When Roger Daltrey sang “My Generation,” it’s safe to say he probably didn’t think he’d still be touring with The Who in 2018 at age 74. But times change, and so do perspectives. Every generation learns from its predecessors, and—although we’re often loathe to admit it—the next one.
In the meetings industry, baby boomers can teach millennials (also known as Gen Y) from experience, and millennials can help baby boomers with how to get on the latest and greatest social network. In the middle, Generation X bridges the gap between the 20-somethings and the 50- and 60-somethings.
There’s strength in diversity, especially in the meetings and events industry. Multiple generations of employees make it easier to understand the client’s point of view and share best practices, old and new. Colorado Meetings + Events asked three teams about how they rally the troops and capitalize on the strengths and differences of each generation.
Based in Denver, Imprint Group (formerly AXS Group) is a full-service event management group that also has offices in Orlando and Las Vegas.
It’s a notably young company, says CFO Leslie Servantez, 55, a baby boomer. “We have a diverse group of employees,” she explains. “I think I’m the oldest one at the company.”
Servantez sees technology and communication as the biggest differentiators between generations. “The employees in the office who are young communicate by text,” she says. “I will make it more personal. I will go up and talk to somebody.”
Her kids are in their 20s and 30s, so she has plenty of perspective on the pros and cons of technology. “I think social media is corrupting my kids in a way,” she says. “I’m 55 years old. I grew up before the internet.”
Clients like to see millennials energetically “whipping around” the office, she adds, but the older team members offer a balance. “I think it gives clients a sense of security.”
Millennial Perla Bustillos, 22, joined Imprint Group in 2018 as entertainment operations coordinator after interning for the company. “We all teach each other,” she says. “There is always room to grow.”
For example, millennials innovated a photo booth used at events. “It started as a simple photo booth,” she says. “Now it can be connected to social media, it can be connected to text messages, and it doesn’t print anymore.”
Servantez says she’s learned a lot about event production from Joseph Bearss, 47. Imprint’s Generation X executive producer returns the compliment. “From the baby boomers, I learned a lot about work ethic,” says Bearss. “It’s at a different level.”
Younger generations have “lost a little of that,” he observes, but notes that millennials excel at collaboration, and that’s a good fit for his approach to video production. “Instead of having one director, we use a creative process with three to four people,” he explains.
“There’s a balance the millennials have struck,” adds Bearss. “They take their personal time very seriously. With baby boomers, work comes first—almost to a fault.”
Creative Solutions Manager Megan Holland, 27, observes that baby boomers and Gen Xers have mastered “the art of dedication.” She says, “Millennials have a reputation of not doing well when it gets rough. I’ve learned from my older colleagues, when it gets difficult, it’s time to dig in.”
Having multiple generations working together at Imprint “is important because we have so many different talents, so many different mind-sets, so many different experiences,” Holland says. “It’s like a body. We need all of these things to cohesively work, and no one thing is more important than the other. You need your heart, you need your brain, you need your legs, you need your blood.”
Servantez adds, “If everyone gets along and has everybody’s back, the company’s going to be stronger.”
Unbridled Solutions is an event management, event production and creative agency with 85 of the firm’s 130 employees based in Denver, with the remainder in San Diego, Boston and St. Louis and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Vice President of Operations Liz Hunt, 39, is part of Gen X but most of her colleagues are younger. “I manage 14 people, and a lot of them are millennials,” says Hunt. “They’re eager to learn. They can come up with some great ideas.”
However, there is a flip side. “The one thing that floors me is they expect to move up right away,” she observes.
Hunt points out that Unbridled donates 20 percent of profits to charity, and that’s important to younger employees. “A lot of millennials stay with us because of the culture,” she notes. “That’s a huge paycheck.”
And since most of them don’t have kids, they can look to Gen Xers like Hunt on how to balance work and home. “As a female, that’s showing the women below me you can move up in this career and have a family,” she says.
Hunt says she looks up to Julie Miles, a baby boomer who develops content for Unbridled. “She is just a wealth of knowledge and wisdom,” says Hunt. “She allows you to stop and be present. Don’t move so fast. Enjoy the things that are good. Don’t look at your phone. Just be in the moment.”
Gina Gonzales, the 64-year-old baby boomer who supervises Unbridled’s travel department, brings a similarly meditative mind-set. “When she switches off, she switches off,” says Hunt. “She doesn’t bring her computer home.”
Returning the compliment, Gonzales says, “[Hunt] will try to solve a problem. She’s a gogetter. I always tell her she could be my daughter.”
Gonzales touts the team’s “cohesiveness” on a recent cruise meeting Unbridled planned for Red Robin. “The younger generation has a lot on their plate and they’re imaginative,” Gonzales says when describing Unbridled’s millennials. “They handed the client a great package.”
Art Director Taylor Frederking, 25, is one such millennial. “Baby boomers, I feel they’re born with grit,” she says. “They buckle down and get it done. They make it look easy.”
No offense to millennials, she says. “I don’t mean to trash my generation. We’re not afraid to find and push for opportunities within events."
Frederking sees the firm’s Gen Xers as “really good at balancing what they do, and they have a lot of unique experience my generation lacks.”
She tells a story from a recent event in the Bahamas. Dave Nichols, the company’s 44-year-old Gen X senior production manager, was on stage in front of thousands of attendees when the power failed on the island. “Dave was running the show and the power goes out,” Frederking recalls. “He will forever go down in my book as a hero. He just kept acting natural, and with such grace. He made it work—it was really inspiring.”
Nichols’ response? “You’ve got to manage the situation. You’ve got to keep things rolling, and not let it go out the window.”
He says that a background in broadcast television taught him to think on his feet. “What I bring to the table is 20 years of experience,” says Nichols. “I’ve had a fire alarm go off in the middle of a session and the sprinklers go off. About 1,000 people got soaking wet. You’ve got to take those things with a grain of salt.”
J&S AUDIO VISUAL
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the 400-employee national A/V company has 14 people working in its Denver office.
Sidney Stoper, 44, a Generation X account executive, sees his role with millennials as different than that of his baby boomer colleagues. “A baby boomer may have more of a parental role, versus me. I’m like the fun uncle,” he says.
Communication is a key differentiator. For the millennials, it’s all about texts, emails and social media. But baby boomers tend to be more keen to pick up the phone or schedule a face-to-face meeting. “I’m a hybrid of both,” says Stoper.
That extends to event planning. Stoper looks to bridge the gap between his digital and analog colleagues. “Jenn [baby boomer Jennifer Winget] has a folder for every event she has,” he says. “I prefer to do everything digitally. I have a paperless filing system.”
At age 59 and serving as JSAV’s vice president, sales and branch manager, Winget admits, “I’m still immersed in paper. That’s definitely a generational thing. But I have come a long way.”
She says, “I think the younger generations learn a little bit of wisdom from the older generations.” But it works both ways. “The older generation may find a better way to do business that is smarter, faster and better for the client. We need that balance.”
She describes Jack Bassett, a 23-year-old A/V technician at JSAV, as smart and enthusiastic. “Everything is digital with him,” says Winget. “Every time I have a problem with any technology, I go out to Jack and say, ‘Hey, can you fix this?’”
Bassett, who arrived at JSAV after graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2016, says he’s an advocate for innovation within the company. “There’s new equipment I’ve grown up with that baby boomers might be unfamiliar with,” he says. “I’ve been pushing to move to Google Docs. I feel moving away from paper makes sense, but it’s hard to uproot that process.”
Millennials are “very independent and adventurous,” Bassett says. “I do think it’s nice to have such wild personalities at the bottom end.”
Gen Xers prefer more structure, he continues, and baby boomers “have made a lot of mistakes in their lifetimes, but they also know what works.”
Baby boomers, Generation X and millennials obviously have a lot to learn from each other, and companies such as these are discovering that multigenerational workplaces are a big asset. “We’re trying to help people connect with their employees and their culture,” notes Frederking. “How can we do that if we don’t do it ourselves?”
Baby boomers: Born from 1946-1964
The rock ‘n’ roll “Me Generation” was born in the wake of World War II. Baby boomers are known for being optimistic and team-driven.
Generation X: Born from 1965-1980
Often growing up with divorced or career-driven parents, Generation Xers are now entering middle age. They tend to be entrepreneurial and self-motivated and are the transitional generation between analog and digital technology.
Millennials/Gen Y: Born from 1981-2000
Growing up alongside the internet, millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Beyond their uncanny digital literacy, they like to collaborate and tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed.
Generation Z: Born after 2000
Gen Zers are just about to enter the workforce. In many ways, members are similar to millennials and are just now defining the traits that will embody the generation.
These dates are approximate, as there are no standard definitions for when a generation begins and ends.