Bridging the Generational Gap can be tricky under any circumstance, but is especially tricky in the workplace. In order to successfully bridge the generational gap the key to success is to effectively communicate across all generations in order to find common goals and interests.
Mark Owens is a President & CEO at Winston Salem Chamber of Commerce. Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce is to provide and advocate for the best environment for businesses of all sizes– because when businesses succeed, the community thrives. The Chamber represents nearly 1,200 businesses and organizations, convening the community to work together, create together, learn together, and grow together.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
The Transcript - Millennials: Bridging the Generational Gap
00:05 Amanda Hammett: Hey, this is Amanda Hammett and this is the Millennial Rockstars podcast. So in today's episode of the Millennial Rockstar's podcast, we are learning from Mark Owens, who is the President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And Mark has some fantastic takeaways that I hope you take some notes on. The biggest one for me was about breaking down the perceptions around the millennial generation. And of course, talking across all generations. Tune in and listen to what Mark has to say.
00:34 Amanda Hammett: Hey, this is Amanda Hammett. I'm known as the millennial translator® because I help companies attract, retain, and engage rockstar millennial talent. And today's rockstar is Mark Owens. Mark, welcome to the show.
00:47 Mark Owens: Thank you so much for having me Amanda, happy to be here.
00:50 Amanda Hammett: Awesome, awesome. So Mark, why don't you tell the rockstar audience a little bit about you, what makes you a rockstar?
00:58 Mark Owens: Wow, yeah, thank you for that. It's a humble term to use; I appreciate that. 33-year-old CEO of the Chamber of Commerce here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina and went to Presbyterian College where I interned at a Chamber of Commerce. Never knew what that was until I interned there and here I am couple, a little while after that, in a CEO role of my second Chamber. So it opened a lot of doors and has been a great experience. So my wife and I have a 10 month old, just moved here seven months ago and really are enjoying it. And I don't know really what you would say definitely defines me as a rockstar other than other people thinking that which is very, very, very nice to know, but hopefully, we can change the perception of what a millennial is in the work place, a little.
01:49 Amanda Hammett: That is awesome, and yes let's hope that that's what happens, what comes out of this podcast. But actually, so you were nominated to be on the show by a corporate member of the Chamber, of your local Chamber. Someone from, I'll just go ahead and say someone from John Deere actually nominated you. She thought very highly of you and what you're doing there, so there you go.
02:13 Mark Owens: Thank you, they've been great to get to know and going through some leadership programs with her, and they've been great so that was an honor to be nominated.
02:21 Amanda Hammett: Well very good, very good. So you kinda alluded to this, so let's just dive right in. Tell us a little bit about your career path, and what has worked for you? What has helped you move the needle from intern at a Chamber of Commerce to CEO of a Chamber of Commerce?
02:37 Mark Owens: Yeah, it's been a blessing to be able to go on this ride. As an intern, got to know some people, really wanted to just break down the idea of specifically, when you enter a room to be able to go without any fear and go meet people, but do it in a genuine way. So started as an intern, then in 2008, went into an entry level role in the Greater Greer South Carolina Chamber. Greer's better known as the Home of BMW, North America, as a Director for programs and events. Few years later Director of Business Development, into the VP role, and then eventually the President/CEO role of the Chamber there. And I think really what has been something that's been able to maybe have some success for me is the ability to bridge the gap between generations. I think, really an important factor is being able to know people, communicate with people from all different backgrounds, but in this conversation, generation, specifically. Be able to sit down with members in their 70's of our Chamber and the members in their 20's and find some commonalities. In the Chamber world, everybody has a little bit of that greater good for the business community aspect, and I think that's a part of what millennials like, is being able to get involved and make a difference. And so, really all generations wanna do that, it's just, there's a little possessiveness about their age categories. So we gotta break down some of those walls and build bridges instead, I think.
04:09 Amanda Hammett: I love that. I love the way that you just put that. So, your career trajectory so far has just been, it seems to have been very linear actually, which is sometimes not something that we see a lot of in the millennial generation. But, and things have obviously worked well for you so far. But have there been stumbling blocks along the way?
04:33 Mark Owens: Yeah, of course. It's definitely more linear than the traditional definition is it's just linear. We hated to leave a great community in Greer, in the fall coming to a bigger city in Winston-Salem, a wonderful place that we're thrilled to call home now. But along the way there's been times where I didn't know if this is what I wanted to do. I looked at other opportunities, do I wanna change careers all together? But there's always people, mentors or somebody, and it maybe wasn't even that direct, that maybe a small business, a florist for example, that says, "Hey, you really helped me go from being a home-based business to a brick and mortar with three employees. And what you did in this connection made that difference." And as soon as that gas tank started to dwindle, there's some big story, some situation like that, that fills you back up and recharges you. And so, I would say those have been some of the areas that have been kinda challenging. Also just breaking the perception when I'm interviewing as the youngest person on paper. Sometimes there's a minimum amount of experience needed and I didn't always hit that, but that didn't stop me from trying to go for it. I always thought if I could get in front of somebody, I could show who I really was and what the vision looked like. So, I think those have been some stumbling blocks.
05:58 Mark Owens: I interviewed for the CEO role once in Greer and didn't get it when I wasn't really ready. But I knew that if I didn't go for it, what kind of message was I sending for my future there? And so, the second time it came available, was when I was hired into the CEO role. So, I think that was a story that really challenged me to say, "You know what, I know I may not be ready now, but I gotta show that this is what I want. So, sometimes I tend to be more bold in interviews than any other time, so I guess that came out a little bit.
06:33 Amanda Hammett: I love it. Well, let's hope that you continue that on here today.
06:37 Mark Owens: Okay, perfect.
06:39 Amanda Hammett: So, you kinda mentioned this, but I do wanna take this opportunity to really pull that out. You mentioned having some mentors that have helped you through some of those stumbling blocks earlier on in your career. Can you give us some specific examples about, maybe some advice that these mentors shared with you?
06:58 Mark Owens: Yeah, there's one who has been kinda that retired executive community leader.
07:04 Amanda Hammett: Right.
07:05 Mark Owens: Brought me over to his house, out of an office setting and just was playing pool. And just having a conversation about especially working with a lot of different kind of companies in whatever business people are in. People want things out of you or expect things out of you. He said, what really stuck with me was, "If you know what the person's interest is you're working with, you can read into what they're expecting is the outcome and you can help manage that relationship better." And to know that not everybody wants the same thing, or expects the same thing. So he really taught me that, to treat each interaction and each relationship a little differently and manage those expectations to say, "You don't have to be the same thing to everybody. Some people want you to do this, or some people would love for you to do this." And that was something that's really stuck to me.
08:00 Mark Owens: So every time I get to meet new companies or new people, I kinda say, "What are they looking for? How can I help?" and not try to be a little bit of everything to them, but a lot of something to them and make those connection specifically. So, that was definitely one of those mentor opportunities. The other was just having peers that are on that path, that can sharpen each other and can share that day, where you are the youngest person in the board room, and you don't get the respect or the opportunity to talk maybe, as you thought or your voice wasn't heard, that somebody else is going through that in another community or another job or another setting, and you can bounce those off. So I think there's the mentors that are gone through what we're going through. But I think you can also have mentors that are your peers in a way. That can shape that perception going forward for how you wanna do and handle your business.
08:54 Amanda Hammett: I agree. I think that those are both really fantastic examples. But specifically with your mentor and what he said to you over pool, I think that, that's valuable not only just as a community leader, but actually as a leader within your own office, and managing people, because those tend to make the best leaders. Those are the ones that you remember, those are the ones that help you build your career. And so you're right now helping build other people's careers.
09:21 Mark Owens: Yeah, that's a great point. As a former intern, I was given opportunities to grow, right? And so my biggest thing is to try to give everybody the opportunity. My leadership thought for every week is, "Can I challenge everybody in our office, but can I also make sure they have the tools to be successful and meet those challenges?" And the third is, "Will they feel fulfilled when they leave on Friday afternoon?" If I'm not doing those three things, then I don't think I've been a good leader of the organization or our team. So, everybody has a different motivation. It could be an extra paycheck, it could be an extra day off, it could just be a thank you. Instead of trying to make that across the board, I think what you referenced from my mentor was not just on the business side, but in a leadership role. Knowing what each person needs or what their thoughts are on how to be rewarded and trying to make that happen as best you can, individually.
10:19 Amanda Hammett: I agree. I agree whole-heartedly on all of that. That is fantastic. And what you have laid out for yourself every week for your team, that's a tall order.
10:32 Mark Owens: It really is.
10:34 Amanda Hammett: It really is.
10:36 Mark Owens: It is. I'm not successful every week. And that's okay, but it's good to be challenged. I think if you're not being challenged, then you're not reaching your full potential and people wanna be challenged. But make those challenges unique to each individual so the expectations are the same, but it's really my job to make sure they are successful. And sometimes I'm successful at that and sometimes it takes a couple of weeks. [chuckle] So, the fulfilling part is a little bit easier. We make sure each of our staff members have two hours a week to volunteer in the community wherever they'd like to. Our chamber is really involved in reading to first and second graders to help get our grade level reading up in our community. So that's where for most of our people spend their time; some work for habitat. But that's part of the overall concept of just being fulfilled and millennials want to be involved in the community and a lot of people, I think, feel that millennials aren't as committed or they don't check in at 7:00 and check out at 6:00. There's different needs and aspirations, so we try to give that opportunity to everybody.
11:48 Amanda Hammett: I love that. I love it; I love it. Especially the commitment to two hours a week, that is, that is amazing. I'd love to do that myself.
11:57 Mark Owens: Yeah, it's good.
11:58 Amanda Hammett: So, tell me Mark, a little bit about whether it's where you are now, or where you've been in the past, or even about maybe when you were an intern all those years ago.
12:08 Mark Owens: Yeah.
12:10 Amanda Hammett: Tell me a little bit about, was there anything that, besides the mentor that you've already mentioned, was there anything that a mentor or a boss in particular did for you or gave you that really kept you engaged and motivated, and wanting to wake up every day and serve your community?
12:32 Mark Owens: Yeah, it's happened so many times; I don't know if I can tell you all of them. It's not just been great bosses; it's been community leaders that will invite me to do something or really just give me a little bit of motivation. As a starting out as a 20-year-old, as an intern in college, there's no need for these major companies to really interact with me necessarily, like for a need right then. But they knew that they were investing in the next generation. I think that's something that really stuck with me. So, there are motivations along the way, there were times when my tank was emptying and our boss would say, "Alright, great, you've got the microphone at the next events to give me experience speaking in front of crowds and getting over that hump for professional development," or "Hey, I want you to take my seat on this board instead of me because you need to learn how to do that."
13:27 Mark Owens: Those are opportunities that bosses or other members could have been possessive of their roles and their resume building board credentials. But instead, they saw an opportunity for me to be challenged and step out of a comfort zone and start to create a resume on my own that was able to make a difference at the same time. So, there's been a ton of opportunities to do that and options to get involved, but what I really take away from it all is, there's those really direct times like I just mentioned. There were so many days where a board member of a company may just send an email and say, "I heard you were doing this out in the community, great job, keep it up." And that private message, or that private hand-written note means as much, if not more than the public recognition without a doubt. I mean that, those are the things that I try to write forth notes to people in the community every week. Just something to send out, "Congratulations, saw your name in the paper, heard you're doing this" Just to people I have... Some of them I've never even met, but I think it's just a good way to spread that encouragement around.
14:43 Amanda Hammett: That's amazing. I love it. So, can I ask a very specific question?
14:48 Mark Owens: Yes.
14:48 Amanda Hammett: When you were getting those opportunities to build your own resume from other board members or whomever, were those opportunities you were asking for, or were they seeing some potential in you, and saying, "Hey why don't you take this, you might stumble a little bit, but run with it?"
15:06 Mark Owens: You know, it's probably a little bit of both, but like I told you, what earlier, I tend to be a little more bold in interviews for some reason than I am normally. And, I think there was a time where I mentioned to you that I didn't get the CEO role the first time I applied. And my boss that came in, I sat down with him, he says, "Okay what are your goals?" And I said, "I wanna sit where you're sitting, and I wanna be in your role." It doesn't mean I want you not to succeed, my goal is to help you and our organization succeed, but my goal is to sit in that seat when that times come and you've moved on. So, I think setting that tone of what my goals were, like I am on your team. I am 100% behind this organization, but this is where I wanna be, I think laid out the goals. But I was also you know, something that just being general here, millennials wanna get to the top really fast. It's not that you have to buy your time, you have to show your plan, but you have to be willing to work for it. And that timeline can shrink if you really are committed and working hard for that and show that. So, there definitely were times where I was thrown out there and I stumbled a little bit or I wish I could have paused and restarted the presentation.
16:20 Amanda Hammett: Right.
16:20 Mark Owens: But you learn from those, and as long your audience knows that it's not always gonna be perfect, whatever that group you're talking to is. So you learn from it, and it's built a lot of comfortability over time.
16:31 Amanda Hammett: Excellent, that's fantastic advice. So you mentioned one thing that is a perk, so to speak, in your current office, the two hours a week to volunteer wherever you want in the community. Are there any other things that your current employer, so the Chamber of Commerce in Winston-Salem, or maybe in the past that they've given you, whether it's perks, specific perks or benefits, or anything like that, that have really kept you engaged and kept you thinking, "Yeah, this is the place for me; they care about me."
17:03 Mark Owens: Yeah, this isn't in the handbook or any perk like that. But my second round of interviews was supposed to be, we went home from the hospital with our first child on a Friday night.
17:16 Amanda Hammett: Okay.
17:16 Mark Owens: It was to be in Monday morning. And I called and I said, look I need to be home with my family. And they said "Look, why don't we talk again in three weeks? Your family is the most important."
17:26 Amanda Hammett: That's awesome.
17:27 Mark Owens: Last night I was in an event 'til 11 o'clock for work, and I don't wanna miss out seeing my son at one point of the day. So I didn't get to see him much last night, so I came in a little later this morning after getting to feed him his bottle this morning. So our community is committed to family, and you come in fulfilled and wanting to make a difference and really work hard for an organization that understands that. And so, one of the perks I would say is just the flexibility to work in a flexible way to get it done. But that doesn't always mean you literally punch a clock in and out. These days we can pop up a laptop or do it on your phone or iPad or whatever, anywhere we are. So I'm up at with the little one at 6:00 in the morning doing emails, and then I take a break for a little while. So it's just... That's been really great. I think that's been something that keeps you engaged and doesn't make you feel like you're locked in, but you feel like you have the trust and the flexibility needed to be a great husband, father, and employee of the organization, at the same time.
18:36 Amanda Hammett: That's awesome that they gave you that flexibility to spend those first few weeks with your family without making you feel like you were actually missing out on an opportunity with your career. That can be a really tough choice for a lot of people to make. Do I make this sacrifice for my career or do I make this sacrifice for my family? And I'm glad that they gave you; they took that off the table.
19:00 Mark Owens: Yeah, and I can tell you that was the point where I said I'm really interested, to that's where we need to be. And it was probably the best selling point they ever could have for the community was just showing what they truly cared about. And you know you're going to a board that cares about your family. There's a lot of meaning behind that. So you feel like you're really on the same page and you're doing stuff together, instead of just being an employee; you feel like you're working together. So it was really important for us and it's important for my wife and to know what kinda community we're moving to at the same time.
19:38 Amanda Hammett: Yeah, now so a lot of times when I go in and I talk to organizations, they have these values on the wall, but my question is always, "Well, how do you operationalize that? How do you show that? How do you act that out?" And that is always a perplexing question for people. But they did that for you.
19:55 Mark Owens: They did; they showed it. And it's more than just written on the wall. And so my job is to also make sure that that's translated to our staff here. And then it's really translated... We've 1200 businesses that are members of the Chamber, and we try to instill those values to our members any way we can. And there's so many ways that can happen, and you just have to be flexible. I think if we always are stuck to the letter of the paper and policy then you don't have that human element in there. So we try to find ways to... Our thing is we always try to find a way to say yes. It may be a no to the question being asked, but we'll say yes in a different way. So we just try to make sure it's a place that people feel that they're fulfilled like we talked about.
20:39 Amanda Hammett: That's awesome. I love it; I love it. So, okay, is there anything that you wish that companies knew when you were just getting your career started from that intern role to that first next step up, is there anything that you wish the companies and organizations knew about hiring young employees?
20:58 Mark Owens: Yeah, that is... Man that's a great question. That is something that we... I talk about all the time. And I talk about trying when I talk to young people coming out of college or school or I'd say, "Let's try to go break the perception." What I would love for companies to hear is that just because a generation, they work differently doesn't mean that they're not as committed. I think that's the biggest single take away is that, well you can be very committed, very passionate, really wanna make a difference. You just may do it a little differently. One of the things I always run into very small, I take notes on my phone that go right back to my computer, but people think you're texting in a meeting.
21:43 Mark Owens: And you have these scenarios, so sometimes I know I need to take a pen and paper to make sure people don't have a perception, but I think there's also that element of saying, younger people, millennials whatever generation we're talking about, as long as they can have their voice heard. My biggest pet peeve is when an organization says, "We wanna engage a millennial generation or a younger crowd so we're gonna create a sub-committee and put them over in this room." You have to allow individuals a seat at the table to learn, be able to have their voice heard so that they stay engaged, not, "They're gonna create another organization over on the side in our world, and we gotta make sure that that separation doesn't happen." So I would just say, if a company is listening to this, "Just because it's done differently, doesn't mean it's not as good of quality, or as committed to the task."
22:41 Amanda Hammett: I love that; I love it. And you basically say everything that I always say to companies as well. [chuckle] So I love it.
22:47 Mark Owens: They should listen to you. Yeah. Right.
22:50 Amanda Hammett: I agree wholeheartedly. Alright. Well, Mark Owens this has been a really fantastic conversation, and I love your take on everything and I love where you are and where you're moving your entire community of leaders to, that is fantastic. And I think that they made the right choice picking you over there at Winston-Salem.
23:09 Mark Owens: Oh, thank you.
23:10 Amanda Hammett: So if it's okay with you, would it be okay... Oh my gosh, I'm stumbling today. If it's okay with you, could the audience reach out to you on LinkedIn?
23:19 Mark Owens: Yeah, absolutely, would love to connect on LinkedIn. Also, we do some Twitter stuff as well, so I'd love to have either of those platforms, it'd be great to connect. One thing that I know is I always have people making connections for me and giving me time when I was an intern or whatever, so that is a big passion of mine, is finding ways to connect, to give back, but also just to make connections. You never know how you can help and make friendships in this world. We can have digital friendships all over the place, so it's a great thing to do, so I'd love to connect with anybody possible.
23:54 Amanda Hammett: Awesome, well, I will make sure that that happens in the show notes here, and thank you guys for joining us and, of course, thank Mark today from the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. And we will see you guys in the very next episode.
24:07 Mark Owens: Thank you. Thanks Amanda.
24:08 Amanda Hammett: Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the Millennial Rockstars Podcast. If you are looking for even more information on millennials and some free resources, visit my website at amandahammett.com. The link is below it's amandahammett.com, there you can download a free millennial employee engagement guide that will give you all kinds of tips and tricks on how to keep those millennials engaged on a day-to-day basis because we all know that millennials who are happy at work are more productive at work.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.