/ The Future of Business Is in Good Hands

I started my last company when I was still in college. It was 1996. My partner and I were building websites at a time when most businesses were just discovering the Internet.

We were charging $65 an hour for our services. I remember sitting in class one day as the professor was going on about the difference between an LLC and a C corp. All I could think about was how much money I was losing just being in that classroom. That’s when I decided to quit school and focus all my energy on the business.

I was reminded of those early days after reviewing the results of CEO.com’s latest survey, which explores the mindset and preferences of future executives and business leaders. I’ve always believed that a young mind is one of the best sources of inspiration and innovation (JJSR 51) – and was excited to see what tomorrow’s leaders had to say about becoming a CEO. The study includes responses from more than 2,400 students from 499 colleges and universities across the United States.

One of the most eye-opening findings is that 53% of respondents would start a business while in college, and that a whopping 20% would actually drop out of school to launch their business. Now I believe in a good education as much as the next guy, but I also believe in following your instincts and pursuing your dreams.

In my case, there was no substitute for hands-on experience. Nothing prepared me for entrepreneurship more than getting out there and doing it myself. Sure, I took a lot of knocks along the way and I made mistakes fast and furiously. But that’s part of what being an entrepreneur is all about. Besides, getting knocked down is one of the best motivators for getting back up and proving you will succeed.

It looks like a lot of tomorrow’s business leaders feel the same way. According to the CEO.com survey, 57% of respondents agreed the starting one’s own company is critical for the future success of any CEO. In fact, this could be one of the most entrepreneurial generations in history. An amazing 41% of respondents said they plan on starting their own company after graduation while 59% plan to work for an existing company.

The business world is changing almost daily. It is being shaped and reshaped by a never ending stream of tools, technologies, and best practices. But most of all, it is being shaped by people, and many who are today’s students.

The one word that probably best describes this up-and-coming generation is passion. In fact, when asked what’s the most important characteristic a CEO should have, 40% voted for passion, and only 3% picked education. If you’d asked the same question to my parent’s generation, I’m pretty sure you’d get the exact opposite response.

As further proof that this generation thinks different, they overwhelmingly selected Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when asked who they would most want on their executive dream team. Jobs, of course, was famous for daring to imagine what things could be, instead of what they had been or should be, and that included his refusal to adhere to traditional corporate norms.

CEOs of tomorrow are also eager to do away with many of today’s corporate conventions. For example, 75% of respondents want some kind of casual dress code, while 39% feel management titles are unnecessary.

I believe current CEOs need to take note of these changing dynamics and create an environment within their own organizations that makes future leaders feel welcome and gives them the opportunity to grow. This generation is hungry to succeed, but they’re not interested in business as usual. They want to find new and better ways to achieve their goals and enhance their careers.

Take social media, for instance. Nothing differentiates tomorrow’s leaders from today’s CEOs quite like social media. Fully 53% of respondents use social media to stay up-to-date on the latest news and business trends. Moreover, the vast majority regularly utilize social media tools in their daily lives including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and personal blogs.

These activities are in stark contrast to current Fortune 500 CEOs who, by and large, shun social media. While more than half the U.S. population has eagerly embraced sites like Facebook and Twitter, only 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have bothered to jump on Facebook, and just 4 percent have opened Twitter accounts, according to a separate study conducted by CEO.com. All in all, just 42 percent of big-time CEOs have any kind of social media presence whatsoever.

In today’s hyper-connected world, there is no place to hide. Yet nearly 40 percent of CEOs are not even using social media to listen to public opinion about their brand and products, according to CEO Connection, a networking association for corporate leaders. That’s just crazy. CEOs who insist on sticking their head in the sand are destined to get stuck there.

My good friend Marc Benioff at Salesforce.com believes that CEOs who can’t or won’t harness social media risk losing their jobs. Is it possible that the go-getters in CEO.com’s latest survey could be in line for that top spot sooner than they realize? If so, the future of business is in good hands.

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