Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

I never set out to own a business. In fact, if someone would have asked me when I graduated from college, what were the top 100 things I would like to accomplish in my career, I’m pretty sure owning a business would not have been on the list.              

And yet, as I reflect on my career I realize that I always found myself in some form of partnership or sole proprietorship over the last twenty years. Who would’ve thought? Two things come to mind as I attempt to reconcile this: First, the opportunities to be entrepreneurial are pervasive. Truly, when I look at twists and turns of my career path, opportunity was always knocking at every corner.

Second, in spite of the political rhetoric that would try to convince otherwise, not only is there as much opportunity now as ever, it is expanding. Exponentially so. Certainly, we are seeing this in the technology sectors. Take mobile computing for example: The platforms have spawned a new generation of entrepreneurs creating applications and new uses for the devices at an exponential rate. Case in point, we have a young nephew in the family who left a full-time engineering position with a large company to team up with a few other guys to start a software development firm. They develop applications for iPhones and other mobile devices. To boot, he does this while managing to take months off at a time to travel the world every year. Go figure.

All of which leads to an issue that many business are just beginning to feel the effects from: the difficulty in recruiting, let alone retaining, young skilled talent. A recent survey conducted by Robert Half, a global specialized recruiting firm, queried over 300 small businesses on the top five challenges they face. The results were telling, with 60% of the respondents indicating the number one issue being the lack of skilled talent to fill jobs. This mirrors the key issue we hear among our client base as well.

While the causes of this issue are many, I believe they stem from a common problem—the inability of businesses today to engage with the new generation of leaders. Unlike the formative years in my career where it was the norm and generally the expectation that career advancement and business opportunities would come from within the company as long as I worked hard and was loyal, today’s emerging generation of leaders are wired entirely different. In today’s economy, it is the opposite that is the norm. This new generation of employees and leaders, also known as Millennials, prize entrepreneurialism over loyalty, smart work over hard work, and after having witnessed their parent’s generation suffer through successive rounds of company reorganizations, re-engineerings and off-shoring, they are acutely mindful of WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me). Further, they have been derided for their attitudes, given such labels as the trophy kids (referring to kids who get trophy’s in team sports whether earned or not), entitled generation, or narcissistic.

This is a topic that repeatedly comes up at our Generational Leadership workshops. When it does, my patent question is, “who made them that way?” That usually quiets the room. Unfortunately it doesn’t solve the problem and for the majority of business owners, the issue is more about getting their heads around what the true root cause of the problem is: who is the competition for the skilled talent? It is no longer just the competitor down the street or the one who is willing to offer the most perks or benefits. I contend that it is, surprisingly, this changing nature of the economy and the abundance of opportunities it offers for the entrepreneur. That is the true competition that business owners must be focused on. The answer to how to compete with it is simple, yet for many businesses, will be beyond their reach to implement—to create a wholesale change of culture that truly offers the opportunity for employees to act entrepreneurially and be rewarded for doing so. 

The answer for you business is equally as straight forward. Uncuff the entrepreneurs in your organization. Give them the room to challenge the status quo, and I am confident your success will not be accidental.


Rick Thomas is a Principal and Director of Human Capital at Pilot Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor in Oregon state. Leading their focus on the human component of building wealth, he consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.