The negative, pervasive thoughts that baby boomer and California State University, Northridge Distinguished Alumnus Bill Imada was hearing about millennials weren’t sitting well with him. Especially after reading a report with opinions from some heavy hitters in American business.
As a businessman who built the IW Group public relations agency on the pillars of diversity, innovation and open thought, Imada long has been open-minded to the changing behaviors and thinking of different generations.
Imada brought the report on millennials to seven of his interns — one of whom was a CSUN student. He asked them if the report was accurate.
“I could hear them getting angry, or saying, ‘that’s not true,’” Imada said. “They said about 20 percent of the report was accurate, and they thought the other 80 percent [were misunderstandings].”
He then asked his interns what they were going to do about it. They replied that they felt powerless because the negative opinions about millennials were so entrenched and so prevalent.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we start a movement? Our seven universities will band together and change the narrative,’” Imada said.
Imada, who has long worked with and inspired students at CSUN — including most recently as a “Professor for a Day” for the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics in October — has provided a bridge between millennials and influencers in business, media, government and tech, among other industries, by founding the National Millennial Community.
Through the nonprofit organization, Imada has organized conversations and conferences connecting millennial leaders from 32 universities across the United States, including CSUN, with leaders of industry to change the conversation and narrative about millennials. He said he hopes to reshape the thoughts of some business leaders about what the younger generation has to offer and thus provide a stronger gateway to employment for millennials.
The organization has connected millennials to influencers at summit meetings in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Seattle. Executives from companies such as NBC Universal, ABC, PBS, Warner Bros., MGM Resorts International, Walt Disney Imagineering, GM, Lockheed Martin, Starbucks, Microsoft and BuzzFeed — to name a few — have sat down to exchange ideas with millennial generation leaders. The alliance group has grown to 36 states.
Imada said the participating colleges were chosen to give exposure to students from universities that have fewer resources and notoriety than other high-profile schools.
“I want corporations to know that universities like CSUN produce great talent,” Imada said.
Sevag Alexanian, the former CSUN Associated Students president and a senior management and marketing double major, represents CSUN in the National Millennial Community. In meeting with some businesses, he said there was an impression that millennials are “lazy,” “entitled” and “disloyal.”
However, he said, by participating in the community’s online meeting place and in-person meetings with business executives in Los Angeles and Chicago, productive conversations led to breakthroughs.
“We’re having these conversations, and a lot of times sharing insight,” Alexanian said. “[There have been times] afterward when they send us notes that say, ‘Thank you. I previously thought XYZ about millennials.’ They’ve asked for us to come again. We haven’t made double trips quite yet, but we’ve received invites and have been told that we’ve given great insight.”
Imada said it’s imperative for businesses and executives to acknowledge the voice of the younger generation.
“We can’t ignore millennials,” Imada said. “There are 83 million consumers. They’re bigger than [the] baby boom. It’s a consumer group companies are going to need to attract in terms of talent for the workforce, but also to recruit as consumers. A lot of these companies are the ones writing that millennials are lazy, jump from job to job, are only focused on texting one another. But they are not always having conversations with millennials in their own companies. For me, it’s great to have this conversation and see lightbulbs go off on both sides, where the company leaders will say, ‘Wow, I learned something today.’”
Imada said the community soon will expand to two more states and include “Generation Z,” the demographic that follows millennials.
Alexanian said Imada has been an inspiration.
“He’s been able to serve as my mentor through college,” Alexanian said. “I look up to him, and I can say that for a lot of individuals in the millennial community.”
Imada has mentored many at CSUN. He returned to campus in October for the “Professor for a Day” program, where 45 alumni returned to lead classes in the Nazarian College because he said students want to hear from alumni and learn about their experiences.
There’s another reason he returns to CSUN and consistently gives back to students. He recalled a particular businessman who helped him — an executive who worked for Anheuser-Busch, who gave Imada his first break.
“’Help 100 people, and my debt to you is repaid,’” Imada said the executive told him. “It’s so simple. So I said, ‘I’ll do even more than that. I’ll make it 1,000.’”
His current count, Imada said, surpassed 1,000 some time ago. He’s now shooting for 1 million.