The booming digital economy of the last decade has spawned lots of twentysomething zillionaires. Though their stock options may not be as rich as they were last year, this generation is making its presence felt in the corporate boardroom, where their style may well clash with the older generation of suits who make up the traditional board culture. This may sound like a swell sitcom plot, but in the real world it' s causing a boardroom generation gap that can harm a board' s effectiveness.

" They' re a little more judgmental of management," observes longtime board pro Raymond Troubh of the dot-com-age directors. " They' re quick to judge events and situations. If you' ve been around longer, you tend to mull things over awhile before you have a reaction." This " quick draw" background tends to shape the younger directors' boardroom style as well. " I think there' s a cockiness, as if they know everything. They have to get accustomed to working with the whole board and seeing how it handles situations."

From the other side, there may be situations where " a director in his 60s or 70s may not appreciate the landscape of the new economy," says Mike Frank, a general partner in the Boston office of Advanced Technology Venture. However, younger directors " may be very bright and analytical, but they have little experience. They tend to oversimplify and think there is only one right solution. They may not appreciate people, inertia, and the challenges involved." Frank even finds that " older directors are more open minded." He says that strong experience with company operations and growth (both successes and failures) is vital no matter the board member' s age.

Stephanie Joseph, who heads the Director' s Network firm in New York, agrees that in the boardroom generation gap, the youngsters lose points for style. " The older directors may not be more conservative, just more thoughtful. They' re more likely to see problems coming when the younger directors don' t have a clue."

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom Insider