Interview Australia's ABC Television

Matt talks to Australia’s ABC television about the millennial generation’s business impact in Australia and around the world.

Interview Transcript:

Joe O'Brien:                  Australia's 4.3 million young people aged 12 to 25 are on track to be the first generation worse off than their parents. They have the same fantasy as generations before them. Get a good job in order to raise a family and buy a home, but for many that now seems like a pipe dream here in Australia, at least.

Joe O'Brien:                  Matt Britton is an author and leading expert on the millennial generation, having consulted for more than half of the fortune 500 over the past two decades. He joins us now in the studio. Matt, welcome.

Matt Britton:                Thanks. Great to be here in Australia.

Joe O'Brien:                  How did you settle on studying millennials? You're described as a millennials expert.

Matt Britton:                Yeah.

Joe O'Brien:                  Why were you keen on focusing on them?

Matt Britton:                I have a fascination with the millennial generation because they are really a different species than every human that's existed before them and the reason why is they're the first generation to grow up with the internet in the household. The access to information, you know, rapid communication, the empowerment to disrupt major industries really makes them different.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah.

Matt Britton:                I was really fascinated by the impact that they're going to have on the future of the business and cultural landscape.

Joe O'Brien:                  You say they have this access over ownership approach.

Matt Britton:                Yeah.

Joe O'Brien:                  Explain first what that is and what's driving that.

Matt Britton:                Well, I mean, we're moving into a very service driven economy and consumers now have the ability at the touch of a finger to access a car via tools like Uber or to be able to access a home anywhere in the world with tools like Airbnb. They would much rather access the expensive homes and cars and even clothing with new startups like Rent the Runway than buy them. With the savings that affords them, it allows them to pursue experiences and travel, which is really a much bigger interest with this generation because the whole world is really within their fingertips right now.

Joe O'Brien:                  But is that being driven by a lack of money more than the new kind of technology?

Matt Britton:                I don't necessarily think it's being driven by a lack of money. I think it's more being driven by the fact that consumers right now, the young generation, their personal brand, their social currency is being defined by the experience that they are able to achieve versus the products they're able to communicate.

Matt Britton:                The new status symbol is the status update. When they share something on Instagram and that they've gone to a festival or they've gone to a front row of a game or something like that, it buys them social currency and that social currency impacts the relationships that they have, the jobs they're able to achieve, et cetera.

Matt Britton:                It's a whole different world than in the 90s and 2000s, early 2000s, when consumers would go after those cars, houses, sneakers and watches as a way to define who they are.

Joe O'Brien:                  But do you think they'll still have that access over ownership approach when they're into their 30s or will they get to the stage where they do want to settle down?

Matt Britton:                Well, I think they'll settle down, but settling down for this generation is going to look a lot different than settling down in previous generations.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah. Well, how will that change?

Matt Britton:                Urbanization, number one. This generation wants to stay in cities. The version of moving out to the suburbs and buying that two-car garage, white picket fence home, that's not what this generation wants.

Joe O'Brien:                  They won't even be in the suburbs. They want to be right in the heart of the city.

Matt Britton:                Yup. The notion of the intercity blue-collar worker is now being pushed to the suburbs. This generation wants to stay in major cities. The schools are becoming better, they're becoming safer and the 24-hour news cycle where they want to be where the action is, the action is in the cities and that's being reflected in real estate prices all around the world.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah. But don't you think that the expensiveness of the heart of the city will turn some people away and maybe they will end up in the countryside because it all just gets too much in the heart of the cities?

Matt Britton:                Well, yeah. I mean, it's not binary. It's not all of them are going to stay in the city.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah.

Matt Britton:                But the trend is going in that direction, that this generation is sacrificing the space for the convenience.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah.

Matt Britton:                They'd rather be in the center of everything even with less space than actually being out in the suburbs and big companies actually, are not starting to move their headquarters into cities, to actually attract the millennial talent. They're following suit.

Joe O'Brien:                  One other thing that you talk of is that the growing wealth disparity.

Matt Britton:                Yeah.

Joe O'Brien:                  Tell us what is happening and why that is happening.

Matt Britton:                Yeah. I mean, we are entering a world of haves and have nots. You look at the four major companies that are really starting to dominate the world, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google, who have over $3 trillion of a market cap, the people that can touch that ecosystem, of those four companies are ones that are in the right side of the wealth disparity. In many nations around the world, you have the middle class quickly eroding, in some cases evaporating because manufacturing jobs are getting eliminated, things are getting offshore to outsource, et cetera and those jobs are being artificial intelligenced out of the game. Because of that, we really have a withering away of the middle class and we're entering a barbell economy.

Joe O'Brien:                  What are your concerns if that wealth disparity continues to grow?

Matt Britton:                Well, I think that for a lot of nations, it's going to create a lot of social issues. Because I think that you're going to have areas of major countries where there's going to be extreme poverty and with everything that comes along with it, with the crime rates and things of that nature, and you're starting to see it happening everywhere. America, where I live, you're seeing the middle class erode and you're having class wars and you're having a lot of tensions that we haven't seen or at least, I haven't seen in my lifetime. There's obviously concerns that come along with it, but we have to embrace what technology is doing to progress our society at the same time.

Joe O'Brien:                  Will the elites be forced into addressing that because if they don't address that, then their position will be in danger?

Matt Britton:                I think elites need to, need to. As you look at Amazon coming here in Australia for the first time, there's estimates in terms of the amount of jobs that it might eliminate. I think Amazon has a responsibility to try to make up for that somehow with all the wealth ... Jeff Bezos is not the wealthiest man in the world. He has a responsibility now with every job that's eliminated to try to give back.

Matt Britton:                I do think that the elites do have responsibility. I think, the good news is the elites are not evil. I think that what they have shown is they do want to give back and they are socially conscious. Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page and Sergey, they're all really pushing to basically support the middle America with wealth [crosstalk 00:05:35].

Joe O'Brien:                  But are they going to have to continue to do that in an even bigger way-

Matt Britton:                They really are.

Joe O'Brien:                  Because of this trend, and so what form will that take?

Matt Britton:                Well, I mean, you'd have to ask them. But I would hope that they would find different ways to give back. I'd hope they'd find ways to drive manufacturing.

Matt Britton:                I think in a lot of countries, there's such a sense of entitlement that people don't want to work hard enough and as companies get bigger pushes to have greater bottom line earnings, they outsource to China and place it where things get manufactured. I think it's a big problem and there may not be an easy solve for.

Joe O'Brien:                  That's been a big issue here in Australia that you might not be aware of is that the tax that those companies are paying here in Australia, a lot people in the government here doesn't think that's then ... They are not paying their fair share.

Matt Britton:                Yeah.

Joe O'Brien:                  Is that something that's happening globally as well?

Matt Britton:                Of course. I mean, Apple has been criticized widely for the tax loopholes they've seeked out because they're offshoring so much production to China of their products as well, while they're profiting so much from the American wealth.

Joe O'Brien:                  Should they be turning that around to change perceptions if we've got this wealth disparity that's growing as well?

Matt Britton:                I think so.

Joe O'Brien:                  Yeah.

Matt Britton:                I think these companies have great responsibility right now. I think that it's incredible what a handful of people have done to disrupt the business world as we know it and I think, it's obviously having major societal impact. I think, there's going to be great responsibility for them for sure.

Joe O'Brien:                  Okay. Just as a millennials expert, I'm keen to hear your view on what's happening with Donald Trump and the extent to which millennials, perhaps, did not play a part in the previous election.

Matt Britton:                Yeah.

Joe O'Brien:                  Do you think they will be mobilized to a much greater extent in the next election?

Matt Britton:                I do. I mean, I think that the millennial generation lived through a time where, relatively speaking, they had it pretty good. With the dot communication run up. Obviously, 9/11 happened in America, which is a terrible event and the financial collapse of 2008. But for the most part, I think that they had a false sense of security that everything was going to be okay.

Matt Britton:                When the past election happened in 2016, I think a lot of them sat on their couches and didn't really act and there was a different section of America that spoke loud and clear, which resulted in Mr. Trump being elected and I think, for the next election that happens, I think you're going to see a ton of activism. You're already starting to see grassroots activism and I definitely think that's going to manifest into a much higher voting turn out in the upcoming election.

Joe O'Brien:                  It's going to be really interesting to see over the next couple of years. Okay, Matt Britton.

Matt Britton:                Sure. Great.

Joe O'Brien:                  Thanks so much for coming and having a chat to us.

Matt Britton:                Thank you.