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Next Gen Leadership is here. Are you ready?

As the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers step away from leadership and into retirement, new principals and CEOs are coming to the helm of many A/E/C companies. With many firms coming into existence after the Nixon-era Brooks Act was passed, we are seeing more founding architects, engineers, and contractors stepping aside for the Next Generation of leadership. While we see GenX and Millennials elevating to firm leadership positions, there is also a shift in mindset for Boomers who find themselves new to the CEO level who embrace more collaboration, less “my way or the highway” thinking. No matter their demographic, this Next Generation (Next Gen) Thinking leadership comes to the helm after surviving and learning valuable lessons from the Great Recession; they’re stepping up with a more acute sense of the business side of A/E/C. That business sense is evidenced by the increased volume of leaders with MBAs as well as the volume of leaders asking more from marketing and business development.

Recognizing this trend, GO Strategies and C*Connect set out better understand what was happening and how, as marketing professionals, we can respond more proactively. Beginning in mid-2018 through 2019, about 50 of these Next Gen leaders and 150 marketing professionals working for Next Gen leaders were surveyed, and interesting trends emerged.

Next Gen leaders seek advice and ideas from marketing professionals more often than their predecessors. Our research and subsequent interviews showed that Next Gen leaders meet regularly (some daily) with their marketing teams. This high level of interaction means that marketers need to bring their A game. The men and women at the helm of these A/E/C firms seek advice from marketers along with ideas on all aspects of the business. Many recognize that marketers are primarily communicators with strong soft skills, and the messaging for proposals and interviews is not a far cry from messaging to internal teams, teaming partners, and recruitment and retention initiatives. Marketers are sought after for advice on everything from finance and operations to human resources and information technology.

More than three-quarters of the Next Gen leaders surveyed reported “marketing is seen as an integral function of the company.” Integral – like quality control, like design, like safety, like good fiscal management. Many Next Gen leaders are bringing marketing professionals to the C-suite as well.  Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) as well as titles like Chief Storyteller, Chief Experience Officer, and Chief People Officer are becoming more frequent in the industry. And the climb doesn’t stop there. More and more, marketing professionals are stepping into the top leadership positions to lead A/E/C firms.

When interviewed, marketing professionals who are now leading their respective firms are CEO insist they are not unicorns. They work with colleagues like themselves in peer organizations including SMPS to improve and develop themselves and their companies. Each of these marketer-now-CEOs point to their knowledge of multiple aspects of the business as key to their success. Knowledge about all the systems and functions throughout the firm and how they interact and inter-relate is foundational to their success.

This Next Gen leadership is collaborative, engaging, and setting a new bar for the expectations for marketing professionals. We must step up our game. Marketers, Next Gen leadership is looking to us for strategy—not only how to win the next big pursuit, but to get the company to the next level. Next Gen leaders want smart, creative, strong marketing professionals they can depend on all the time, every day. Are you ready?

By Frank Lippert FSMPS, CPSM of GO Strategies and Donna Corlew FSMPS, CPSM of C*Connect

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