We’ve heard warnings, promises, and paranoia about how Millennials are disrupting everything for years. But the generation once derided as young and technology-obsessed has surprised their parents. They’re older, wiser, and the oldest generation’s predictions haven’t completely come true. The oldest Millennials are now in their thirties—old enough to invest in businesses. They’re beginning to affect the way senior executives devise marketing plans and hire staff. They’re also continually swaying the M&A market, causing buyers to give some targets a second look and ignore some others they might once have considered.
Commentators are adamant that the Millennials of today are different from previous generations. Commentators of every generation have made this insistence, so it’s unclear how true their predictions actually are. Analysts argue that Millennials prefer innovation and tech, and that they’ll cling to these preferences as they age. This could make some M&A targets unwise, while making others more appealing.
We’ve all heard the list of Millennial idiosyncrasies: they’re open to flexible jobs, value a sense of purpose, seek work-life balance, dislike open office plans, and despise authoritarian management styles. It’s unclear whether these assertions are true or not. They appear to be more stereotype than fact, more first impression than long-term reality. But it doesn’t matter what the truth is. Companies are already adapting their strategies to address their perceptions of Millennials—whether those perceptions are right or wrong. Some are even changing acquisition strategies.
One recent example was when Unilever bought “natural” cleaning company Seventh Generation. It emphasized its desire for a purpose-driven brand. Other industry data suggests a similar trend. Seventy four percent of 89 senior executives in one survey said they take into account Millennial attitudes when making M&A decisions. A quarter said they consistently thought about Millennial needs, with almost half saying they sometimes considered Millennials.
As Millennials get older and have more money to invest, they increasingly become a part of executives’ strategies. It’s likely that interest in their needs and desires will increase with time.
Executives consistently point to the apparently “purpose-driven” mindset of Millennials. They’re concerned about ethics, concerned about how young people will perceive their mergers and products, and believe that the tech sector stands to be more heavily influenced by Millennials than other economic sectors.
We’re also witnessing the power of Millennials both as consumers and as managers climbing the corporate ladder. Ultimately, this influence may affect M&A even more than a deliberate shift based on Millennial whims. This new generation will bring in new mindsets and philosophies to the C-suite. Ultimately, this could spur a sea change for M&A. No one can predict what that change will look like, and anyone who says they can is peddling stereotypes and folk wisdom—not fact.
In the 1960s, no one could have predicted the power of the Internet. So what will Millennials develop? How will their mounting power and influence change things? We’ll see it all unfold in the next few decades.
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