Elusive Family Offices Want Upstart Asset Managers… but Won’t Take Their Calls

“The trick is, how do you find us when we don’t want to be found?”

Illustration by II

Illustration by II

The receptionist for Michael Bloomberg’s family office Willett Advisors won’t confirm that calls have, in fact, reached Willett Advisors. The co-head of Granger Management — a multi-family investment shop in New York — prefers to simply hang up.

And why not? These operations manage money for the world’s wealthiest, who often buy their mansions under LLCs, avoid any and all press coverage, and keep their financial matters private.

But as family offices become more serious as investors, trying to stay hidden can conflict with their ability to meet the best and brightest start-ups, founders, and dealmakers, according to industry professionals.

[II Deep Dive: Family Offices Are Torn: Secrecy or Deals?]

“The trick for emerging managers is, how do you find us when we don’t want to be found?” said Erik Landsness, CEO of TAMCAP, which serves a single unnamed family, and does not have a website. He spoke this week alongside several peers, including a Pritzker family investor, at an online event.

The Pritzkers, Landsness said, are “somewhat unique. Not all families are as publicly prominent, or are family names. To a large degree, families don’t want to be prominent or public. One of the reasons to be a single family office is to avoid all that. Virtually every family office has no product to sell, so we’re not in the marketplace.”

Emerging managers seeking an audience with investors for the ultra-wealthy — and a chance at their bountiful capital — have a tougher time now under pandemic restrictions than ever, Landsness said.

“You’re going to have to spend more time with the Johns and Rebeccas of the world,” he advised, referring to fellow speakers John China, the president of Silicon Valley Bank’s capital arm, and Rebecca Gooch, a leading family office researcher and pollster for Campden Wealth.

But family offices do see opportunity in the lesser-known corners of investing, more so than in Wall Street’s flagships and blue chip shops. Before Covid-19 struck, 61 percent of these allocators expected venture capital’s highest returns would come from emerging managers, per a just-released study by SVB Capital and Campden Wealth. The firms polled 110 family offices between last October and February 2020, and interviewed two dozen of them.

Respondents said that not being able to get compelling managers to take their money is their leading barrier to VC fund investing.

Even secretive outfits such as Landsness’ TAMCAP recognize the value of networks, and are struggling to broaden them without the usual in-person methods.

For example, Margo Doyle, the CIO of a single-family office in Silicon Valley, called S-Cubed Capital, tries to follow-up on one cold contact per month to access opportunities that her own network isn’t tapped into.

“I would pride myself on being a good networker,” Doyle said during the virtual event, “on getting on the airplane, going to the conferences, saying yes to the dinner invites, and then fitting in one more event before I go home. In this new world, I’ve lost some of my networking mojo.”