The art of getting a job in a family office

Bill Woodson knows a few things about family office jobs. In the 2010s, he led the family office group at Credit Suisse and then Citi in the United States. He was a senior lecturer in wealth management at Columbia Business School and a family office advisor at Stanford. He’s also co-authored a definitive book on working for family offices, which he says isn’t always what people might imagine.

“The most important thing is figuring out what type of family office you are heading into,” says Woodson. There are different archetypes of family offices, he says: on the one hand, family offices can be very institutional; on the other, they can be very traditional.

Institutional family offices are generally set up by hedge fund managers and are unsurprisingly similar to hedge funds. BlueCrest Capital Management, for example, is the family office of Michael Platt after the 52-year-old hedge fund manager returned $ 7 billion in cash to his clients five years ago. It is believed to have around $ 10 billion under management and employ a range of technologists, operations and data professionals alongside its portfolio managers, who are typically drawn from hedge funds and banks. Ray Dalio of the Bridgewater hedge fund opened a branch of the Dalio Family Office in Singapore alongside the Westport Connecticut office. Soros Fund Management is also structured as a family office.

In these kinds of family offices, Woodson says the environment is very similar to that of a hedge fund. “They are generally led by former investment professionals and they hire very competitively.”

More traditional family offices, however, are not limited to investing. If you work for one of them, Woodson says you may find yourself dealing with “the complexity that comes with substantial wealth.” While investing is part of that equation, it can also involve everything from philanthropy to lifestyle and janitorial services. In these types of funds, senior executives may find themselves working on tasks that are not in their background, Woodson explains. “Even if you don’t handle the concierge services yourself, you may need to find the right people to oversee delivery and resolve issues when they arise.”

In some cases, therefore, Woodson says finance professionals who join family offices may find themselves responsible for areas far beyond their expertise. “You might be responsible for making sure that marketing, sales, finance, legal and compliance are all done properly, as well as things like home management, janitorial services, and private aviation. . ”

Added to all of these complexities is the problem of the family you work for – “the main one” in family office jargon. As Agreus Group family office headhunter Paul Westall said a few years ago, life in a family office requires an ability to get along with the manager and is not a job for someone. with a big ego. A lot of things revolve around ‘form’, says Woodson: ‘You will have potentially demanding clients – both managers and their families. And you will have only one customer, which can be difficult. You might not have a lot of resources because you are just not very tall. “

Succeeding in a family office therefore requires a combination of incredible intuition and abundant empathy. “Building a relationship with the manager is arguably the most important job you have,” says Woodson. “At the end of the day, it’s their money.”

Working with a manager is a whole different dynamic than working with other types of bosses. “The manager is usually a very successful and self-confident person,” says Woodson. “But they don’t necessarily know what to do. Your job is to lead the principal by teaching him and acclimating him and helping him understand the right approach. You can’t operate through an executive order. . ”

Family office jobs can be very busy, says Woodson. And it’s not just about making money or avoiding losses. “There will certainly be managers who care a lot about avoiding losses on the portfolio, but there will be others whose priorities are family harmony, simplicity, sports sponsorship and philanthropy. It is crucial. that you understand what the stated and undeclared goals of the family are. “

Photo by Valdemaras D. on Unsplash

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