Live as if You’ll Die Tomorrow, Learn as if You’ll Live Forever

“Live As If You’ll Die Tomorrow, Learn As If You’ll Live Forever”

The famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi.

It’s January, so as we do every year we make new year’s resolutions, we break new year’s resolutions and in some cases we live as we’ve always lived. I’ve been a life-long advocate of goal setting, of having the most ambitious plans, of finding ways in which to stretch myself and those around me to achieve great things, to be the best we can be. But if you knew you were going to die tomorrow what would you really do? If you were going to live forever what would you want to learn?

A mostly hypothetical position until you meet someone who knows that their time with us is limited. I have the privilege of knowing Katherine Crowe http://www.katherinecrowe.co.uk/blog.html/very_proud_wife/ . I don’t know Katherine very well but she used to work with me at Barclays and is a seasoned singer, songwriter, author and so much more. Katherine is 38 years old, lives on the Isle of Man, is wife to Andy and Mum to two young kids. She also has terminal cancer. In her own words she is already nearly a year past her ‘due dead date’. She cherishes every day fuelled by the love of her family and the support of her friends.

Katherine doesn’t accept the inevitable, yet lives every day as if it might be her last. She sings and makes music. She writes books. She inspires thousands of people. She raises money for others. She plans for the future of her family. And she makes every single minute with her family count.

I have learnt so much from Katherine’s journey. About dignity, about pride, about contribution and about the power that one can take from the love of their family and an unshakeable determination to persevere.

As you set upon your path for 2014, I hope these lessons resonate with you too. Please support Katherine by buying her music, her book or contributing to her cause by clicking on http://www.katherinecrowe.co.uk/ .

Greg Ellison

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Multi Family Offices – Don’t Be Fooled!

As David Bain correctly highlighted in his excellent piece ‘Family Offices and Nightclubs’ in the Campden Wealth Bulletin, 2nd September 2013, the label ‘family office’ seems to be appearing everywhere these days. David questions, ‘Are they really family offices or just private banks in family offices’ clothing?’

Well, for the most part it’s the latter. And it’s not just private banks. It’s also asset managers, hedge funds and a multitude of other financial organisations that are adopting the term ‘family office’ in their marketing literature.

The saying goes that ‘when you’ve seen a family office you’ve seen just that’ in other words every family office is different. Whilst definitions vary, there are some key characteristics of true family offices that should be noted, whether a single family office or a multi family office.

The first, and possibly the most important, aspect of a family office is that you have at your disposal a number of people whose sole priority is the benefit of their client family. Their independence is crucial so that they bat for the family and the family alone. Over years they build deep personal relationships with the family members and understand not only the structures that define the separation of wealth and the plans for succession but also the dynamics of the relationships and the politics within the family. Frequent turnover of staff, in heavily incentivised roles within banks and asset managers where staff are driven to win assets, is incongruous to the depth of understanding that is imperative to understand these family dynamics.

This point then extends to the role of the trustees. The matriarch or patriarch will put in place a structure designed to protect and preserve their wealth for future generations. Trust is central to this arrangement. A true family office allows the wealth creator to look into the eyes of their trustee and take comfort that their children’s financial welfare is in safe hands.

An important priority for true family offices is control. If an asset manager is failing to keep pace with an expected yield, it is very easy for the family office to monitor the performance and reduce or remove the mandate from a provider. There is an inherent conflict in a number of self-proclaimed MFO providers that they have a fiduciary obligation to the beneficiaries of a structure yet work in an organisation that is targeted to win AUM. That conflict may also extend to pressure to place those funds in house rather than consider the most appropriate solution across the market.

As David Bain highlights, the true number of single family offices that exists is hard to measure due to the family’s desire for confidentiality. The banking crisis, regulatory fines amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars and failures in data security have left something of a scar on the reputation of a number of major global banking organisations. Many families that created their wealth in their own businesses, often spanning a number of generations, rate their ability to keep their affairs secure, within their control and confidential more highly than trusting the services of the big banks.

It is pleasing that the propositions of the major banks have evolved to recognise the more complex needs, both corporate and personal, of today’s wealthy families. Asset managers in turn have sought to offer institutional type products to the wealthy underpinned by armies of research capability within their firms. The wealth management industry is beginning to better understand the requirements of ultra high net worth families, both multi-generational wealth and the rapid emergence of significant new wealth in Asia and other economies.

However, it is my contention that only those organisations that are truly independent, that can draw in professional advisers as required, that have the tenure of staff extending to decades to understand their client families and are untainted in their objectives are the ones that can claim the true meaning of the phrase ‘family office’. Many banks and asset managers that see such wealth as merely another segment, above private banking and below sovereign wealth funds, will never be able to provide the essence of a true MFO.

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What can we learn from Sir Alex Ferguson?

So much has been written already this week about the legendary tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United; so why do we need another piece on the subject? Well, this isn’t about football. This is about the impact that one leader can have on an organisation and the need to plan for their succession, whether that’s a football club, a not for profit or a commercial organisation. So what was it about Sir Alex that made him so different to the rest?

For all Fergie might be famed for his ‘hairdryer’ treatment of his players, his influence over match officials and his ruthless approach to the media, underneath all of this is something much more significant. In an environment characterised by the pursuit of short-term results, Sir Alex built a giant of a club on the strongest of foundations. He valued and developed youth. He set the highest standards for his players and his staff. And he held everyone that had influence over his operation to account. He was steadfast in his resolve. He was constantly looking for an edge, in training, in nutrition, in his support for his players. Like other great leaders, Sir Clive Woodward in rugby, Sir Dave Brailsford in cycling, he was constantly on the lookout for marginal gains. He has been described by many as a ‘father figure’. When addressed by a 16 year old player in the youth team as ‘Alex’ he retorted ‘Did we go to school together? No! Then it’s ‘Mr Ferguson’ or ‘Boss’!’

So what can we learn from the incredible results that Sir Alex and Manchester United have achieved over the past quarter of a century? For me, it comes down to the culture of the club. The Manchester United bus waits for no man. Sir Alex hired some great players, but also fired some great players. Where other clubs appear to pander to every whim of the players, at Manchester United it appears that every time a player walks on to the Old Trafford pitch it’s a privilege that they are representing the great club. That sense of pride, that recognition of the club’s history, the collective sense of expectation and the unshakeable belief in every member of the team have contributed to some fantastic performances and some Houdini-like escapes in injury time. How do you copy that? It takes so much more than simply buying great players, or in the corporate world, hiring talent.

So as Sir Alex prepares to bow out on his 1,500th game in charge of the Red Devils, we must stand back and applaud a man with the vision to achieve things most people could not believe possible, the determination to overcome barriers and the passion to enjoy every game like he did his first. And possibly the truest test of his legacy will be in his succession. As important as an entrepreneur handing over the running of the family business to the next generation, Sir Alex’s succession has clearly been well prepared. The 5% dip in share price on the announcement of his retirement was for the most part recovered when Sir Alex announced his successor and outlined his involvement in the process. In a world obsessed by short-term results, we can all observe the dividend to be had in investing in a tremendous vision and outstanding leadership over the long term. Enjoy the next chapter Sir Alex Ferguson.

Greg Ellison
(A rugby fan).
#leadingtheway