Lex van Dam

Insiders know it’s notoriously difficult to find a job in a good single-family office


But ironically when family office professionals do land that coveted job they often cut themselves off from finding out about new opportunities down the line.  This has serious consequences for career development in a sector where 90% of the new jobs aren’t listed with head-hunters.  

Even the limited number of roles that do get advertised by family offices are very competitive. Also, job descriptions can be vague. So if job seekers do get through to the next stage they should interview the interviewers to grasp what that family office really needs.  

In one case I know a next-gen principal who became overwhelmed with the responsibility of overseeing the office and shut it down almost overnight.  This is all accepted and understood as being “very family office”

They also need to factor in the risk that the role may be vacant because the principal is “disagreeable”. Family offices can be highly idiosyncratic. I have come across peers who raise concerns over questionable onboarding efforts, training black holes, and a random approach to subsequent recruitment.

A principal may think he wants to hire a rock star investment banker or asset manager. But rock stars at large institutions have an army of support staff which often does not exist in smaller family offices. 

This can be quite a shock to a new employee who is so awed by the reputation of the principal that they forget to ask about the exact size of the budget on support staff.

It’s a unique job, working at a family office, perhaps something of a vocation. The good news is that for many its idiosyncrasies are a perfect match for their own.  

This means once people find the right place they tend to stay for decades, meaning there is very little staff turnover. Of course, this simply creates more problems for those looking for new roles or promotions given the lack of job opportunities at the best outfits.

Conversely, I regularly hear from family office professionals who tell me they are just about to be made redundant and now want to plug into peer-to-peer networks. 

This implies there is a lot of potential fluidity in the market. But the river runs underground. By the time they are working their notice or get terminally bored, it is often too late for professionals to start meeting peers.  

By the time people need an instant network, they have left it too late, because getting to know people takes time.

Redundancy can happen quickly and unexpectedly even to the most talented professionals.  This is especially the case when succession happens and sometimes the whole office closes down. Next-generation owners can also decide they don’t want the baggage from the previous structure and hire or take their own people.  

In one case I know a next-gen principal who became overwhelmed with the responsibility of overseeing the office and shut it down almost overnight.  This is all accepted and understood as being “very family office”.

Atrophy is equally common at family offices among those who have spent years in the same small office where there is simply no room to be promoted or get a change of scene. 

Professionals become bored and complacent, and because they are starved of opportunities to discuss such problems with their peers, or find new jobs, and they lack insight into their own conditions.

Single-family office networks are a great way to find out about job opportunities, and issues like these, offline.  Perhaps I would say that because I am involved in quite a few networks myself. 

But I promise you, professionals who wait and try and get into those networks two or three months before they are about to be made redundant are going to be in trouble because, once you exit, you will no longer meet the criteria for membership.  

For those looking to play smart participating in a network of their peers is a long game.   There are also lots of other ancillary benefits of networking, including sharing information about investments or the best solutions, so it also benefits the office which for me always has been the prime motivation anyways, as well as the employee.  

Never forget the importance of technology in this game. The institutional world has a lot of experience to offer but family offices stuck in a silo, rarely get to hear about the latest developments.

Even for professionals who have the best family office job in the world, my advice is to join a high-quality peer-to-peer network today to anticipate that which cannot be predicted tomorrow. 

Lex van Dam is the founder of SFO Alliance, an SFO-only network. He is also a director at Rinkelberg Capital, a London-based single-family office, and previously worked as a trader at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager at GLG Partners.

One Comment

  1. Great reading you Lex! and so very true.

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