As crazy as it sounds, the economic collapse of 2008 was
one of the most constructive things to happen to the world of business. That’s not to say
that the casualties of the collapse were insignificant—people lost jobs, a
sense of security, a way to feed their families. Yet, these losses were the result of a broken system, one
that needed a revolution. The
revolution is now happening with the millennial generation, who have cast
aside ‘corporatocracy’ in favor of a system that supports cooperation over
competition and values the interconnectedness of people.
Up until the collapse, we had been sold a very
convincing formula for happiness: Go to college, get a job, bust your butt and
enjoy a lifetime of financial success and personal fulfillment. Having
graduated from Pomona in 2007 as a history major, I was in no position to
question this seemingly foolproof equation – math was never really my thing. I
trusted that if the best and brightest were setting out to chase the proverbial
carrot, I would be silly not to follow suit.
So I set out to Orange County,
accepted a position at a highly-touted mergers and acquisitions firm and put
my nose to the grindstone to make as much money as possible. That was the whole
point, right? Why else had I spent a lifetime writing papers and taking exams?
A year later, the market took its infamous nosedive. I
watched the white picket fences of generations before me—justifications for a
lifetime of hard work and sacrifice—come crashing down in an instant. And in
that moment, it became painfully clear that a system built on infinite growth
and exponential efficiency wasn’t going to cut it. Still, many continued to chase
ghosts of the past and hold on to a dream that was becoming a nightmare. Realities were forced to change and,
more importantly, so were priorities.
But as the dust settled and thousands of millennials
found themselves without a foolproof formula (and without a job prospect in
sight), an important thing happened. The next generation, our generation, was forced to evolve. This resulted
in us asking deeper questions about the system as a whole. If our economy couldn’t depend on
infinite growth and infinite profits, there had to be a missing part of the
What our generation is doing, and what the business
landscape is proving, is that we are putting more emphasis on how business is
done. Our generation cares less
about a 10% increase in pay than it does a better work-life balance. Our generation values experiences over
material gains. Our generation
values people over profits. Our
generation is championing for companies with similar values, not only as
consumers but also as employees. The companies that are able to realize this
and match their values and culture accordingly understand how profitable doing
‘good business’ can be.
As a result of this shift, a new classification of
corporations is emerging that flies in the face of the old regime: B
Corporations, which are
for-profit companies that emphasize social and environmental impact versus focusing solely on profit. Such institutions are just now coming into existence and are an important part of the
After all, people transcend profit and loss sheets, and behind every number there is a story. People will continue to be interconnected, regardless of any
market boom or bust. This emphasis on experience, individuals and values is the
change I am seeing in the millennial generation that is so encouraging.
So, as you inch closer to your graduations and the
dreaded “what am I going to do with my life,” remember this: Just do good. New jobs and industries will emerge
that none of us could have ever predicted (even some that sprout up between
your first and senior years). The
evolution will continue to happen.
Our generation is writing its own story—one that hopefully means
something. The way it ends will
depend heavily on whether we can continue to support one another and cast our
votes for companies that align with our value systems. It is our responsibility to create
the world we want to live in.
Alex Cushman graduated in 2007 from Pomona College. He is the co-founder of Positive Energy Beverages.