The MTV Generation grows up: Generation X as CEO

“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.