Why a family office leader can be crucial for a family business

Photo by banarfilardhi/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by banarfilardhi/iStock / Getty Images

An interesting insight into how a family office works for one particularly business was provided by Brian White, the co-chairman of Australia’s biggest real estate group, Ray White.

Speaking at the EY Family Business Summit in Monaco, Brian said the White Family Office was central to the smooth running of the family business. “Our ‘chief family officer’ has the power to say to other family members in the business: ‘look, I’m uncomfortable about this and I think it needs to be discussed more broadly’, and our family accepts that discipline,” said Brian. “This system works beautifully for us.”

We have no succession plan in place, partly because that person is so unique and is extremely difficult to replace

Founded in 1902, Ray White today is a franchise real estate business, employing more than 13,000 people across Australia and abroad, with annual revenues in excess of $30 billion.

Brian’s two sons - Dan and Sam - each work in the business, but control separate parts of it. They have their own boards and are responsible for the success of their divisions. “Our sons are entrepreneurs in their own right,” Brian said. “They have control of significant parts of the business, and that gives them the confidence to relate to each other.”

The family office is run by Andrew Jamson, who is also chief financial officer for the group. He is the only non-family member on the Ray White board. Brian says Jamson has built up incredible trust with the family and this has unpinned the success of Ray White and the family office.

The role of the trusted adviser in respect to family offices was discussed further in a breakout session on the sector at the summit. Other families agreed with Brian’s view of the importance of a trusted adviser to not only the management of the family’s private wealth, but to the running of the family business as well. But attendees agreed that it was difficult to see what they would do if they lost that trusted adviser. One said: “We have no succession plan in place, partly because that person is so unique and is extremely difficult to replace.”