Are You Fit to Be a Family Office CEO? Work on These Must-Have Qualities.

Citi Private Bank has a detailed list of attributes that it says families want to see.


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An estimated 10,000 new family offices were established globally over the past 20 years and while their size, structure, and complexity vary, many have at least one thing in common: they need a chief executive. And not just anyone can adequately fill those shoes.

Family offices historically did almost everything in-house “out of necessity or fear of ceding control over service delivery, potential conflicts of interest, or the release of personal and financial information,” according to a recent report by the family office group at Citi Private Bank. That approach came with high costs that required scale. It was typically for families with at least $1 billion dollars of investable assets.

Today, the number and quality of third-party service providers dedicated to family offices — for wealth and investment management, legal, tax, insurance, bill payment, and security, among other things — has expanded and the outsourcing means families worth $200 million might be able to justify having their own office. But even if almost all of the functions are outsourced, family offices still need at least one person in charge of them and the position is becoming more demanding.

Traditionally, family members, former legal and tax consultants, and leaders of family companies became the chief executive. But as family offices increasingly professionalize, they also are attracting interest from other executives. More investment professionals from asset managers or institutions are being drawn to the pinnacle of the private investor universe.

“The rise of the family office industry has also led to many more sophisticated professionals wanting to work for these institutions, particularly at the senior leadership level. It is not uncommon to see former hedge fund managers, private equity professionals, investment bankers, and heads of wealth management firms or businesses joining family offices,” the Citi report said.

What makes a good family office CEO — and the candidates in demand by families — has evolved. With help from recruiters, Citi has created a detailed list of the must-have qualities.


Fifteen or more years of relevant experience is necessary and credentials such as an MBA, CPA, or CFA certifications are preferred for family office CEOs, who are handsomely compensated. But a lot of people check those boxes.

The head of a family office, who is in charge of strategy and oversees all operations, also needs to be versatile. Alongside maintaining the trust of their employers and helping resolve interfamily issues, the CEO is in charge of investing and growing the family’s wealth as well as distributing and protecting it. These leaders also are expected to be good communicators, recruit and develop other employees, and ensure the objectives set for the office are achieved.

“An effective family office CEO must be able to educate while they lead discussions with the principals regarding strategy and organizational structure. They must also be able to modify their strategy when it does not align with that of the principals, sometimes for reasons the CEO believes are unnecessary or impractical. This is often the case for newer family offices with very active principals who are used to managing their own affairs,” the report says.

To land the top position, experience with ultra-high-net-worth families or in financial services — especially private equity, hedge funds, banking, or tax — is expected. (Family offices are allocating even bigger portions of their portfolios to alternative investments.) However, someone who is already part of the small circles of family offices is favored. Families anticipate that their CEO will come with their own “deep rolodex of family offices,” according to Citi. That network is invaluable as they navigate issues internally, explore investments and more.

Even if they meet all the qualifications above, CEOs can never forget they are “servant leaders” who have to leave their ego at the door and be aware of their limitations, according to Citi. “Another important consideration for both newer and experienced CEOs is to ‘know what they don’t know’ in terms of the myriad new issues that arise with running a family office. For newer CEOs, this is a challenge largely because the requirements for leading and managing a family office are new to them, as are sometimes the needs and behavioral biases of their families,” according to Citi.

“In such cases, it is important for the new CEO to engage with their peers who manage similar family offices as well as seek out the guidance of the growing industry of professionals who advise wealthy families.”