‘X’ Marks the Spot Here, Too

There were many topics that came up time and again while we were interviewing the inaugural class of Forty Under 40 winners.

Work-life balance was a common theme. So were community service, professional development, philanthropy, volunteerism, health and fitness, and entrepreneurial thinking.

It’s not a surprise that these 40 individuals would be a well-rounded, grounded bunch. After all, these are business owners, people who’ve climbed the corporate ladder at stunning speed, and civic leaders. It’s to be expected that there would be many similarities from one success story to the next.

But when we look more closely at those topics, it becomes clear that balancing work, family, outside interests, and service to others isn’t just a trend among these people; it’s a trend that’s being seen across the country within the under-40 set.

There is a new definition of success emerging, which takes much more into account than earnings and titles. Rather, it’s the pursuit of a lifestyle — dare we say, the pursuit of happiness itself — that drives them. New, innovative business practices and dynamic results are born from that objective, and lately young professionals aren’t just thinking outside the box. They’re crushing the box, and leaving it out on the lawn for recycling.

Our winners also belong to Generation X — those born roughly between 1965 and 1980 (there’s still some debate on that) — and now making their own unique mark on the world. Next year, we’re likely to see some of the next generation break through.

But Gen X has received considerable attention of late, and BusinessWest’s first Forty Under 40 begins to explain why.

This is a group, recently touted as the ‘quality, not quantity’ generation, that is coming into its own within the professional world and finally getting some recognition. This demographic is sandwiched between America’s two largest generations — the Boomers and their children, Gen Y, also known as the Millennium Generation — and is used to getting lost in the shuffle of many, many feet.

But there’s another hurdle to clear. In the early 1990s, trends like grunge rock and films such as the cult classics Reality Bites and Singles helped Generation X members earn the collective title of slackers. So, perhaps reinvention is another driver behind success. Perhaps it’s a need to prove to the world — and maybe to moms and dads — that, ‘yes, we do things differently. But it works, and we’re going to prove it to you.’

If generational lingo doesn’t sell this message, however, let’s take a look at the numbers. Among the Forty Under 40 Class of ’07, there are 18 women and 22 men. Twelve are business owners. According to their nomination forms, 20 are previous award winners of some sort, and we suspect there may be more. Twenty-two are parents (and that number will soon rise), and 25 serve on civic and community boards.

Also noteworthy is the number of professions and business sectors represented by the ‘40.’ There are the expected marketing professionals, attorneys, and accountants, but each with their own specific specialties. There’s also a headmaster, a farmer, a multi-media producer, a publisher, a restaurant owner … the list goes on.

The diversity among the Forty Under 40 winners, both personally and professionally, speaks further to the notion that this is a group that follows intangible passions as much as innate skills as they move through life.

What’s more, 40 may have won the competition, but nearly 100 people were nominated, all with impressive lists of accomplishments. Unfortunately, ‘Forty Under 40’ is the brand, and we couldn’t include everyone.

As the region’s tallies its assets, it certainly must include these members of the ‘forgotten generation,’ another name that’s been given to the 30-somethings (and a few late-20-somethings). It was gratifying to prove that, but it will be even more rewarding to watch the so-called slackers continue to shrug off the preconceived notions of their generation, and multi-task their way to greatness.