“Family office? I’ll tell you what it’s really like to work in a family office…”
You want to work in a family office? Good choice. Working in a family office is one of the most exciting jobs in finance. Far more exciting than working in a large investment bank where you pretty much do the same thing every single day. An investment bank is, after all, like a manufacturing plant.
If you want to become a trusted adviser to a family office – which could manage anything from $500m to $15bn, you’ll need to get close to the family. Among other things, that takes time, loyalty, trust and integrity. If you think investment banks are difficult to get into – and they certainly are – then know that getting into a family office is exponentially more difficult. An adviser must be a companion and one who has the family’s best interest at heart. Some of these families have been around for many years and have seen a lot. They won’t be fooled easily.
There are all kinds of family offices. From established ones, which own companies whose products you use everyday, to new kids on the block who made their fortunes relatively recently. The people who work within these offices are sometimes family members and their partners. In other cases, the family is only involved in high-level decision-making and leaves day-to-day management of its investments to other professionals.
The culture of the family office matters a lot. One family office I know from Azerbaijan is run by a trusted friend of the principal family member and all the people who work there are close friends of the principal owner. Trust is more important to them than anything else. On the other hand, I know an American family office which hires based on skills alone. They’ll bring in someone they never met before if that person can grow their wealth. It depends from family to family.
Nepotism, drivers, private jets
To give you some flavour, I worked in one family office where I was friends with one of the children. The father topped the UK’s rich list but the office had less than 10 people in it. It was situated in one of the best addresses in Mayfair. We had a driver whose job it was to take us to meetings throughout the day. Two private jets at our disposal. We always flew around in them to save time – that’s the greatest benefit of a private jet. The work environment was always relaxed. We had plenty of money to invest and so we took our time about picking the right investments.
Throughout the day people came in to the office and pitched us investment opportunities. Some days we’d have over a dozen meetings. The investments being promoted were as numerous as the number of hairs on a gorilla’s back. We saw opportunities from all over the world and all kinds of sectors. In one day I could listen to pitches focused on: a start-up Silicon Valley gaming company; a Russian oil rig financing transaction; a Gibraltar gambling website; UAE aircraft financing; a resort development in Latin America; a Swiss private bank for sale; a Caribbean island for sale; a Mongolian gold mine for sale; etc.
We moved fast. There was none of the bureaucracy you find in a massive organization. One day, someone came in with an opportunity. It was a distressed situation. A rich guy in Eastern Europe needed some cash (USD10 million) really badly but the banks would not lend to him. He owned two villas in the South of France he was willing to use as collateral. We had a half hour conversation and then had a conference call with the potential borrower. The next day we hopped on a private jet and flew out to check out the villas. The deal was done within a week.
Working in a Family Office is a great way to develop your network. You’ll meet some very interesting people as a result of your affiliation to the family. When I worked with the English family above, I met other Family Offices, famous entrepreneurs, A-List Hollywood actors, top models, famous restaurateurs, members of various royal families. You don’t get that in an investment bank.
The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment company which provides specialised services to family offices and sovereign wealth funds across the globe. His debut novel will be released in early 2014. He is also producing a short film, A Lucky Guy, which will aim to show viewers the real face of investment banking. Its release is scheduled for mid-2014.