In 2008, when Ingram’s identified its first class of 20 in Their Twenties, the oldest Millennials were in their mid-20s, just getting started on their careers. The youngest were still in grade school. The heart of that generation now spans a decade that produced this year’s 10th class.
And if you’re the type to harbor any bias against this generation based on stereotypes—there are a lot of them out there—you would do well to meet this group. In addition to the individual profiles on each, Ingram’s invited this year’s class to come together on Oct. 9 for a two-hour
conversation about how they view life in Kansas City, what they see as opportunities or barriers to success, what they envision for themselves with their careers, with their lifestyles and even with their plans for retirement (Spoiler alert: They’re not wildly optimistic about the latter at this point).
Their discussions touched on how they’re perceived at work and why those perceptions aren’t necessarily valid, obstacles to their slice of the
American Dream, how the experiences of their parents (as both home owners and investors) have shaped their own views on home ownership and long-term investing, what Kansas City has to offer those who might consider living here and other matters of substance.
All but three of this year’s honorees were able to attend the session and speak candidly about their dreams and their realities, even though the two don’t necessarily mesh in all instances. And in doing so, they demonstrated the qualities that the established executive class in this region say it’s looking for in the next generation of leaders here—thoughtfulness, depth, passion and purpose. They also showed that anyone who thinks of Millennials as a single bloc, socially, economically, politically or in other ways, vastly misunderstands members of this set.
Abigail Gloe of Marketplace Events did a little myth-busting with the opening question from moderator Joe Sweeney on Millennial
experiences: “One of the things Millennials will face, and those in this room will understand it, is getting a bad rap. This room is full
of people, who, yeah, we’re on our phones a lot, checking e-mail, we have all the apps and can download spreadsheets. Business owners
are like, ‘’Oh, you’re a Millennial—great, we’ll hire you, but we know you won’t be up to our expectations.’ ”
The buzz over this generation has gone on long enough for Miranda Loesch, who specializes in prosecution of domestic-violence cases in Platte County. “I don’t even want to be considered a Millennial,” she said, to knowing laughter. “But I agree, a lot of the expectations for Millennials are that we will be on our phones or that we won’t work as hard as the previous generations.”
And yet, the digital tools she has available today are the very factors that distinguish her as a successful prosecutor. “I’ve Facebook stalked
people All. The. Time,” she says, tracking both defendants and victims. “They are different resources than the generation before me had at their disposal,” she says, declaring: “I’m going to prove that stereotype wrong.”
Her peers laundry-listed a now-familiar litany of complaints by older generations, as well as factors that shape their lives: That they aimlessly shift jobs, that they are too eager for immediate gratification, that they expect promotions before they’ve put in the requisite time. The reality, they say, is different.
Take the job-hopping complaint. Few who see twentysomethings alter their career paths can see the real reasons why—and no, it’s not a case of acute wanderlust. Just a generation ago, before dot-com sites like Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder and 2 gazillion others, career opportunities essentially came from two sources: networking, and the Sunday newspaper’s classified ads. Today, anyone interested in another job or a different career path need only pop a few queries into a handful of search engines and Web sites. Presto: the cookies dropped on their devices steer opportunities to them.
And as for being lumped together with people who today range from late teens to mid-30s, several around the table noted that the difference between a 32-year-old and a 22-year-old can in fact be quite profound. For a group often maligned as being spendthrifts, those at the table demonstrated an impressive sense of financial self-awareness.
That may be, in part, because no generation before this one has been as throttled by student debt as this one.
“When you think about the student loans,” said Andrew Brain, of Brain Development Group, “in college, they want a larger room and more amenities, and dorms are growing in size, but at the same time, when people are paying for it, apartments are shrinking in size; I find that very interesting.”
Abigail Gloe addressed current lifestyle options for those who haven’t made the leap to home ownership—the explosion in high-end apartment complexes with amenities like drycleaning services, dog-walking services, pools, gyms and saunas—even personal trainers. In
some ways, she said, it seems as though apartment living is being designed by people who want to keep you working more and more.
“I’m working with people all the time trying to pay off students loans and trying to also buy a house and thinking about retirement,” said Chelsea Berry, a financial adviser with Principal. “I keep telling them that you need to be saving, but that seems way off in the future. The average inflation rate of college is 6.8 percent a year, and the inflation rate is less than 3 percent. I have a friend who’s a doctor and she has over $120,000 in student-loan debt. Her student-loan payment is the average mortgage payment every month. Her money goes there to pay for that education, so they won’t buy a home for six more years. I think the student loan thing is a huge, huge deal.”
Andrew Rogers, a financial adviser for Waddell & Reed, told the group that his brother was unable to qualify for a loan because his debt-to-income ratio is too high, thanks to student loans. “He’s renting an apartment that costs more than a mortgage would be,” he said.
Scott Swaggart lives the cost-benefit analysis of home ownership every day as an agent for Keller Williams Real Estate. “A couple of trends we see, No. 1, people like to move every year; they just like to get up and go. They’re waiting longer to buy a bigger house so they don’t have to move from the first time home to the next house in three years.”
Others, he said, are like empty-nesters who simply don’t want to deal with landscaping, lawn care or maintenance of a home.
Kevin Lee, a lawyer with Polsinelli, recognized the good judgment his wife showed while he was in law school, buying a starter home and putting work into it to increase its value. Now, in a larger home, he wonders at times if they need that much space. “At our age, we should be more conscious money-wise and planning for retirement down the road.”
Alex Upperman of Zhou Nutrition said he and his wife “want more space as we look at kids, but we have no desire to go out to Prairie Village or Overland Park. We want to be closer to stuff, we want to be closer to Downtown, the urban core” as well as Midtown and The Country Club Plaza.
Chelsea Berry said she feels the same: “For me, it’s about access and being a part of something cool, more than it is in living in the burbs with a bunch of kids.”
Ben Fitzpatrick of ProServ Business Systems, said he had moved nine time since college. He cautioned that many of the new apartment complexes “are being built cheap and fast.” But they look nice, and often have flashier décor than many houses in the price range of a young professional. And the price ranges of that crowd tied directly into other lifestyle considerations.
Family, for instance. Remarkably, none of the 17 honorees in the room had children, save for one who had a stepchild. That confirmed statistics showing Millennials were deferring parenthood as well as home ownership.
Andrew Brain asked whether those in the room saw their peers as living paycheck to paycheck because of lifestyle considerations. “A lot,” said Chelsea Berry. “One thing Millennials don’t do as far as financial planning, they don’t protect themselves. Their parents are sending them money, they’re spending every dime. If they have an emergency, that’s a huge, huge issue.”
Carter Clond, owner of K-Guard Kansas City, noted that “if people understood the value of compound interest out our age, they would make different financial decisions.”
Andrew Rogers of Waddell & Reed said that too many in their age group say they want to save, but the reality is they’re out partying on weekends or buying things they don’t need. Abigail Gloe asked whether any in the group actually planned to retire before age 70, and whether they expected Social Security to be there for that. “Millennials think retirement is never going to happen,” she said. “They don’t think long-term.”
Asked about the way Millennials see civic engagement, Andrew Brain cited the hopefulness that Millennials have about improving conditions in the inner city, particularly east of Troost Ave. “We did not see east of Troost in the ’70s and ’80s and all the problems that it has had,” he said. “But now we see what it can become. Call it ignorance, call what you want, but we see a lot of civic and philanthropic value there. I think we’re very engaged, trying to do things over there.”
Abigail Gloe pointed out that members of a generation who have yet to hit peak earning years can still contribute time and talent, particularly with advisory boards of some non-profits. “That’s how they’re getting involvement, getting everyone engaged early on,” she said. “For me, I’ve got crippling student-loan debt, bought a house, am paying for a wedding, and I want to have a car right now,” she said. “But I can give my time. A lot of Millennials, we can give time, maybe not the financial contribution, but if you can get on these advisory boards early on, then as we progress in our careers and figure how to pay off student loans, we can get to where we can make those financial contributions.”