Who the Folk?! Debra Arbit

Debra Arbit talks to us about being the CEO of a company that bridges generational gaps and why each different generation is unique.

Are you from Twin Cities?

Yes, I am. Born and raised.

Tell me about your role as CEO of Bridgeworks.

Bridgeworks focuses on bridging generational gaps in the workplace and marketplace. We talk about overcoming generational differences in two ways: how to motivate, manage, recruit and maintain employees and get work done with employees of different generations. And the other side is how to market to people of different generations who may want the same things, but define those things very differently.

I own Bridgeworks and I wear a lot of hats. As owner, I am the CEO and COO, but my most important job is to help everyone else to do their best job.

How did you get into the field of intergenerational study?

It was very random. In 1998, Bridgeworks was co-founded by a baby boomer and a Gen-Xer , David Stillman. When I graduated in 2003, I knew David and he was looking for an intern and I took the job. I left Bridgeworks to work at General Mills, got my MBA, and took a year off to travel and volunteer. I always stayed in touch with Bridgeworks, though, and gave them advice as their first Millennial.

I had the entrepreneurial bug in me. They were looking to sell the business. I bought it in 2009 from them. It was a terrible time to buy business, but I absolutely fell in love with it.

What should we know about Millennials?

They are willing to look incredibly hard, but it might look diff than how other generations define it. Most Millennials were raised in the self-esteem movement with parents telling them, “You’re special. No one is like you.” It’s key for Millennials that their manager helps them connect the dots as to how their job has an impact.

What are some of the main generational differences?

Baby boomers charted work-life separation. They had one personality at work and a different personality at home. One did not touch the other. Gen-Xers pioneered work-life balance. Family comes first for them and they’re not into work politics. Millennials chartered work-life integration. They don’t see work and life as two separate things; they see it all as life. They turn on their phones at any hour of day or night.

Do you think Gen-Xers get a bad rap?

They are notoriously independent. Many were latchkey kids; many had divorced parents. So, they organized their own time, made their own dinner, did their own homework. They work more independently. They want to collaborate, but in a different way. It will never work for a Gen-Xer to work on every step of a project together. They want the rules laid out as to who will do what and when the feedback and collaboration will happen in the process.

Has all this intergenerational study given you insights into parenting?

Yeah, of course. That’s how anyone falls in love with topics, is the personal side. Every generation has parented quite differently. The Millennial generation is bringing a new spin with all the mom blogs and Pinterest boards. We look to other Moms for expert advice. It’s too early to tell what mistakes Millennials will make, because all parents mess up somehow. I have two kids under three now, so it will be interesting to see how they are impacted by generational differences.

What’s your favorite Jewish Holiday?

I will say the night before Rosh Hashanah, before everything starts. I get excited for eating all the food. It’s the first taste of fall. I’m a big food person. I experience stuff through food. So when I eat brisket, I officially know summer is over.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

It’s a toss up between kreplach and potato knishes.




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