Talking About My Generation

Talking About My Generation

Four generations are now jockeying for position on the corporate racetrack. Which generation will deliver the best CIO?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64? The answer is yes, according to the likes of Mick Jagger and John Howard, who have both reached that milestone. At 64 they are part of the so-called "silent generation" - born between 1925 and 1942 - and still active in their fields. Changes to Australia's superannuation regime flagged in February this year mean that Howard will be joined in the workforce by other older professionals as full retirement becomes an increasingly rare phenomenon. And let's face it, what baby boomer is ever going to admit they are too old to do anything?

The youngest baby boomers will this year turn 43; the oldest 58. It is this generation that currently dominates Australia's CIO ranks. Ask recruitment specialists to nominate the "young Turks" of CIO-dom and they quickly point to David Issa at IAG, Carmel Gray at Suncorp, Jeff Smith at Telstra, Julie Fahey at GM Holden, Ian Crouch at the NAB and Wayne Saunders at BHP Steel. Sure, they're Turks - but young?

The fact is that the real young Turks are waiting in the wings. A number of generation X CIOs are already ensconced, particularly in mid-scale enterprises. Generation Y is emerging from university and college, armed with qualifications and honed by exposure to swags of management case studies detailing what works in business. (None of them has been blooded by real exposure - but they are keen observers of others' mistakes.)

Generation X is as old as the minicomputer. It started high school after Microsoft was formed and entered the workforce when a PC on every desk was well on the way from fantasy to fact. Generation Y meanwhile is the Net generation - younger than Internet protocols and still in short pants when the Web had its debut (see "The Generation Lap", CIO March). Will there be significant changes as they roll over the current crop of CIOs?

Hugh Mackay, a Sydney-based social researcher and author of the 1997 bestseller Generations, believes that there are significantly different traits exhibited by the different generations that may affect the way they perform in the workplace.

Of boomers, he says: "[They] came to feel optimistic about the future and carefree in their approach to it. They knew that they could get work whenever they wanted it and knew it was possible for one income to sustain a conventional family in suburban comfort." Boomers were also the generation that experienced the feminisation of the workforce, which had previously been largely male, particularly among the professional ranks.

Of their relationship to technology, however, Mackay notes that boomers will never catch up with their children when it comes to the mastery of IT. "But many of them have been sufficiently dazzled by the information revolution to fall for the trap of believing that information is a new kind of god, that information will somehow save them. That having more information is bound to be better than having less . . . so they consume information as voraciously as they have previously consumed Thai food, experiential holidays, sexual partners or cars."

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