What Restructuring Professionals Can Learn from “Billions” – It’s not what you think.

Kate Asia Dillon is the first non-binary actor on a major TV series (Billions).  Kate identifies neither as male or female. Having been born female (many still regard Kate as female), Kate does not self-define as one of two genders, nor do the characters Kate plays.

The fact that the restructuring world largely defines itself by gender is beyond peradventure. But that is not the subject of this article.  Rather, this article is about the restructuring community’s generational self-definition.

Adult generations are commonly described as follow:

  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born after 1996
  • Millennials, or Gen Y: Born 1980 to 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born before 1945

The fact that each generation has been influenced by the economic, technological, and parenting environments in which each grew up, is well documented and chronicled. Some writers have observed a fifty-year cycle, with Gen Z (born after 1996) bearing much in common psychologically and politically with the Silent Generation (born before 1946). The similarities stem largely from the social-psychological effects of the 2008 financial meltdown mirroring the effects of the Great Depression.

The generational divides have an interesting confluence with the evolution of bankruptcy law. Early Baby Boomers practiced law under the pre-Code bankruptcy law. Late Baby Boomers began practicing law when the Bankruptcy Code was relatively new. Generation X experienced the early development and refinement of the Bankruptcy Code. Millennials were born shortly after the Bankruptcy Code was enacted, and by the time they entered legal practice, the Bankruptcy Code was mature. Gen Z is just recently entering the bankruptcy field in the legal assistant and law clerk ranks.

At the upcoming Distressed Investing 2017 Conference on November 27th in New York, I’m hosting the Awards Reception for Turnarounds & Workouts’ Outstanding Young Restructuring Lawyers. By definition, all of the honorees were born after 1977 and thus are “Millennials.”  At the same time, over half of the speakers and sponsors in the Distressed Investing Conference are “Baby Boomers”,  and the rest are largely “Generation X,” as is much of the audience. This age-diverse line-up, however, implies more blurring of generational lines than actually exists in the restructuring community.

A few minutes into any conversation, a restructuring professional will probably allude to being a Baby Boomer, a Generation X’er, or a Millennial (and might even tell you what is wrong with the other generations).

Whenever something negative is said about the way a person communicates (text, email, or phone), or uses, or fails to use, available technology, it’s often attributed to their generation. But bad and good communicators come in all sizes, shapes, and ages.  Are the stereotypes warranted? For that matter, is any stereotype warranted?

Thought leadership and innovation arise throughout the restructuring community and across all generations. Many great ideas are killed by generational stereotyping.

Generation and age are useless, irrelevant constructs in the restructuring world.  In fact, they are value-destructive.

Generation or age stereotyping is as flawed, narrow-minded, and flat-out wrong, as stereotyping based on race, gender or orientation.

Just as Kate is an “NB” (non-binary: not defined by gender), I have officially declared myself an “NC” (non-chronological: not defined by age or generation). I am calling for the rest of the community to join me in rejecting “chronology.”

Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

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