The Evolving Family Office

Leadership Strategies to Ensure the Office Remains Relevant to the Millennial Generation

Much has been written about millennials – individuals born between 1982 and 2004 – who are having a powerful, and sometimes disruptive, impact on organizations, both public and private. Summarizing current research, millennials are:

On its face, this profile suggests possible tensions with the stereotypical view of the family office as simply a vehicle to pass along both family wealth and the traditions of its creators. It also raises critical questions: Will different generations clash over an understanding of what a positive future looks like? Will they clash over how the family’s assets, financial and other, should be managed? Increasingly, family office leaders are expressing frustration over their inability to capture the attention and commitment of millennials. Not surprisingly, reigning leaders in family offices believe that when the baton is passed to the next generation, they will not value or understand the full benefits of collective management of a family’s legacy and wealth. This is no small matter when looking at the size and scope of the intergenerational wealth transfer expected to take place in the decades ahead.   

According to a recent article in Trust and Estates, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest segment of the population. In the coming years, they will inherit more than $30 trillion.

It is a time-honored tradition for family offices to adjust their working model to meet the preferences of succeeding generations.  But will simple tweaks sufficiently address the needs of this disruptive generation and the massive wealth transfer that lies ahead?

Evidence suggests that radical changes are needed to integrate the millennials into the fabric of the family office.  

Today’s family office leaders are refining and reinventing their management strategies to fashion a high-performing office that can serve all generational needs and expectations. At the risk of generalizing about an industry that is well known for the unique structure of each office, three essential strategies have emerged from our research.

Strengthen Your Governance Policies

Reinforce the values that are unique to your family

Millennials appear to be more sophisticated about financial matters than prior generations, are skeptical of authority, and are impatient with dysfunction. This generation values governance structures that facilitate efficient and informed decision-making and candid dialog. Thus, it is essential for family offices to define the roles and responsibilities of each office executive and the charter for each committee. Who, within the family or among outside advisors, has control of which assets, and who has the authority to change existing arrangements? 

If a family governance process has been clarified to answer these questions and to address issues of control and money, this will serve as a means by which problems can be resolved before they become destructive. Make succession plans clear and establish expectations around when the younger generation might begin to assume a leadership role. Develop a budget and business plan for the office. Empower millennials as early as possible and assign them a project for which they will be held accountable. Engage them early and often. While millennial loyalty to institutions can be low, research suggests that they are more inclined to be loyal to individuals. If authentic relationships are developed between family members and office leadership through this work, a higher level of trust will ultimately form between generations. 

For an office to survive multiple generations, the family must have intention, focus, and clarity about its values. John Davis, founder of the Cambridge Institute for Family Enterprise, is a strong believer in families taking the time to reflect on their purpose, characteristics, needs, and aspirations in order to define their overall mission.

With a mission in hand and a strategy established to achieve specific goals, succeeding generations will have a road map in place to survive leadership transitions.  

This begs the question – what happens when the millennials challenge the underlying family values and mission? Industry guru James E. Hughes Jr. has identified a consistent thread among hundreds of international families who have successfully transitioned a family enterprise through multiple generations. These families have pivoted their focus from simply building a great business to building a mission-directed family that reflects the goals of the group. In so doing, they often come to recognize that the value of the family’s human capital is equal to or even greater than the value of their financial assets. To strengthen the bond, it might be useful to reflect on the “family glue” from time to time via candid dialog facilitated by an outside consultant. We highly recommend reading The Voice of the Rising Generation by James E. Hughes Jr., Susan Massenzio, and Keith Walker, where these ideas are explored more fully.

Embrace Transparency

Using technology and new forms of communication

Privacy has historically been the cornerstone of the family office, and families have typically been conservative about the information they provide to the younger generation. Millennials are disrupting this tradition. They share life experiences on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat etc. This poses risks for the families as reputations can be damaged and security concerns arise when millennials are careless about broadly exposing what they do with their lives.

The office head needs to accept the reality of social media and coach the younger family members on how to coach the younger generation to not share private information and to minimize security risk. 

This generation can be impatient; they don’t like to wait. This phenomenon is frankly a good thing; offices have accelerated the implementation of technology upgrades to provide financial data on demand. Millennials are avid networkers and attend conferences to communicate with other offices in the quest for “best practices.” They are virtual learners and like to teach each other. Because millennials have shorter attention spans, family office leaders must integrate new forms of communication such as diagrams, texts, white boards, dashboards, and summary documents, in order to achieve the desired impact. Forget long meetings, white papers, group conference calls, or thick legal documents. Consultants to families report that millennials prefer to receive information via podcast, allowing them to listen and learn when they choose, rather than the imposition of a meeting or conference call.  

In keeping with the tendency of millennials to be transparent about their life activities on social media, this generation wants transparency from the family about its wealth and how it will impact their lives. They want to be brought “under the tent” at a younger age. 

A challenge facing many families is whether younger members have the maturity to handle this information and when is the right time for them to take an active role. Additionally, as millennials are armed with more information about best practices at other offices, they may question whether the family office team is delivering top quality advice and performance. The stakes are high for family office leaders to demonstrate the worthiness of an independent office versus allocating family assets to institutional wealth managers. 

Understand the Quest for Impact

Learning how millennials view the world 

The millennial generation is optimistic about the future and believes that individuals can make a difference – to have social, environmental, and even financial impact on their world. But if you happen to be a millennial in the shadow of a “larger-than-life” patriarch, it can be a challenge to find your role to make that difference.  

The Voice of the Rising Generation addresses this subject both thoroughly and thoughtfully. How can succeeding generations find their “voice” and how can they lead meaningful lives? The authors encourage each family member to define his or her dreams, gain self-knowledge, and develop resilience and independence. 

Many who head offices recognize that empowering a succeeding generation is a life-long journey, and they devote a fair amount of time counseling younger family members on their social and emotional well-being. Some of the largest and most mature offices have created a new full-time position in the office, a Life Long Learning Specialist. The goal is to empower each family member, through shared learning experiences, to make an impact with the tools that are uniquely his or hers. The curriculum goes well beyond financial literacy.  

Millennials like to participate in direct private equity or venture investments rather than the more typical investment program where assets are allocated to third party mangers. To be directly involved in crunching the numbers, preparing spreadsheets, and researching industry trends, they feel they will have more impact on the success of the investment. Increasingly, they are involved in launching new entrepreneurial ventures in virtually every segment of the economy. Since millennials love social media and collaboration, it is not a surprise that they have led the growth of crowdfunding, a vehicle for peer-to-peer investment collaboration. Lastly, millennials are strongly behind the growth of social impact investing, where investments are evaluated through environmental, social, and governance lenses, better known as ESG. Such investments aim to achieve both financial returns as well as having a positive impact on society.   

Private family foundations are useful tools to help keep families together and actualize their shared mission. In fact, making an impact through charitable giving is every bit as important today as it has been in previous generations.

However, millennials approach charitable giving in ways that differ from their parents. In general, volunteering or “doing the work,” feels more satisfying to them than writing a check. Another defining millennial behavior is the desire to touch as many people as possible and to hold charities accountable for their promises. An observation made by an executive of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation that was reported in the the Journal of Philanthropy (9/14,2017) succinctly makes this point: “They want to know impact, scale, how many, and how come. They’re engaged to an extent that people of my generation find uncomfortable.” 

In Conclusion

The three strategies discussed above are designed to help family offices achieve the ultimate goal, which is to build trust with a generation that inherently questions tradition and distrusts the established way of doing things. 

As a family leader, ensure that the family mission is always top of mind, and create a governance structure that facilitates the execution of the mission, open dialog, and conflict resolution.                

Learn to communicate to millennials in ways that will reach them in meaningful and memorable ways.

Be ever mindful of the millennial desire to make an impact:  in investing, in philanthropy, and in their lives.  Nurture human capital as diligently as financial capital.

And keep the faith knowing that the millennials are optimistic about the future.  They are committed to making the world better – in their own unique, and sometimes unorthodox style.   

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Jane Bierwirth is co-head of the Asset Management practice. Her clients are traditional and alternative institutional investment firms, endowments, foundations, wealth management firms, and family offices. For all of these clients, she recruits talent in all functional areas including Trustees and all other C-Suite positions. Jane has also been a recognized leader in recruiting talent for family offices for more than 20 years. Our dedicated Family Office team, led by Jane, focuses on attracting best-in-class C-Suite talent in the areas of general management, investment, operations, and client service, and has adapted to the profound growth and transformation of family offices nationwide over the past several decades.

Expect 2024 to Reveal Who is Ready to Lead

Dear Clients and Friends,

2023 was a dynamic and transformative year across the corporate landscape, and so far, we expect this trend to continue in 2024. Leadership in the boardroom and C-Suite has never been more indispensable. From our beginnings as a boutique board advisory firm, to our evolution into a “boardroom-centric” search firm, we are incredibly proud to work with so many companies that believe that great leadership is a competitive advantage, and with candidates who have a genuine and positive impact on the world around them.

One of the ways we celebrate great leadership is with the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award. The Chair of the Year Award was established in 2023 to celebrate the legacy of Russ Reynolds, an icon of the executive search and board recruiting industry. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. As featured in Fortune magazine, the inaugural award was presented to Sarah Nash, Chair of Bath & Body Works, at our annual Directors Dinner in New York in October. We were delighted to recognize Sarah’s extraordinary leadership and character. We hope that many of you will nominate a Chair for the award this year and join us at our Directors Dinner in October.

Our Board practice continues to anchor the firm’s activities and provide enhanced insights and connectivity to assist our executive searches across our core practice areas (Asset ManagementConsumer, and Industrial Technology). Our collaborative approach – a hallmark of our firm – helped bring to light some of the trends we expect to be explored by boards and C-Suite leadership teams in 2024:

We look forward to continuing to assist our clients with their most important, complex, and sensitive leadership and governance concerns in 2024. We believe that RSR Partners is uniquely situated in the industry to provide unparalleled access and insight into top-performing business leaders. In addition to our board recruiting capabilities, we offer our clients a broad set of other Board and CEO services. Should you have any important board or C-Suite leadership needs in the coming year, we would be delighted to share our capabilities and expertise to help you. More importantly, we look forward to our continued friendship with you all. 

With gratitude,

Barrett J. Stephens
Chief Executive Officer
Email | LinkedIn | Bio

A Small Firm with Big Results

When Russ Reynolds founded our firm back in 1994, he knew that “bigger isn’t always better.” And so, he purposely created a boutique firm with a truly collaborative and client first culture, and with a goal of providing our clients with “high touch” service and unbiased advice. We started out in the boardroom, focusing our efforts on recruiting directors. As would later be the case with all of our practices, senior members of our board practice would lead and execute every engagement and handle all candidate interface, assessments, references, and client interaction. Russ anticipated that staying small would prove to have a big and lasting positive impact on our clients and help preserve our client service culture as the firm evolved. He was right. For the past 30 years and still today, we have consistently achieved, and often exceeded, our clients’ recruiting objectives, and have successfully maintained long-lasting and meaningful relationships with them. While we have expanded our offerings to include executive search and a variety of advisory services, board recruiting continues to be at the core of what we do.

The demand for outstanding director talent is as high as ever. This is especially the case when considering corporate boards’ ongoing efforts to maintain the right mix of skills and experience and the right balance of gender and ethnic diversity in their ranks in order to enable them to stay ahead of an everchanging world in which their respective companies compete. Often, boards encounter supply and demand imbalances for certain types of candidates they seek. That’s why it is very important that the board recruiting firm can guarantee access to any and all relevant candidates without any exceptions. That is a promise that we have continued to keep with our clients since our firm’s founding. Given our firm’s size and structure, we purposely conduct a limited and distinct number of search assignments at any given time, and our engagement review and acceptance process ensures that at RSR Partners, there is no competition for candidates amongst our clients.

Our extensive candidate sourcing network continues to expand and advance. We utilize our own database, social networking tools, and other internet-based candidate search technologies (e.g., LinkedIn, BoardEx, etc.) that have leveled the playing field between boutiques and large firms when it comes to candidate identification. All partners from all practices are engaged as well for candidate ideas. As such, we have the ability to identify most any candidate who aligns well with a given profile.

The benefits associated with partnering with us to achieve our clients’ most important recruiting objectives are no better reflected than in the continued success we have had in achieving our clients’ diversity objectives. Since 2021, 86% of our board placements were either gender and/or ethnically diverse (it’s important to point out that diversity was one of a number of criteria each of these placements met).

As a small and agile team, we are also known for our thorough and rapid kick-starts to board recruiting assignments. We have always strived to complete our board searches within four to five months. There have been times when searches have taken longer than anticipated, but we have always completed our assignments and have amassed a 100% placed candidate “stick rate” along the way.

If I had to point to one step in the board search process that we have learned goes a long way toward ensuring a successful outcome, it would be to put a great deal of thought and effort at the beginning of the process into creating the candidate profile. This candidate profile development process should be a collaborative undertaking between the board and their search firm, and it can be completed in a short period of time. It starts with reviewing the director skills and experience matrix in the proxy and interviewing each member of the client’s Board, their Chairman, CEO and, depending on the nature of the search, certain members of the executive leadership team. Interviews focus on what skills and experience are needed in the next director and why, as well as the characteristics that make for a great cultural and chemistry fit on the board. Then, we undertake a comparison of what criteria the board currently possesses and identify gaps, which in turn, helps to refine the candidate profile. It is important to note that the matrix in proxies does not always provide an accurate picture of the degree to which skills and experience reside on the board (i.e., checking the box versus specifying the strength of a particular skill or experience each director indicates they possess using a 1,2 or 3 rating.) The interview process is therefore helpful on several fronts – it provides a deeper understanding of skills and experience that all the directors contribute, determines what the board is looking for in its next director, and creates alignment amongst the board members around the candidate profile.

Before finalizing the candidate profile, we typically review five to ten candidate ideas with our client to get their feedback and confirm we are in agreement. Sometimes adjustments are made after the client has the opportunity to see how the profile on paper materializes in viable candidates. The goal being to create a profile that is both on target and realistic. So, when clients commit to undertaking our candidate profile development process, it almost always leads to a more successful outcome.

As the leader of RSR’s Board Practice for almost two decades, I am proud of our track record in assisting a wide variety of clients – from start-ups and private companies to Fortune 50 corporations – in achieving their board recruiting objectives. We look forward to continuing to partner with existing and new clients and staying true to the principles that Russ established in the early days of our firm:

We continue to be a small firm with big results.

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Carter Burgess is head of the firm’s Board Recruiting practice and a senior member of the Board & CEO Services team. As practice leader, he focuses on director searches, the build-out of entire boards, comprehensive board composition analyses, multi-year succession planning strategies, and board performance assessments for companies in a broad array of industries.

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1994 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare.

Boardroom Trends & Outlook for 2024

Dear Clients and Friends,

As we reflect on 2023 and consider the possibilities for 2024, our Board Practice extends our heartfelt gratitude for your ongoing trust and support. It has been a dynamic and transformative year for the corporate landscape, and we are delighted to have navigated it alongside you. Leadership in the boardroom and C-Suite is simply indispensable.

In 2023 we initiated the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chairman of the Year Award. The Chair of the Year Award was established to celebrate the legacy of one of the search industry’s greatest leaders and icons, Russ Reynolds, who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a public company Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. As featured in Fortune magazine, the inaugural award was presented to Sarah Nash, Chair of Bath & Body Works, at our annual Directors Dinner in New York in October. Sarah demonstrated remarkable leadership juggling a spin-out of Victoria’s Secret, managing a CEO succession, handling activists as well as other business challenges all seemingly simultaneously. We were delighted to recognize her extraordinary governance and business guidance. We hope that many of you will join us for next year’s Directors Dinner and Chair of the Year Award.

Throughout 2023, the RSR Board Practice continued to act as the heart of our firm, not only assisting a wide range of clients with their critical governance related needs, but also informing and distinguishing our executive recruiting efforts. As we reflect on the coming year, we have several thoughts on governance issues that we expect to be at top of mind in boardrooms in 2024:

We look forward to continuing to assist our clients with their most important, complex, and sensitive leadership and governance concerns in 2024. We believe that RSR Partners is uniquely situated in the industry to provide unparalleled access to and insight into top-performing business leaders. In addition to our board recruiting capabilities, we offer our clients a broad set of other Board and CEO services. Should you have any important board or C-Suite leadership needs in the coming year, we would be delighted to share our insight and expertise to help you. More importantly, we look forward to our continued friendship with you all. 

Asset Management Year-End Newsletter

Grateful. Thankful. Optimistic.

Given the turmoil in the world around us, we can’t help but be more reflective and thankful at this time of year. We are grateful for family and the relationships in our lives. We are thankful for our wonderful clients and those candidates with whom we have partnered. We are optimistic about the new year ahead of us.

As another successful year in search concludes and we look back on 2023, we are sharing below some observations made during the course of our work. We always welcome a conversation with you whether it’s a quick hello or to discuss any specific needs of your organization. Our team looks forward to staying in touch in 2024!







Independent Trustees
for $150B Mutual Fund Board
Executive Chairman
for $30B OCIO
for $1B Endowment
for $14B Endowment
for Family Office for a Technology Billionaire
Managing Director, Public Investments
for $3.5B Foundation
Director of Portfolio Analytics
for $8B Endowment
for a $3B Foundation
Senior Investment Manager, Private Investments
for $25B Endowment
Managing Director, Private Investments
for $4B Foundation
Independent Trustees
for $450B Mutual Fund Board
Managing Director of Public Investments
for a Private Investment Fund/Family Office
for Family Office for a Technology Billionaire
Director of Healthcare Investing
for $8B Endowment
Head of Client Portfolio Management
for $50B Private Bank/wealth manager
Director of Finance
for Family Office for a Private Equity Firm Founder
Investment Officer
for $50B Wealth Manager
Independent Trustee
for $100B Mutual Fund Board
Investment Director – Operations
for $8B Foundation
Co-Head of Research
for $50B Wealth Manager
Director of Operational Due Diligence
for $20B Foundation
Heads of Marketing and of National Accounts
for a $1T+ Global Asset Manager
for a $11B Secondary Private Equity Firm
for Multi-Billion-Dollar Family Office

Insider’s Perspective: Selecting Your Next Chief Investment Officer

Finding the right Chief Investment Officer (CIO) for a family office has become more complex over the past several years. From our experience working with a wide range of well-established to newly developed family offices, we have found an interesting trend emerging among the most effective CIOs in the marketplace. While undoubtably investment acumen and intelligence are paramount, there are three leadership behaviors and characteristics we have found that ultimately determine the fit and success of a CIO within a family office.

Selecting the right CIO for a family office requires a careful balance of technical ability and personal qualities. The ideal candidate will align with the family’s vision and values, fit well within the unique culture of the family office, possess a mix of broad business skills and specialized expertise, and demonstrate strong leadership, strategic vision, and empathy. These characteristics will help ensure that the new CIO can successfully manage the family’s wealth and contribute positively to the family office’s long-term financial and non-financial goals.

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Brett Stephens is the CEO of RSR Partners and helps lead the firm’s Board & CEO Services and Jane Bierwirth is the Head of the firm’s Family Office Practice.  

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1993 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses. The firm’s Asset Management Practice, which builds upon the legacy of Higdon Partners and its 30-plus years of experience, has become a premier asset management search and advisory team uniquely positioned to address the changing leadership needs of the $100 trillion asset management industry.

Boardroom Imperative: The Search for More Board Leaders

‘Tis the season for public companies to approach prospective director candidates about joining their boards at next year’s annual meetings. Over the past several years, companies have done a good job at identifying what board member capabilities they need to address the challenges they foresee ahead. The constructive tension and pressure from stakeholder capitalism has made sure boards prioritize diversifying their composition and expertise. But like sports teams that try to build a team around a collection of star talent, boards are only as strong as their culture.

From our 30 years of working with Fortune 10 to pre-IPO boards, their effectiveness is predicated on how—and how well—their board leaders lead. The best can harness the individual talents of their fellow directors to create the necessary decision-making aperture and constructive tension that allows for the best possible decisions.  While admittedly there are individuals who have the unique and innate ability to lead other leaders, many of the most impactful board and committee chairs have developed their approach through hard work, agility, accessibility, courage, humility, and integrity.

As corporate boards continue to evaluate and add new directors, it is important for nominating committees to prioritize how candidates learn, adapt, and overcome as much as focusing on their past accomplishments. From our recent survey of public company directors, we highlight the best practices of great board leaders. We hope this will serve as a guidepost to build and enhance your own boardroom culture.

1. Establishing a Culture of Trust and Embracing Diversity of Viewpoints: The most impactful and revered board members can foster a board culture where trust and constructive discourse are paramount. This involves creating an environment where diverse opinions are valued and where challenging discussions can occur without fear of retribution. It’s about harnessing the collective wisdom of the board to make the best decisions possible. In today’s globalized business environment, embracing diversity of thought is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one.

2. Engaging Deeply in Strategy and Providing an ‘Outside View’: Successful boards are deeply engaged in various aspects such as strategy, digital integration, M&A, risk management, talent development, IT, and marketing. They contribute significantly by providing an ‘outside view’ to strategy and challenging the strategic alternatives presented by management. This requires directors to offer guidance and constructive feedback, ensuring that the company’s strategic direction benefits from diverse perspectives.  This is only possible if board members are avid and continuous learners who can connect the lessons of the past with the current trends and issues facing companies today. 

3. Objectivity and Big-Picture Mindset: A director must be objective and possess a big-picture mindset. It’s essential for board members to be future-ready and have the courage and decisiveness to make high-quality decisions on pressing strategic issues. A great director steers the board’s attention to these critical strategic issues and potential risks, balancing short-term and long-term perspectives.

The role of a director as a leader on the board is multi-dimensional and requires a blend of strategic insight, objective decision-making, courage, and the ability to foster a culture of trust and inclusivity. By embodying these qualities, directors can significantly contribute to the success and resilience of their organizations, steering them towards a sustainable and prosperous future. Boards looking to enhance their effectiveness would do well to cultivate these traits or prioritize them during the selection process, ensuring their directors are equipped to navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of our business world.

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Brett Stephens is the CEO of RSR Partners and helps lead the firm’s Board & CEO Services

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1993 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.

Chief Supply Chain Officer Imperative: Anticipate and Plan for Disruption

Whether you call the role Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), or some variation, someone needs to be responsible for leading all extended supply chain processes for any enterprise producing physical goods. Moreover, this person must be a full strategic partner with the CEO, CFO, and other members of the C-suite. They are responsible for the lion’s share of enterprise cost and capital spending. Historically, many organizations failed to recognize the need for a “strategic-minded” CSCO.

For the last several decades, manufacturing businesses and their supply chain leaders focused relentlessly on driving cost out of the system. This led to a massive shift in manufacturing and sourcing to lower cost regions, particularly China, in pursuit of lower production cost. It also led to consolidating vendor bases, including increased sole sourcing, in return for lower prices from suppliers and just-in-time production which drove down inventory investment requirements.

This drive for lower cost worked well when conditions were relatively stable. Customers received lower prices, shareholders owned a more profitable business with higher returns for their investment, and employees worked in a growing business with more career opportunities. What was not well recognized was the added risk the enterprise assumed. Sourcing and manufacturing in Asia lengthened supply chains and made them more vulnerable to transportation disruptions. Consolidating vendors increased exposure to supplier outages. Reliance on China increased political risk. Just-in-time manufacturing eliminated inventory which could serve as a buffer to absorb mismatches between supply and demand. Occasional disruptions in one or another of these dimensions occurred and companies scrambled to address them. Few had risk mitigation plans in place ready to deploy, and most were treated as one-off events. Then the covid pandemic hit, which clearly exposed the inherent risks companies had assumed in adopting the low-cost supply chain strategies of the last 40 years. While the drive to low cost was a “strategy” many pursued, companies did not think strategically about the potential unintended consequences.

Companies should not think of the pandemic as a once-in-a-century event and revert to business as usual. Disruptions have been, and will continue to be, a fact of life for manufacturers. The McKinsey Global Institute has studied the history of supply chain disruptions and their effect on business results. They estimate companies lose 45% of one year’s EBITDA to supply chain disruptions over the course of a decade. Historically, corporate responses to supply chain disruptions have been reactive. Recent disruptions have clearly illuminated the imperative for creating and maintaining operational resilience. What does this mean for the next generation of CSCOs?

Apart from the leadership and strategic skills required of any C-suite executive, perhaps the most important skill required of today’s CSCO is that of an underwriter. Underwriters, be they insurance, investment banking, commercial banking, or other, evaluate the risk involved in a particular activity, asset, or person and set a “price” appropriate to the risk. As we saw during the pandemic and its aftermath, most CSCOs failed as underwriters. They did not appreciate the risks they were bearing and had not taken necessary steps to “insure” against those risks. As a result, supply chains broke for extended periods—inventory did not arrive when needed, factories closed, customers did not receive their orders, and consumers saw bare shelves and empty lots.

As we have seen over the last three or four years, most companies were unprepared for pandemic risk, geopolitical risk, weather risk, et cetera, much less having the compounding effects of these risk occurring simultaneously. Insurance underwriters tend to think of risk along two dimensions: frequency (how often a loss is likely to occur) and severity (how expensive a loss is likely to be). Low frequency, high severity risks are the most difficult to predict and insure. To protect against these catastrophic events, insurers often purchase catastrophe coverage to protect themselves from existential losses. Manufacturers had not understood the extent of their exposure to “catastrophes.” Consequently, they did not have risk mitigation measures (insurance) in place and suffered greatly for it as suppliers in global markets shut down and transportation infrastructure became clogged.

To mitigate these very real but previously poorly perceived risks, many are now rethinking their global supply chain strategies with an emphasis on creating supply chain resilience. This has included reshoring and near shoring critical manufacturing infrastructure; deploying digital supply chain solutions to speed information flow and decision making; diversifying sourcing partnerships; and investing in critical inventory. Manufacturers are now actively assessing the broad range of integrated supply chain risks they face, quantifying the exposure they have to disruption, and making the necessary investments and other actions to mitigate these risks. This requires new skills on the part of the CSCO and full partnership in strategic decision making with the rest of the C-suite.

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Don McMurchy is a senior member of the Industrial Technology practice, driving execution across a broad range of senior leadership roles for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 50 enterprises. Based in Cleveland, his engagements are typically continental in scope with additional experience in Asia and Europe.

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1994 by industry icon, Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.

Sarah E. Nash Receives Inaugural Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award

Greenwich, Conn., October 26, 2023 RSR Partners, a leading board and executive search firm, presented the inaugural Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award to Sarah E. Nash, Chair of the board of Bath & Body Works. The award was presented to Sarah at the firm’s annual Directors Dinner in New York City on October 25, 2023.

The Chair of the Year Award was established to celebrate the legacy of one of the search industry’s greatest leaders and icons, Russ Reynolds, who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a public company Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. The winner of this year’s award was chosen from more than 30 nominations by an independent selection committee comprised of renowned experts in their fields, including Mikaela Boyd, Nik Deogun, Ed Kangas, Kim Lew, Christie Smith, and Brett Stephens.

“Sarah led the Bath & Body Works board through an incredible governance and business transformation,” said Kim Lew, a member of the selection committee. “Her accomplishments include leading the spin-off of Victoria’s Secret; collaborating with the nominating and governance committee on the recruitment of exceptional and highly diverse talent to the board of Bath & Body Works and the new board of Victoria’s Secret; navigating a successful CEO transition and selection process; and building a constructive path forward after an activist campaign. The leadership and integrity exhibited by Sarah is an example of how important board leadership is during times of turbulence. She is very worthy of this award.”

“This award recognizes Sarah’s extraordinary leadership, dedication and service to Bath & Body Works over the past few years,” said Steve Steinour, Chair of the Bath & Body Works Audit Committee. “Sarah served as Bath & Body Works’ Interim CEO with very short notice, where she played a pivotal role in the company’s transformation with its spin-off of Victoria’s Secret. During her tenure, Sarah has exemplified strong business acumen including leading a successful shareholder derivative settlement and navigating a complex supply chain reset with partners. She has exemplary people management skills such as overseeing multiple chief executive officer transitions, recruitment efforts for eight board members, and leading the company during the onset of COVID. We are grateful for her contributions and leadership since her assumption of the role of chair in May 2020.”   

“I’m incredibly proud of my fellow directors and the leadership team at Bath & Body Works,” stated Sarah. “They have shown irrefutable dedication to the vision we all share for this company. Their input and support throughout this past year was invaluable, and we have much to look forward to. I am also grateful to be recognized by an award that pays tribute to Russ, his legacy, and his impact on how board leadership is viewed and valued.”

“Sarah’s terrific,” commented Russ. “She possesses the characteristics of a great leader. She is objective, open to advice, decisive, and a good communicator. She operates with integrity and puts the company’s and others’ needs ahead of her own. I also started my career at JP Morgan, so I was particularly thrilled to see we share a fondness for finance and banking. I look forward to seeing how Sarah develops as a board leader and continuing to celebrate her achievements.”

About Russell S. Reynolds, Jr.

Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. (“Russ”) is an American business executive, author, and founder of two of the search industry’s most prominent firms. Considered one of the pioneers of the executive search and board recruiting profession, Russ has counseled the boards and CEOs of many of the world’s leading companies over the past 50 years. In 1969, he founded Russell Reynolds Associates, which soon became one of the world’s foremost international executive recruiting firms. Russ sold his interest in the firm in 1993. In 1994, Russ founded the Directorship Group, later named RSR Partners, where he served as Founder and Chairman until 2022.

About Sarah E. Nash

Sarah E. Nash has served as Chair of the board of Bath & Body Works, Inc. since January 28, 2023. She served as Executive Chair of Bath & Body Works, Inc. from February 2022 to January 2023 and as the Interim Chief Executive Officer from May to November 2022. Prior to being appointed Executive Chair, she served as Chair of the board between May 2020 and February 2022 after having joined the board as an independent director in May 2019. Sarah is also Chief Executive Officer and owner of privately held Novagard Solutions, an innovator and manufacturer of silicone sealants and coatings and hybrid and foam solutions for the Building Systems, Electronics, EV and Battery and Industrial and Transportation markets.

Sarah spent nearly 30 years in investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (and predecessor companies), a financial services firm, retiring as Vice Chairman of Global Investment Banking in July 2005. She served on the board of directors of Knoll, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of lifestyle and workplace furnishing, textiles and fine leathers, from 2006 through its acquisition by Herman Miller, Inc. in 2021 and privately held Irving Oil Company through March 2022.

Sarah currently serves on the boards of directors of Blackbaud, Inc., a software company providing technology solutions for the not-for-profit industry, and privately held HBD Industries, Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of general purpose and application-engineered industrial products. Sarah is Trustee of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Panama and the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She also served as a member of the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution through 2022. Sarah holds a BA in political science from Vassar College.

About the Chair of the Year Award

RSR Partners announced the establishment of the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award in October of 2022. The award will annually recognize the Chair of a public company’s Board of Directors that has successfully led the board through significant business or governance challenges. The award celebrates the legacy of Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. (“Russ”), who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership and governance.

To be eligible for the award, a nominee must serve as a Chair of a board of directors at a U.S. public company with revenue or market cap greater than $1 billion. The nomination period takes place from August through September. The winner of the award will be chosen by an independent committee comprised of renowned experts in the areas of strategy, finance, strategic communications, shareholder activism defense, investment management, human capital consulting, and corporate governance. This year’s committee included:

More information about the award can be found at:


Lindsay Griesmeyer
+1 (203) 618-7076             

The Divergent Voice: A CEO Formula for the Current Fog of Business

Peter Drucker was a wise sage. Many companies and even some industries have evolved to greatness thanks to his contributions to management thought. Despite his gifted prescience, Drucker could never have imagined the current environment, nor the unexpected journey through which Covid has taken each and every business. Still, a quote from Drucker rings true: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Every business leader seeks to understand the current environmental factors and the future of the marketplace. To that point, operating plans consistently open with a view of the present market conditions and a prediction of those to come. It took a pandemic to teach us that our clairvoyant skills are lacking. Even now, we have no idea if our economy is heading into hyper-inflation, recession, or a soft landing. In a time that Drucker refers to as “yesterday,” the conventional wisdom among the wise CEOs would have been to move to a phase of business preparation, anticipating the challenges of the market situation to come. Let’s call this “managing according to maintenance objectives:” optimizing the chances for retention of current state with plenty of emphasis on contingent planning.

In essence, lifeboat management.  

I offer here my thoughts on a different prescription. Keeping with the nautical metaphor, I appreciate the words of Union Naval Admiral Farragut when he said, “Damn the torpedoes!” Are there any lessons to be applied from the fog of war to the current fog of business? I speculate that today’s CEO Farragut would state unequivocally that success is not about survival or maintenance management. Rather, he’d call it seizing greater initiative while expecting inevitable risk.

Having the good fortune to know many great CEOs who would emulate Farragut, I perceive a common denominator among them. It is an insatiable, often unassailable drive to achieve breakout growth for their business, environmental factors notwithstanding. Their passion is palpable, sometimes in visible relief and sometimes not, but always motivating them to find seams and ingredients and synergies for sustainable surges of growth. To many casual witnesses, the business aspirations are almost unimaginable. However, it’s precisely the CEO’s imaginings that seem to prompt the urge to break through the fog, to lead with abandon.

When was the last time you witnessed someone whom you’d describe as an executive who leads with abandon?

In observing these CEOs and their teams, I have come to recognize some common elements that I’ll call the “formula.” These include some leader qualities and some new items of process thinking. These include: a spirit of adventure; a fresh way of expressing vision; a continuous attitude of nimbleness; an approach to embedding strategy as “water cooler” conversation; and a more flexible way to think about organization structure to meet market needs and opportunities.

The Courage to Pioneer

Serving as a business leader in today’s environment is tricky. The most effective CEOs seem to exhibit a pioneering spirit, like Paul Bunyan’s courage to wield a mighty axe for cutting new paths ahead. And it isn’t just a market share strategy in the minds of these few, but a desire to drive demand, to expand markets, to capture much more than their fair share of growth in categories, markets, and channels. Despite the reality of tightening/high-interest money, markets full of ambiguity, and the sequential pressure of business targets that keep approaching at high speed, conservatism does not rule among the best in breed, often called “pacesetters” in today’s lingo.

I see new shoots of growth among many companies, largely because their CEOs are continuously acting in a contrarian fashion compared to competitors. This behavior often includes rapid refinements in market and channel strategies to secure fresh growth in adjacencies, digital initiative to reach new customers and find new supply chain efficiencies, a redirecting of investments from over-mined markets into new product and new market innovation, rethinking the diversity of the business model to capture new opportunities through added services and e-commerce, and even nimbly and rapidly partnering with other companies to gain resources needed to tackle previously inaccessible customer needs, or to create new needs that haven’t yet been articulated. Budgets in some of these progressive businesses are also being shifted from process improvements to commercial innovation.

These pioneer CEOs are taking advantage of market pressures that slow some competitors. As such, their enterprises can leapfrog to future state.

Destiny and Destinational Planning

To many of these great executives, the most significant current question is not “how?” but “what?” That’s to say they often refine and sharpen their view of “what” the future looks like. They have full conviction in the capabilities of their teams and companies in determining their own destiny. Forget about incremental growth plans. Their thinking is not grounded in a cement mentality reflecting the business position of today. They formulate a vision of their business’s destination for tomorrow, more specifically, the overall objectives for two or four or even more years down the road. And they are not afraid to refine along the way or to think bigger if so inspired. Their process for planning and action is based on the “destinational” vision: a longer-term deliverable and a working backwards to define intermediate milestones as well as the related hurdles of consequence along the way.

Once that rock-strewn path is determined, then the focus of attention becomes about resourcing, i.e., what resources do we need to eliminate the obstacles? The tactics of execution spill out from there, and always with precision in mind.

Agility and Flexibility

I’ve alluded to the need for many businesses to undertake occasional refinement/continuous improvement. That’s probably a euphemism; most companies these days need much more than refinement, they need overhaul. Just ask a banker how their industry is prepared for challenges in 2023 and 2024. You may see some uneasy stares. Corporations and even small companies mired in entrenched systems, conventions, and processes rather than market foresight for the future, will likely begin to feel rapid decay over time.

Recently, I spoke at some length with two very senior operating partners at a successful and prominent middle market private equity shop in New York City. Their stature and growth suggest they are big thinkers and unusually thoughtful. That was quickly borne out in the conversation which was a by-exception dialogue, meaning we only discussed bold thinking for an hour. As we traded perspectives on the distinctions between today’s good CEOs and those who are truly great, we continued to circle back to their overriding hypothesis. The best CEOs at this moment in time are those who demonstrate “clear ability to pivot.” This needn’t be expanded upon at this juncture, as it is the fodder for another post, but ponder the point and consider how it applies to the strategy discussions around most of today’s boardroom tables which appear sleepy in contrast.

One last point on pivoting. I have a fervent view that companies today must have something called “organizational elasticity.” During the intensity of Covid, we all heard how business cultures need “resilience.” But I see resilience as an ingredient of foundation, namely, an ability to withstand unusual and extreme pressures.

“Elasticity,” on the other hand, is more about flexibility and the rubber-band stretch that a leadership contingent and their teams can withstand, bend with, and rebound as new space is explored and tested. The pioneering I have highlighted cannot be undertaken unless the organization has the mental preparedness and curiosity to peruse new forks in the road, to make some probes of reconnaissance, and to recover to a stable track if the diversions prove unproductive. Organizational elasticity requires all in a company to understand and agree to the attendant nimbleness of the journey. Change that finds a more open and faster-lane approach should be embraced. Rigidity should be institutionalized in mission-commitment, core values, and collaborative interest, not in growth initiatives, organizational dynamics, or processes.

The Compression of Strategy

The best CEOs are redefining strategy. In a classic sense, strategy has normally meant an articulation of direction for the long term, indicating dimensions of both azimuth and time. I’ve already addressed direction in the pioneering sense. But we now find highly successful CEOs and leadership teams who have compressed the strategic timeline into more tactical timelines. They ask questions like, why should this initiative take 3 years? Why can’t we achieve the same course correction in 3 months?

Incidentally, when was the last time the company reported upon the achievement of the long-term objectives that it set forth 5 years earlier? What’s the purpose of a long-range plan anyway, other than some vague hopes of where we seek to be in a few years? There’s nothing wrong with that, except it’s fictional when companies apply the metrics and objectives that they really don’t expect to discuss at the end of the journey. I’ve already addressed that topic in the explanation of destinational planning.

Organizational Implications

We all have seen a variety of corporate org charts that generally depict conventional details like seniority, pecking order, and lines of responsibility. Such mappings are not unimportant. “Org Charts” in my humble opinion are soon to be artifacts of past companies and cultures. Those leaders who are maneuvering through the fog these days are doing so with gusto, and most are thinking of their organizations as competitive teams, not silos and compartmentalized ownership and reporting lines. Great teams think about overall team objectives first, recognizing they have a variety of star players to carry the ball, and the teams make the distinction between who’s on the field (or the “floor”) and who’s on the bench, and sometimes the substituting happens at a moment’s notice depending upon the tenor and sway of the game’s score and the intuition and judgment of the coach.

Which makes you question: how do such companies keep straight their HR design and structure?

The future-leaning answer is they don’t, primarily because their teams are organized in a fluid fashion around the strategic growth issues of their company, not around units, functions, and roles. Think project and program management, for example, with constant asset deployment and redeployment. There’s a necessary fluidity required to stay ahead of market circumstances to achieve aspirational objectives. More to come on this very critical org piece in an upcoming post. Drucker was not only clairvoyant in realizing the danger of “yesterday’s logic,” but he was giving a clear warning to the hidebound CEOs who think that lifeboat or playbook management is the key to success. The very best of the pacesetters are making up some things as they go about the business of working to achieve the unimaginable. Managing a company in a dynamic foggy market is the “Wheaties” of today’s most athletic and most organizationally ambitious CEOs.

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Alan Renne leads the firm’s Industrial Technology practice and is a key member of the firm’s Board and CEO Services team. Alan specializes in helping companies build competence and effectiveness within their leadership teams and at the board level. He has advised numerous organizations and C-Suite executives on leadership development, succession planning, and organizational design and development.

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1994 by industry icon, Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.