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Youth Not Wasted on the Young

When most of us think of 20-somethings in the workplace we picture interns, mail sorters and errand runners. But the nominees who made up this subset of our 40 Under 40 awards program defy those expectations completely. Of the 83 nominations received, 15 percent were under the age of 30. The Business Journal talked with three of these nominees who are all achieving high levels of success within industries that are often perceived to be the domain of more, let’s say mature, individuals. It’s not always easy, they all agreed. “You don’t know how many times a day people ask how old I am,” said Marcus O’Bryant, 25, marketing coordinator for accounting firm Miller, Kaplan Arase & Co. “It’s like it discredits everything you try to strive for in your career.” “Youth has never been a positive,” said Tom Garrett, 24, very emphatically. “I’m always saying I’m going to dye some grey highlights in my hair so I can look older.” He added that he doesn’t think there’s necessarily a prejudice against youth per se, but that it just requires a lot of extra effort to establish credibility and expertise. Garrett, who heads a new advertising division he created within a 30-year-old automotive-related business, said he sees a clear difference between people who were educated prior to the end of the Cold War and those post-1989. “People educated prior to that tend to see the world as black-and-white, me versus you, as a zero sum game,” said Garrett. “People educated after that see the world as interconnected.” <!– Garrett: Being young requires extra effort to establish credibility. –> Garrett: Being young requires extra effort to establish credibility. And while insurance marketer Chad Charton, 24, said he has never had a prospective client ask his age, he said people have expressed surprise when he met them in person for the first time. “I definitely think there are some unspoken forces because it is fundamental human nature to judge,” said Charton, “but if you embrace it and recognize it and make it work in your favor by having the right attitude, people dismiss it quickly.” You should know, though, that this is the same person who said, “I like the fact that I have things working against me.” Charton, who was 13 when he started his first business, said he would tell other young people, “There’s no such thing as an easy buck. You have to be willing to put in the time. That’s why I’m the only one here in the office at this late hour.” And while O’Bryant and Garrett said they preferred to communicate with people by phone or e-mail because it eliminates questions about their youth, technology in and of itself was not deemed to be a great divider. “Everyone’s using technology today,” said Garrett. “Most people have a Blackberry or PDA to read their e-mail or stay up-to-date.” Charton echoed that sentiment adding, “I don’t think you can credit technology or societal factors (for the larger numbers of youthful entrepreneurs). It’s more like there’s a renewed sense of what it means to be a professional: that it is ageless, that it is genderless, it’s boundary-less.” All say that they have been fortunate to have strong mentors and good support from their firms. “One thing that’s very good about Miller Kaplan is they want people to really excel and go to the next level,” said O’Bryant. Often in a professional services firm, it can be challenge for a non-licensed individual to reach partnership, the pinnacle of success. But O’Bryant said he doesn’t believe that is the case with his firm. “I’ve been assured that there is no glass ceiling,” he said, “so I’m continuing down the path and hopefully as I build on my successes, partnership will be a possibility.” In Charton’s case, he chose a career that is entrepreneurial while still having the benefits of a bigger company. “The firm I belong to (FMS Financial Services) is an umbrella company. We each have our own independent practice,” he said. “One gentleman, Brent, has been a mentor of mine. He’s 15 years my senior, and this is a very established firm, but I’m creating my own culture here; one that is very aggressive, very driven.” Garrett, too, has taken an entrepreneurial path, starting a new division within a mature company started by his grandfather. Garrett Associates is an automotive management company that manages dealer associations like the Honda Dealers of California. “We manage their advertising and business operations,” said Garrett. It is his belief that television and radio marketing is not always the most effective way of getting a message out to customers. So he pitched the idea of what he calls a “grassroots marketing company,” to the current owner of the business who gave him the green light. Be The Change Advertising has so far completed one major project for Cadillac and is in the third stage of pitching Infiniti on a national campaign, said Garrett. He spends about half of his time at work on the new division, which has one full-time employee in addition to himself. It seems, then, that there is no “secret ingredient” to being a successful young businessperson. “In today’s world it’s perfectly acceptable for a young person to enter a mature and stable industry and thrive and truly succeed in that industry or profession through good old-fashioned hard work and ambition,” said Charton. “I think in today’s workplace more than ever before there’s no longer a fixed or truly defined protocol as to how you get there.”

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