I recently sat down with Angelo Robles, the founder and CEO of the Greenwich, Conn.-based Family Office Association (FOA), and the industry organization’s new president, G. Ryan Ansin, to get their insights into what makes wealthy families tick and what it takes to create a multigenerational family dialogue.

Grove: Angelo, you founded FOA roughly five years ago. What have you learned since then about working with wealthy families?

Robles: The critical elements are providing a global forum or community of people with shared experiences and challenges, supplemented by content that stimulates thinking and conversation, which we try to facilitate at all of our events. Beyond that, the universal skills needed to service these types of families starts with asking, listening and executing on what they want and what keeps them up at night.

Grove: Why is engaging families so challenging and what have you done to make it easier?

Robles: Engaging varying generations, whether it’s within an extended family or the family office, can be difficult for all types of service providers. We’ve found that core interests and preferred methods of interaction affect the degree of engagement and those typically vary by individual and age range and other key demographics. It’s one of the reasons we created the NextGen Entrepreneurship program.

Grove: What can you tell us about the NextGen initiative?
Robles: I think the modern day equivalent of the ‘60s and ‘70s garage bands is the start-up. It’s not just for the cool factor either. Some of those early bands changed the future of music and the music industry and I think today’s start-ups have the ability to transform business in so many ways down the road. Our families are enthusiastic about entrepreneurship and kindling that spirit among their children and grandchildren, especially if they’ve had their own unique experiences and successes in this area. Our goal is to help 15- to 24-year olds engage in a hands-on creative pursuit backed by the appropriate academic and mentoring support. We’ve assembled an impressive roster of business leaders and entrepreneurs and expect the program participants will come away with a deeper understanding of money, business and their own family’s legacy, not to mention an amazing network of contacts.

Grove: The disconnect between generations is a dilemma that’s plagued families and the financial industry for decades. What do you think needs to be done to help bridge the communications gap?

Ansin: The most frustrating aspect for me is the continued separation between kids and adults. For instance, the U.N. General Assembly occurs on one side of town and a global Next Gen conference on the other. Meanwhile, families of wealth are constantly asking the question “How do we get our kids aligned with what is going on in the family office so they can be productive influencers?” To me, the opportunity is in breaking down the divides between generations, effectively losing the notion of the "kids’ table.” The dialogue between generations needs to be unified.

Grove: The FOA has become known for its meetings where families and their representatives can hear directly from some of the leading thinkers in the investment arena. Will this change with your new focus on attracting younger members?
Robles: Since our inception, I’ve been privileged to share the stage with a veritable pantheon of legends from the investment and business communities—people like financier Michael Milken, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and economist Nouriel Roubini. While investments will continue to be a core focus for FOA and its members, our vision has expanded significantly with our membership. We’re creating a series of exclusive events for wealthy families that draws from the success of iconic events such as the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the TED Conference. We will address a broader cross-section of topics that appeal to a wider range of people—things like technology, geopolitics, communications, impact investing and social mobility. By pairing productive and influential wealth-holders with visionary thinking and industry leaders, we can provoke the dialogue and action that can change the world and deliver immeasurable value to our members.

Grove: Can you tell us about your next event?

Robles: It’s our Global Spring Summit, which is slated for April 9-10 at the Westchester Country Club. We’ve got an incredible lineup of speakers that includes former U.S. Army general and presidential candidate Wesley Clark; David Rubenstein, the founder of the Carlyle Group private equity firm; and Walter O’Brien, one of the world’s leading experts in artificial intelligence. We’re so confident in the quality of our program and our future direction that, for the first time in our history, we’ll be opening the doors to non-members so they can experience the benefits of membership first-hand.

Grove: Why did you hire a 26-year-old from the non-profit sector to be the new president of FOA?
Robles: Last fall I had an epiphany of sorts—that we’ll never be able to make the necessary cultural changes without having a leadership team that embodies the very qualities and communities we want to attract. Ryan shares a similar background with many of our members, but perhaps more importantly, he has a global mindset and is focused on collaboration, purpose and results. The fact that he also has a track record as a successful social entrepreneur is just a bonus.

Grove: Ryan, as the new president of the FOA, what are your top priorities for 2014?

Ansin: My top priority is to bring the most productive and capable families from around the world together and create dialogue that will lead to development, business, deeper relationships and positive change. FOA's current membership is in a position to be incredibly productive. I want the people who attend our forums to leave enlightened and prepared to take on a new challenge. All too often, bright ideas never get implemented, but that can change with a single, aligned individual who embodies the qualities, capacity and complimentary networks to get the job or deal done. I want to make sure that the ideas and the individuals find each other.

Grove: Your background includes starting an open-source initiative in Africa that has spread to 12 countries and, more recently, organizing an impact investing opportunity in Sierra Leone. How will your experiences contribute to your work at FOA?

Ansin: As a teenager, I started traveling the world helping organizations connect with their donor bases through film and photography. This allowed me to understand how development efforts can be effective, where there is waste, where non-profit models flourish and where socially conscious for-profit initiatives make more sense. I saw a massive amount of failure and a great deal of money thrown away by some of the world’s most successful families. My on-the-ground experience has and will help guide families as they evaluate causes, investments and areas of the world where their resources can have a lasting impact.

I’ve also started non-profit and for-profit ventures and initiated programs on multiple continents, so my perspective can be quite helpful to those getting into the business world or expanding into territories such as Africa or Southeast Asia. Success in these areas is so driven by understanding, respecting and adhering to local cultures that it takes a keen eye and experience on the ground to really understand it.

Grove: What observations can you make from your global travels that are pertinent to family offices and the professionals who serve them?

Ansin: One thing I’ve found interesting is that in areas with a great deal of emerging wealth, when a group of family offices convenes, it’s the principals that make the trip. In the U.S., it’s the executives who usually attend such events. The family office space is still fairly new to a lot of these emerging markets, so family members are seeking a higher level of understanding and control.

Grove: As the face of wealth changes—for instance, there are more female billionaires than ever before—how important is diversity to the future of FOA?

Ansin: Another big priority of mine is to help a much more diverse group to come together at FOA. We are all missing a great opportunity to live a truly rich life if we remain isolated by where we live, what industry we work in or with whom we grew up. We are excited to be a place where people from all over the world can come together. So many family offices are looking to invest in the United States, there’s no reason why FOA should not be the place they turn to for best practices and to share in the opportunities that cross our desks each day. The reverse is also true. As more families from emerging areas join, the reach we have as a group will multiply exponentially.

Robles: Achieving greater diversity is tremendously important, especially as our membership becomes more global. Historically, the collective industries that serve wealth have not done a good job cultivating young, female or multicultural members and we aim to change that.

Grove: Could having younger members change the focus of your organization?

Ansin: I don't necessarily know if that is true. The nature of a successful family office, to me, is one of generational growth and change to preserve and grow a family's wealth while paying tribute to the legacy and values shared and strived for by the individuals. FOA's focus has always been to provide content and perspectives to help family offices achieve these goals. That won't change. We're just now doing a better job of considering where each member is coming from and what they are focusing on for their futures. By assembling the right mix of people—and from my perspective that means as dynamic and diverse as possible—everybody leaves our gatherings better off, regardless of when they were born.