People

Viewpoint: Family office recruitment – what’s important

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To recruit for family offices or family-owned organisations can be complicated, often more complicated than the recruitment for the biggest non-family businesses. But it is invariably more interesting. And, for the specialist provider, usually more rewarding.

The appointment of a senior individual into the organisation of a wealthy family is a big decision – and usually a deeply personal one. To acknowledge this at the outset – and identify and draw out what will and will not work, as well as to allow personal chemistry and/or unconscious bias to affect both the process and the outcome constructively – is an essential skill.

This we call, controversially,  the “new wife” – or “new husband” – syndrome

Often the hiring family is not entirely candid with itself and may unwittingly gloss over or mitigate personal predilections or seek to cover up or eradicate conflicting views. It’s more beneficial to reveal personal factors or different viewpoints explicit at the start, obviously excluding illegal or discriminatory biases.

It becomes necessary to embrace the whole situation rather than over-simplify or gloss over what is below the surface. The appointment will ultimately fail if this isn’t done as diverging views would eventually emerge once the successful candidate had started.

To do this involves spending time helping the client to look to their organisation first and see it “for what it is”: multifaceted, diverse and often emotional – before going out to the market.  

Most recruitment processes tend to spend all their time in the early stages talking about what’s required from the “ideal” candidate whose arrival, it is assumed, will miraculously solve all their problems. This we call, controversially,  the “new wife” – or “new husband” – syndrome.

Instead, it is more beneficial to persuade the client to engage in an exercise to look at themselves first and to be aware of some of the difficulties in recruiting for them. Each family office in its turn will have its own unique “issues” which will impact the success of its outside executives.  Any new candidate will never be the perfect solution to all these peculiarities and problems – and making the client aware of this at the start is vital.

Good recruitment then is not about “pulling a rabbit from a hat”, but is a painstaking process of finding the right person for the right situation. Identifying those who can successfully support the family and operate within their culture takes time. It is important to spend time listening to candidates with an insightful, intuitive and critical eye as a recruiter, then checking one’s well-trained impressions with a candid call to a senior reference.

There is a need to think carefully about how an individual will respond to the situation in question and if necessary referencing further throughout the process as more information is collected. The process is an incremental one of seeing how candidate and client react to each other. Much is revealed even during the very final stages.

It is important to be prepared to act on all information at all stages of the recruitment process. Formal assessment is often requested towards the end by clients and can be a useful tool, but mostly when used in conjunction with intelligent and frank referencing conversations. And, as mentioned above, the need for both sides to see themselves and seek to portray themselves in an authentic and honest light throughout the recruitment process.

Rhian-Anwen Hamil co-founded RAH Partners, which has worked with many family enterprise groups.


All of this requires the family office to work with a recruiter who is not only deeply experienced in such situations but also who can be substantive in their insights about both the client’s organisation and the candidate pool. It needs someone who can be sensitive, perceptive and when needed, forthright with the client and who will patiently work towards matching them with the right candidate.

It’s important also to advocate that the family and those who act on its behalf often use the recruitment process as an exercise in “public relations”, inasmuch as how they treat the candidates. This is not to say the process can be indiscreet or injudicious, but to realise that candidates and the senior people who recommend them informally to recruitment consultants are a vital part in creating the right reputation for your organisation.

All the candidates should be treated with respect right from the start; not paying attention to small and seemingly inconsequential things like giving prompt feedback or having meetings start on time can be pernicious and come back to bite you.

Being casual or inconsiderate to a weak candidate can get in the way of hiring a strong one as some small piece of negative feedback can make its way back to the strong candidate. To make sure you have the choice of absolutely anyone of the people you meet in the recruitment process, make sure you treat everyone as a potential ambassador on your behalf. The world is small – and it’s particularly small in this market.

Of course, there is always the old question of fair and reasonable reward. Some of the most commercially successful family-owned organisations and family offices sometimes do not share the value that is created by senior hires. And then they wonder why they leave.

An appropriate compensation and reward framework must be devised – one which is not so remunerative that it encourages excessive risk-taking behaviour but is generous enough to allow effective individuals to share in the value they create for the family. Working on this with a research consultant at the outset, tweaking it through the process as more information is gleaned, and if necessary bringing in compensation experts, is hugely beneficial.

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