"What does a family office/foundation need to know to hire and successfully retain well-suited finance, accounting and operations personnel?"  We often are asked this question by clients, small and large. With our extensive experience serving the specialized needs of these clients, the following are several of the critical lessons we have learned and are worth sharing.

Tangible and intangible skill sets: Work with us to drill down and well describe your particular personnel needs as well as your office/family culture. This should include the tangibles such as these few examples of many we recommend: Controller with “X” years of public accounting experience servicing high-net-worth individuals. CPA license and previous experience with financial oversight of real estate, ranging from commercial buildings, multiple private estates, rental housing, and farms. Experience with non-profit entities and equine accounting preferred. And the potential employer also should include the intangibles such as these:  An empathic listener with experience explaining complex financial issues and mundane day to day lifestyle choices impacting the family’s bottom line for multiple generations. The family even can include traits in a humorous way: Must love dogs and horses and appreciate classical music.

Complete discretion: Our high-net-worth, family office/foundation clients expect complete discretion. Review and explain these expectations with us and provide clear NDA’s for us and potential hires to sign before revealing any significant identifying information regarding the family office/foundation, location, assets etc. We recommend pre-screening by the search company and then, for candidates who pass the initial screening, the first meeting with the family in an off-site location (not the family's home).  

Work/life balance: Often family offices employ fewer people than the candidates’ previous employers. When meeting potential great-fit candidates, it is important to communicate the work-life balance values and opportunities of your office. For instance, do you have a catered lunch together once a week or, due to your location, every day? Do you choose one of the family’s philanthropies as the focus of volunteer efforts from the office staff and have several special days, dedicated to that cause? Have you considered allocating and paying for discretionary time for each employee to attend seminars or on-line classes that strengthen the employee's skill sets? 

Growth opportunities: What is the growth trajectory of your new hire? Can the employee develop from an accountant-CPA to a CFO, controller, COO, CEO? Setting realistic potential career growth opportunities in your office motivates employees for long-term commitment. It also clarifies a question which the candidate is reluctant to ask—Do I have prospects for advancement or are the top spots really being held for family members?   

Teri Cohan Link is an executive at Century City-based Spectrum Search Associates Inc.