Millennial mindsets in family business

Millennials are the most researched generation of all time. With 75% of the workforce to be taken up by millennials in the next 5 years, we summarise key takeaways from a webinar with Professor John Davis, a globally recognised pioneer and authority on family enterprise, family wealth, and the family office. He has been researching what we can learn from millennial mindsets, what forces are shaping their thought processes, and the most important factors to entice Gen Y to join the family business.


There are several worldwide factors that are shaping the millennial generation, which include:

  • Technology/social media connections
  • Globalisation and connection with the world
  • Diversity in society
  • Insecurity and cynicism in the world’s economy
  • Helicopter parents
  • Competition for scarce positions


For the first time, we currently have 5 generations working together: Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z. We are living longer, and therefore have more family members working together than ever before. As millennials start to step into leadership roles, Gen X have the responsibility of guiding and training them to successfully transition and continue the family business legacy.

Professor Davis’ research suggests that the developmental period in millennials now includes an extra lifestage. Rather than transitioning from puberty to adulthood, between their 20s and early 30s, there is a stage of the ‘emerging adult’, where they are working, but do not feel settled in a career or that they have reached the stage of full adulthood. They are much less loyal to employers and focus more so on their individual development. Other factors present in millennials include:

  • Tech-centric/social media informed
  • Short attention spans and impatience – they need to be engaged quickly before they lose interest
  • Multi-taskers
  • Value self-expression
  • Seek meaning and want to ‘make a difference’
  • Value experiences over possessions
  • Extreme confidence
  • Less respect for hierarchy

Interestingly on the last point, in a comparison across generations at work, the research found that when asked “How to be successful in the workplace today”, Baby boomers rated “Get along with people” at 78% importance, Generation X at 71% importance and millennials did not rate it within the top 10 criteria for success.


Dr Davis decided to investigate this further, with a new study – “Developing the millennial generation in business families” – where he polled 402 respondants in 47 countries between 20-32 years old. Of this group, 42% were already working within their family business.

They asked questions on topics covering attitudes to their family, companies and careers, and whether millennials need different incentives to encourage them to get involved in the family empire.


Several factors were found to increase the likelihood of a millennial joining the family business:

  • Large, professional family business
  • Being an owner or expecting ownership in the next 5 years. Ownership scored highly on importance, with 84% saying it was somewhat or extremely important to have ownership, and 40% wanting to rise to a leadership role
  • Desire to lead the family business
  • Emotional closeness to the family
  • Frequent communication to the family

The study found that millennials are a work-orientated generation, with 41% wishing to work at least 50 hours per week and 45% having the drive to create a life where they can work for themselves.

The study also asked the millennials if they were leaders of their family business, what would they prioritise. Interestingly, their answers are aligned to those of previous generations and are generally consistent with the priorities their parents and grandparents will share. They scored highly in points like “Satisfying the company’s customers, clients and suppliers” and “Establishing a rewarding workplace for employees”. They also want to give back to their previous leaders and have loyalty to their family, wanting to “Perpetuate a multi-generational family enterprise that keeps the family together”.


Millennials are tech-savvy, know their abilities, and want to showcase them. Invest in early development and training, and encourage their entrepreneurial side to flourish, being supportive of their skillset. 

They relish a challenge, so let them lead and prove themselves within the business. Hold them accountable for their actions and provide regular feedback so they feel they are developing.

Speak openly and candidly about their potential career progression within the business and what ownership may look like for them.

Engage them early and often to maintain motivation.

Sophie Coldham

Written by: Sophie Coldham
Published: April 24, 2020

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