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Recruiting for the SFO

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Paul Pratt explains the importance of the right ‘fit’

Most single family office executives will readily agree that it is difficult to find the right employee to come into the office who fits on a professional, personal and cultural basis. It is quite straightforward to ascertain if someone has the professional skills to do the job, but considerably harder to outline and assess if they will be the right ‘fit’ for the office. Typically most offices are looking for a good ‘all-rounder’ and this is very hard to define from office to office.

The best way to define the ‘all-rounder’ is someone who has the ability to deliver all the technical requirements of the role while having the personal characteristics to serve a demanding client base. Working in an SFO is not for everyone and identifying the right candidates can be a drain on the resources of an already stretched team, which means sometimes not enough thought or preparation is taken before starting the recruitment process. The purpose of this article is to deliver guidance on
some of the things you should be considering or applying when looking to bring in a new staff member into your SFO.

Identifying what you need

This is critical to the successful conclusion of your recruiting process. You should have a disciplined approach to hiring of staff. You should have a realistic time frame and put adequate resources behind the process, whether you are looking to use an external recruiter or manage the process internally. At the outset it might seem like a considerable amount of work, but a small investment now avoids the considerable cost of managing a disruptive situation if you make a bad appointment. You need to compile a detailed job description, the main things to include when drafting this are:

• Brief description.
• List of responsibilities.
• Base and bonus remuneration.
• What career progression is on offer?
• What training and development opportunities come with the role?

You then need to outline a set of requirements you have for the role:
• What technical skills does the role require?
• What level of experience does this role demand?
• What personal characteristics do you need?
• What softer skills does this new person need and how do you assess this?
• How do you define the culture of the office and the family and how the new person will fit into this?

Where to source the best candidates

The Single Family Office world is discreet by nature so identifying and engaging potential candidates for your new role can be challenging. There are a small number of recruitment specialists working in this market that have an existing talent pool of SFO executives. It is advisable to have a job description and compensation in mind before approaching these. One of the benefits of approaching a recruitment specialist is the ability to test your compensation package against the broader market place. This is critical to ensure you don’t ‘over’ or ‘under’ pay for the role.

You may consider using people you have already worked with, or that perhaps have been recommended by family members. There is no hard and fast rule, but remember to apply the identifying approach outlined in the previous paragraph to ensure you get the best possible ‘fit’.

Assessing Candidates

Once you have identified candidates that ‘fit’ your criteria, there are a number of actions you need to take in order to assess their suitability for the role, their background and their character. Most single family offices will do some of the following, we would advise you to consider using all of the following steps in order to minimise the risk to you and the family and maximise your chances of success:

• Check all references (face to face where possible)
• Make further reference checks on senior hires (beyond those given by the candidate)
• Get direct Family references where possible (although harder to achieve)
• Do background checks on candidates (more checks the more senior the hire, although all staff will have access to the family and its belongings).

The Interview Process

• Confirm at the outset when the family will (or won’t) get involved in the interview process and at what stage
• Use real-life examples to test the candidate’s ability to deal with situations
• Consider using Psychometric testing to assess how people perceive the world and make decisions
• Outline the transition between moving from a corporate culture into an SFO culture (which can be more fluid with greater demands on the individual).

Who is the best ‘fit?’

The SFO needs to attract skilled personnel that are typically good all-rounders and ‘fit the office and the family’s culture. However, it can be difficult to convey what this ‘fit’ is in order to attract the best candidate. Clearly it is worth taking the time at the start of the recruitment process to put the right resources behind attracting the best candidate.

It makes sense to have a structured approach to hiring new staff by using multiple references, vetting checks, security checks and interviews to assess new candidates. Use the following check list when recruiting for new staff:

• Follow a mandate-driven approach to recruitment, identify the specific needs in the office and create the role accordingly
• Create detailed job description tied to the goals of the SFO, with clear key performance indicators, training, induction process, remuneration and bonus structures
• Consider Security and vetting procedures of all staff
• Undertake detailed reference checking (more than two and done over phone/face to face where possible)
• Have a clear process for interviewing and when to include principals
• Define the family culture and explain your family culture fit
• Describe any limitations of the role in terms of promotion and training (if there are any).

While a process-driven approach will avoid most of the pitfalls, remember you are bringing an individual into a small team that you run, so you are in the best position to make the judgement call on whether your candidate will ‘fit’ the office and family culture and be the ‘all-rounder’ you are looking for.