The New CEO Equation: Solving for X and Y

They’re under 40, leading $1 billion-plus companies and largely untested by adversity. What does the future hold for Gen X and Y CEOs?

July 8 2014 by Dr. Thomas J. Saporito


Ready or not, Generation X and Y now have their feet in the door of the C-suite.

According to Forbes, 20 companies with market caps higher than $1.8 billion have CEOs under the age of 40. Thousands of smaller organizations have Gen X and Y leaders at the helm. Many more are working their way upward in the more traditional approach.

“Observing the current class of CEOs, an important question comes to mind: Is their success sustainable and scalable over the life cycle of an organization?”

By all accounts, this new cohort of CEOs has already produced some outstanding examples of leadership. Just how does each generation generate exceptional leaders? I have found that all superior CEOs share several key success behaviors. This CEO “DNA” includes passion for an idea; an intense, competitive need to be on top; the urge to drive projects to completion; and a strong belief that “if I put my personal print on something, the result will be better because it reflects my vision and discipline.”

These traits are time-tested and observable by looking at a cross-section of exceptional leaders over the past 100 years. Henry Ford (20th Century), Alan Mulally (Boomer), Jeff Bezos (Gen X), Marissa Mayer (Gen X) and Mark Zuckerberg (Gen Y) would all score exceptionally high if assessed for these key leadership behaviors.

Observing the current class of CEOs, an important question comes to mind: Is their success sustainable and scalable over the life cycle of an organization? This context is vital because many startups operate with a simple organization model that allows the enterprise to grow rapidly. However, such speed usually comes with a cost. It robs new CEOs of the time to develop personal insights and to process knowledge gained from extended organizational experience—vital leadership assets that come from life, practical expertise gained by time on the job and the opportunity to learn from the occasional bloody nose.