The MTV Generation grows up: Generation X as CEO

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“A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.” –Ferris Bueller

Generation X grew up unsupervised, independent and decidedly anti-establishment. This small, often overlooked cohort entered the corporate world with little fanfare but a wildly different attitude, shirking preconceived notions of work and traditional business dogmas.

Bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to Corporate America has been a major Gen X contribution, bolstered by fluency in technology, prioritization of work/life balance and a fierce pursuit of individuality. Now entering the leadership roles of the C-suite, this generation is the innovative force behind today’s workplace trends—especially their companies’ defining headquarters moves.

Since 2008, downtown Chicago has attracted 88 suburban and 13 out-of-market companies—from full relocation to satellite and executive offices—of which 32 have been headquarters relocations. The average age of CEOs announcing a headquarters relocation? Just 52. Hello, Gen X.

Traditionally classified as individuals born between 1965 and 1984, Gen X is hitting prime employment years in C-suite roles, replacing longtime Fortune 500 CEOs who first moved company operations to the suburbs decades ago.

With a strong sense of self and pragmatic focus on results, Gen X CEOs are turning back to the city in increasing numbers in a search of Millennial talent (who says the generations can’t work together?). This has had a profound effect on the commercial office market, as downtown, its office spaces and its residential stock reinvent themselves to accommodate young professionals’ preferences and pursuit of a live/work/play lifestyle.

Don’t take Gen X’s dramatic headquarters moves as a middle finger to authority, despite their affiliation with grunge music and John Hughes films. The time between a CEO’s first day on the job to the first day at a new downtown headquarters averages three years and two months—a short, but not rash, time to make such a transformative shift.

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to explore the Who, Why and Where of today’s headquarters moment. Big moves are happening, and it’s setting the tone for the next evolutionary phase of office space. Stay tuned!

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