A group of young professionals one morning gathered together to talk about their career choices and their generation’s contributions. Justice listened and then remarked: “The paycheck didn’t come into anyone’s decision. People aren’t chasing a paycheck. They’re chasing a deeper impact.”

Millennials want what they do to matter. They value family. They want jobs that make a difference. They want to give back.

“We want to find purpose,” Nelson says.

“As soon as we were financially stable, we started looking for ways to volunteer,” says Cunningham, referring to himself and his business partner. “It’s about ‘I’m stable, I’m solid, now what can I do for other people?’”

Winston Justice, financial advisor, Wells Fargo Advisors.

Nonprofits are starting up next-generation boards to groom new board members and donors. So many of them springing up, in fact, that the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce is starting an Emerging Leadership Council made up of representatives from these emerging leaders groups.

“The more these next-generation groups grow and effect change in the community, the more people feel attached,” says Shanna Short, a vice president for J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Naples, who sits on several such boards. “We love that. We love to see the results of that attachment. I think that’s helping keep people here.”

So, forgive these young workers for seeing work schedules as something flexible, not fixed. Excuse the interruptions as they solicit your feedback. Understand their desires to work collectively. Because if idealism is the millennials’ most prominent attribute, then Southwest Florida’s future is in good hands.

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