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.   

# # #

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

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

Reflections on an Impactful Year

Dear Clients and Friends,                                                                        

We appreciate your continued trust and support. Without the confidence of our valued, long-standing clients and friends, we would not be able to do what we love. As 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of RSR Partners, the new year presents an opportunity to share with you our reflections upon our firm and the marketplace.

In 1993, our Founder, Russ Reynolds, embarked on a journey to create a new firm that was distinct from his first, Russell Reynolds Associates. RSR Partners began as a small board advisory firm, initially well-regarded for its Directorship publication, which is now owned by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). Over time, our firm has grown and evolved to become one of the premier board recruiting and executive search firms engaged by boards and CEOs to advise them on their most important and sensitive search needs. We are unique in our boardroom vantage point, our ability to be selective, and access to the wisdom of an industry icon who acts as our beacon regarding what makes great leaders.

2022 was another productive and impactful year for our firm and our clients and candidates. While our board search and advisory practices continue to be the backbone of the firm, our C-Suite search expertise was utilized across a myriad of industries and situations. Additionally, the firm marked an important milestone this summer when Todd Ruppert seamlessly transitioned into the role of our Chairman, succeeding Russ Reynolds, who continues to provide us with advice and counsel. We were also excited to have Eric Douglas Keene and Dick Hoag join the firm to continue to strengthen the board and CEO services we provide for industrial, consumer, and financial services clients.

As most of our client engagements are confidential, complex, and highly sensitive, we are unable to publicly promote the details around these successes. That said, we are seeing not only an increased demand for our services, but also a growing demand for boards to enhance their capabilities and effectiveness, and for CEOs to address specific gaps in their leadership team.

Some recent examples include:

We see tremendous opportunity for leaders to rise to the occasion in these still uncertain times. Our society must continue to seek out and support individuals who have the potential to become great leaders, especially with an eye towards the diversity of thought that continues to shape our cultural fabric. Successful companies and communities are only created by having the right people, which continues to be our quest for our firm and for our clients.

We look forward to our anniversary this December with pride in our firm’s past and confidence in its future. In the event you have a sensitive board or executive search needs in the coming year, we would be happy to discuss the situation in confidence.

We wish you and your colleagues much success in 2023 and beyond.

Barrett J. Stephens
Chief Executive Officer 
O: +1 (203) 618-7022