February 24, 2020 | by M. Robert Weidner, III

Building Communities for the Next Generation

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us.” – Herman Melville

While in Michigan over the holidays, my brother-in-law and I ventured to Culver Military Academy, which is just over the state line in northern Indiana. My father and I graduated from Culver, my parents are buried in the nearby cemetery , and I still proudly wear my class ring. Culver teaches students to “honor the past, aim for the future.” When asked what makes the academy different from other schools, a 2016 graduate said, “Family. Four years here, you build a family.”

I was struck by how similar that goal and feeling is to MSCI’s mission, which is to build a community of industrial metals companies and other organizations. We provide industry data, professional education, and networking opportunities. But we don’t exist to do only that. Our goal is to preserve the health of our industry by providing a base of support and knowledge for today’s workers and leaders, and tomorrow’s.

Building community is badly needed in today’s society. The ties that bind us are fraying—and with devastating consequences. In his new book Tightrope, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff follows the lives of several schoolmates from his small, Oregon hometown. Some grew into successful adults. More, however, encountered job loss, addiction, and poverty. Many factors contributed to these problems, but Kristoff says one is declining participation in community organizations. For past generations, these institutions were a place to go in tough times. Fellow members provided camaraderie, solace, even aid. Without the company of friends, it is easy to fall into hopelessness (or worse), Kristoff argues.

The fraying ties have other negative results. According to the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute, the number of Americans who volunteer has declined. Only about one-quarter of us are willing to give our time to others. The percentage of Americans who give to charity also has fallen, from 66.8 percent in 2000 to 55.5 percent in 2014.

No wonder so many young people today think the government should do more—as individuals, we are doing less.

In defining ourselves as a community of competitors that still support one another, MSCI and its member companies aim to reverse this tide. For example, through our chapters and with donations from members, over the last 16 years MSCI has awarded more than 3,700 scholarships totaling $7.8 million. This money matters to the next generation.

The knowledge base our members provide—and that MSCI offers through its education and executive leadership programming—also will matter to the next generation. According to the executive placement firm Korn Ferry, across all industries today the average age of CEOs is 59. Most CEOs retire around 62, but even if these leaders stay beyond the age they can collect Social Security, they likely will not be around to see their company into the next decade. Same is true for the corporate suite where most individuals are over age 54 or 55.

We must prepare the next generation for leadership now. Over the last 18 months, MSCI has welcomed several new or returning members who could soon undergo a generational shift in leadership. They are coming to MSCI because they believe our industry intelligence, educational programming, and networking opportunities will help provide their successors with the tools they need. These industry leaders know MSCI’s mission is to consistently equip members with the insight, training, and business relationships that are essential for success.

These executives also know the younger generation of workers crave this knowledge—and meeting that demand is essential for long-term stability. According to a 2018 survey by the employee development firm Bridge, nine in 10 millennial workers want to stay with their current employer. More than half (56 percent) said they believe an individual should stay at a single company for more than 20 years.

And what will help foster that retention? Almost nine in 10 (86 percent) younger workers said the secret ingredient is providing ample training and development. MSCI is dedicated to offering the relevant, exciting educational offerings employees demand. With Washington University’s Olin Business School, for example, we have created “Data Science for Metals Companies,” which aims to teach participants how to build a competitive advantage using data.

According to a recent report by Mobilize, a software company that fosters “member-driven communities,” while the millennial generation makes up about half of today’s workforce, they are just 20 percent of association membership. In the coming years, MSCI will make a sustained effort to bring the next generation of workers into our community.

The motto of another of my alma maters is Quaecumque Sunt Vera—whatsoever things are true. It is true that many of you reading this are competitors. But a thousand fibers do connect us—and the health of the industrial metals sector, and our society, depends on recognizing that.