Our Millennials are mentoring our senior leaders


In New Zealand millennials get a bad rap for spending too much money on smashed avocado on toast, but this often-misunderstood group is poised to reshape the economy. 

Marc Rivers, Fonterra’s Chief Financial Officer is looking at different ways to harness millennials’ fresh and disruptive way of thinking.

Millennials have been born into an era where social media is at the centre of every experience, convenience is king, and gratification instantaneous. They have different priorities than previous generations, and are challenging the traditional work place status quo.

Is it any surprise though that young people want to do things differently than the generations that came before them? The question isn’t how to make millennials fit in, it’s how to harness their energy, enthusiasm and insights.

At Fonterra, we’re embracing this opportunity by giving millennials a voice at our top table through the creation of a millennial council. Nine millennials with different backgrounds and areas of expertise have been brought in to offer a different perspective and to challenge the thinking of my leadership team.  

There are three aspects to the Council:
  1. Reverse mentoring: Each month, Council members work with a different member of the office of the CFO lead team to challenge our thinking and help us achieve our goals.  
  2. Input into our monthly lead team meetings: A week before, the Millennial Council meet to discuss the agenda and their conclusions are used to open every monthly meeting to inject fresh thinking. 
  3. Shadowing a lead team member: For eight hours every month, Millennial Council members shadow one of my lead team to get to know the ins and outs of our roles.

When my Commercial Associate, Priya Singh, first presented the idea of reverse mentoring to me, I likened it to my role as a father. I’m a dad of teens so I have reverse mentoring every day. The world is changing rapidly, but sometimes we are used to looking at it in a certain way. The job of the Millennial Council is to surprise us with fresh ideas and to encourage us to look at the world through different eyes.

Millennials value knowledge over formal degrees, and they’re all about learning from anyone who has done something they want to do – gobbling up success stories and picking the brains of the more experienced people in their industry.

Giving the Millennial Council a chance to experience what we do in our roles will help to accelerate their own development. I don’t want our younger employees to be held back by any belief that there is some mystique around senior roles, because I certainly thought that when I was starting my career.

I’m hoping the Millennial Council will unleash a new sense of energy into the Office of the CFO and maybe down the track, it can be applied to other areas of our Co-op.