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With its success in the US, a family office association looks to grow globally

Now that family offices in Europe and Asia are looking to join our growing community of 100-plus US-based single-family offices, we thought it might be helpful to share the origin story of The Family Office Association (TFOA). 

 Since its founding in 2007, TFOA has led the global single-family office community in delivering world-class educational content, networking opportunities, and thought leadership to a highly curated network of the world’s largest, and wealthiest, families. 

In early 2007, a small group of single-family office executives met in the law offices of Vinson & Elkins, a storied law firm founded in 1917 in Houston. The purpose of the meeting was to meet a selection of fund managers and services providers who were targeting the needs of their family office clients. 

However, the most lasting impact of this meeting was the executives themselves realizing they had much to learn from one another – and that they would rather meet and discuss these issues in private, in a safe and confidential environment.

This meeting highlighted a common problem family offices face. The amount of wealth the family has makes them a target for every service provider, wealth advisor, fund manager, and salesperson looking to pitch their wares or sell their services. 

As the profile of a family office grows, it becomes more and more difficult to find unbiased opinions and independent analysis. Instead, every interaction feels compromised by the bias of a motivated sales representative.

For this inaugural group of TFOA founding members, the promise of a community of like-minded peers, who were willing to engage thoughtfully on problems, share best practices and deal flow, and collaborate on matters of diligence, was an idea whose time had come and was too good an opportunity to pass up.

 In the early days, TFOA members would meet each month to share interesting opportunities from fund managers, conduct due diligence together (to capture the wisdom of the crowd), and act as a safe space to discuss challenging problems in a private and confidential setting. 

These early meetings carried the group through the Global Financial Crisis, when the entire financial system was on the brink of collapse. During this time, TFOA members helped each other and provided much needed, impartial counsel as they used their collective expertise and personal networks to help each other weather the storm. 

From these early experiences, TFOA developed a unique personality, culture, and set of core values. These values guide TFOA to this day and include confidentiality, professionalism, cooperation, trust, non-solicitation, and diversity of thought.

Technology and Expansion

TFOA achieved its next major milestone in 2015, when the group introduced a private, member-only, online portal to facilitate networking and the exchange of ideas outside of physical meetings. The private, member’s only portal enabled more frequent and instant interactions between meetings, allowing for greater engagement and shared diligence, while also allowing members to connect with other family offices outside of Texas. 

Expanding the network also meant redefining the TFOA value proposition with members. The desire to grow creates an inherent tension and, to be successful, must be done in a way that allows the network to maintain its core values of trust and community while still delivering high-quality resources, relationships, and experiences to members. 

Family offices are extremely sensitive when it comes to being monetized by others and they are intimately aware of the many self-proclaimed family office network groups that are out there trying to monetize their family office relationships for profit. The last thing a family office needs is another channel for over-shopped deals or more unwanted solicitation. By being mindful of these issues and pivoting carefully, TFOA was able to continue growing without sacrificing its values or the trusted relationships that exist among and between members.

 A Different Kind of Symposium

The challenges around maintaining member privacy and trust and creating an outstanding stakeholder experience were further tested in 2017 with TFOA’s first Annual Single Family Office Symposium. Rather than create an event modelled after a trade conference or marketing event, TFOA’s Symposium was modelled after the symposia of ancient Greece, combining open debate with the discretion of Chatham House Rules. 

By partnering with The Baker Institute, the first TFOA symposium was able to bring together speakers with a combination of public policy as well as practical investing experience. This also helped keep the focus of the gathering on mutual learning, rather than on marketing or business development. This first symposium, and every one since, has included over one hundred principals and “c-level’ single-family office participants, as well as a high-powered roster of speakers. 

 Looking to the Future

Tomorrow’s TFOA will retain many of the things that have made TFOA successful to date but will continue to grow and add high-quality family office relationships around the world. Through a distributed network model, family offices will be able to build their own local family office communities in line with TFOA’s core values and servant-leader mindset. 

And with new growth means new opportunities to serve the network. It remains to be seen what this means for each of the stakeholders who make up the complex family office eco-system that is TFOA, but one thing is certain, TFOA’s leadership has learned that if your core values are at the centre of everything you do, every day, then there is no challenge that cannot be overcome.

Marc J. Sharpe is the founder and chairman of TFOA, an organization formed in 2007 to provide a forum for education and networking and to serve as a resource for single-family office principals and professionals to share ideas and best practices, pool buying power, leverage talent and conduct due diligence: www.tfoatx.com

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