The theme at this year’s Arthur W. Page Spring Seminar was disruption, populated with speakers who changed their sectors, like Warby Parker co-founder Dave Gilboa and One King’s Lane co-founder Susan Feldman.

Among the highlights were Sarah Quinlan, group head and SVP of market insights at MasterCard Advisors, drew on organizational data to paint a fairly optimistic view of the American economy. The former hedge fund trader pointed to macroeconomic trends that show an uptick in aspirational spending in the US — despite relatively stagnant wages. Meanwhile, she showed how other countries like Brazil, Russia and the UK continue to struggle with issues like hyper-food inflation or a steep dip in luxury spending.

[caption id="attachment_2127" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Sarah Quinlan Sarah Quinlan[/caption]

Tina Wells, founder of the Buzz Marketing Group, shared insights on how to motivate Millennials (hint: they want their jobs to have purpose) then interviewed Warby Parker’s co-founder Gilboa. He told the story of Warby Parker being born out of frustration with the eyewear industry’s domination by a few massive players that significantly mark up merchandise.

Interestingly, Gilboa noted that Warby Parker has de-emphasized its social mission from its marketing messages, in part, because transparency is part of doing business now. (The company donates a pair of a glasses to the needy for each pair sold).

“Historically, it was easier for brands to be opaque about practices and partnerships, today it’s impossible to hide,” Gilboa said.

[caption id="attachment_2128" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Dave Gilboa and Tina Wells Dave Gilboa and Tina Wells[/caption]

I spoke to Wells after the talk about a generational distrust in marketing messages, especially among younger consumers. She pointed to how “easy” Generation X was to market to, compared to Millennials.

“Think about the impact Gap and Banana Republic had on Gen X,” she noted. Even so, it’s worth noting the work culture that Millennials gravitate to (creative, mission-driven workplaces) were largely created by Gen X leaders like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and now, even Gilboa.

And this has worked for Warby Parker — the company met its annual targets for 2014 within Q1. As a lifestyle company, it is now forging partnerships in music, art and literature — including doing book readings at its retail outlets.

“We think about how we can build relationships with various communities and build interesting content,” Gilboa said.

But in the cycle of disruption, even the disruptors can eventually be disrupted. Gilboa keeps a close eye on the market, watching the behemoth innovators like Netflix and Amazon. Warby Parker also creates an open environment where innovation is celebrated, he added.

Washington Post CEO/publisher Katharine Graham Weymouth spoke to Burson-Marsteller CEO Don Baer about Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos buying her family’s flagship media property.

She says Bezos told her he had three criteria for buying the Washington Post: 1) its relevance; 2) whether he was optimistic about its prospects; 3) whether he could bring value to the organization. She praised Bezos — whose current projects include building a 10,000 year clock and a rocket ship — for his patience in learning the business.

“He didn’t come in saying he knows better what’s happening in the industry,” she said.

On the subject of native advertising, Weymouth noted she “came through the advertising side. I’m not worried [about its impact on editorial], it’s just taking advantage of the tools we have.”

[caption id="attachment_2129" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Katharine Graham Weymouth and Don Baer Katharine Graham Weymouth and Don Baer[/caption]

Entrepreneur Tina Sharkey brought back the subject of innovative workplaces, pointing out that companies like Google and Facebook don’t provide free food as perks but to create the “serendipity” of having people around to come up with ideas together.

[caption id="attachment_2130" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Tina Sharkey Tina Sharkey[/caption]

One King’s Lane co-founder Susan Feldman talked about introducing a new business model to online retail in which the company only bought products until after they were sold.

“When we started, we were very much on the art side and what we did was very instinctual,” Feldman recalled. “Now we have a lot more data and it’s balancing the data and creative. We want to do what works but want to make sure we don’t lose our instinct.”

Aaron Dignan, CEO of UnderCurrent, noted the most innovative companies focus on hiring makers rather than managers.

The agenda — led by Levis Strauss CCO Kelly McGinnis — also included: the New York Time’s EVP of advertising Meredith Kopit Levien, Quartz publisher Jay Lauf; and senior media advisor for The Vatican Greg Burke, among others.

Featured image: One King's Lane's Susan Feldman  Photo credit: Arthur W. Page Society, photographs by Michael Nathaniel Meyer