Millennials taking over the C-Suite: myth or fact?

By Thembi Nkosi, Executive Director at Mindworx Consulting

Are millennials taking over the C-Suite? Well, yes, but to be more accurate they’re not so much taking it over as re-inventing it. Which of these names is familiar to you?

  1. David Karp
  2. Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp
  3. Peter Cashmore
  4. Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom
  5. Brian Chesky
  6. John Zimmer
  7. Daniel Ek
  8. Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy
  9. Matthew Mullenweg
  10. Sean Rad

How about these names:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Pinterest
  3. Mashable
  4. Instagram
  5. Airbnb
  6. Lyft
  7. Spotify
  8. Snapchat
  9. WordPress
  10. Tinder

Yep, David Karp created Tumblr, and so on. These are some of the most influential companies in the world right now and you’ve almost certainly used many of their products, or someone close to you has.

Each of their creators is a millennial, born between about 1980 and 2000. They may not be shoving existing CEOs out of their seats, but the new seats they’re building for themselves are housed within multi-million dollar empires. Probably the most famous millennial of them all is Mark Zuckerberg, so much so that we don’t need to name his company.

Here’s the thing about these guys (and, sadly, they are all guys). None of them set out to create an empire, they just had a bright idea that was exactly right for the times and they all had the tech savvy to bring their ideas to market in the most user-friendly way. That’s the thing about millennials – they’re born techies and they’re part of the zeitgeist so they understand it in a way that, with the best will in the world, more traditional C-Suite occupants just don’t.

South Africa boasts many millennial entrepreneurs who have created their own C-suites. Almost a third of the people on Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 list are South Africans, including:

  • Vere Shaba (finally a woman!), founder of Shaba and Ramplin Green Building Solutions
  • Reabetswe Ngwane (and another woman!), co-founder of KreamFields which recycles tyre tubes into fashion handbags and various other products
  • Sihle Ndlela who co-owns one of KZN’s biggest construction companies, Majozi Bros Construction
  • Zuko Tisani, founder of Legazy Technology Conferencing to support start-ups with investment, training and market access; he’s the guy who raised $1 million to host the Web Summit technology conference in South Africa
  • Joey Friedman, founder of the LA Group of Companies which includes boutique furniture rentals for high level events
  • Zareef Minty, founder of ZRF Holdings which includes PR, clothing and law companies; he announced his intentions early on by founding the clothing label Self Made Billionaires
  • Jack Mthembu, founder of First One Adventures which gives life-coaching and personal skills development to high schoolers

There are many more where they came from… and where they came from was often disadvantaged communities. While it’s easy to overlook these locals in favour of the more famous Americans, they really are the people we should be championing, not just for what they overcame to cultivate ambition and achieve success, but also as much-needed job creators and role models.

We think this trend of entrepreneurial millennials will continue, not least because young people don’t want the same employment constraints older generations faced. And so much for claiming millennials are entitled: more than any other generation in history they understand that they have to make their own way, particularly in a country like South Africa where high levels of youth unemployment mean that they have little choice.

We don’t have many millennial C-suite candidates come through our doors. When a C-level position is being replaced, the most valued quality is experience and we don’t expect that to change any time soon. Our advice to our corporate clients is to put succession plans in place for all your C-level staff because the world of work is changing to a much less hierarchical structure – one that doesn’t favour the top-heavy management style we’re used to.


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