Viewpoint: Golden handcuffs – the challenge of moving jobs in the family office sector

Too few family office executives make adequate contingency plans to find their next job in the sector.  In fact, many would not know where to start looking because they fail to build up the broad, and deep, networks needed to discover such opportunities. 

 The complacent think it is not necessary to prepare for the next role because the family offices they work for are renowned for the longevity of their senior executives.   They benefit from a special bond with super-rich people who typically keep acquaintances at arm’s length, for fear they will try to sell, scam or embarrass them. 

Executives need to take great care to screen who they are seeking to work for.  They need to act on the advice of Mr Beddoes in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

And it is certainly true that employees build up unparalleled levels of trust with principals whom they regularly meet in private. They come into contact with them when they are happy or sad, ebullient or in pain.  They see beyond the stage-managed versions carefully curated by public relations people. They share their pain.

What’s more, they receive intimate details of the family finances.  They can know “where the bodies are buried’ in both a business and private sense.  

But all this can make it harder to make sensible decisions about how to go about preparing for a move, even in the long term.

Loyalty is regarded highly. Putting the word out that you are looking will feel disloyal. It may be taken quite personally by the principal.  

But the reality is executives don’t need to compromise on their loyalty to take sensible precautions for the future.  Any job can become boring. Principals can also die suddenly, often leading to family members wanting new staff at the helm. It, therefore, makes sense to have one eye on the market even when you are content.  To do this you need a high-quality network.

Networking is crucial simply because there aren’t that many vacancies in the sector.  Senior vacancies are rare, and if there is a position available there may be a good reason for this. Some principals are frankly disagreeable and this creates high turnover rates. A minority will have made their money in ways some would find distasteful.

Executives need to take great care to screen who they are seeking to work for.  They need to act on the advice of Mr Beddoes in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.  

On discovering his erstwhile employer was a villain Beddoes remarked: “I have often felt, sir, that instead of our employers requiring references from us, we should require references from them.”

While such research can generally be done on the quiet, the real problem is simply that vacancies are rarely advertised. 

Sometimes head-hunters will contact officers out of the blue.  But making yourself known to the main headhunters in the market is not as straightforward as you might think. There are only a few specialist agencies, they tend to be inundated with candidates and have very few mandates. 

The fact that some offices ban social media accounts, or discourage attendance at events, can also make it harder for executives to look for new roles or discreetly advertise their experience.

Building up a network of family office executives, principals and trusted service-providers is therefore essential as this brings you into contact with a wider circle of people who may know others looking to hire.  Some officers are lucky their employer is sociable and encourages the same but many cannot rely on their employer inviting them along to exclusive events. 

Frustratingly, building up such a network can be time-consuming because most commercial family office events are lacking in quality, with only a tiny number of genuine family offices attending.  

It’s perfectly understandable that executives reject invitations to events where they will be befriended by fake family offices and rapaciously pitched at.  But there are some exceptions and those hosted by other family offices tend to be best. A good network will help refer you to the good and advise against attending the bad.

But executives need to start early.  It’s no use starting to create a network when you have only got a few months left on the clock.  Also remember good networks will only be open to authentic single-family offices, so when your role ends, so will the invites.  

In the end, how public you can be about searching for a new role will depend on the circumstances.  If your principal is planning to retire or has a degenerative disease they may allow you to make it known to their circle that you are looking – and with their blessing.

The good news is that family office executives who are properly networked and looking for new roles start with a considerable advantage in the family office job market: they already have relevant family office experience.


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