In the average family office network, there’s no lack of opportunity. In fact, it’s not unheard of to be presented with deals and opportunities even while washing your hands in the restroom, but this approach can feel a little counter-intuitive. Leading with transaction destroys trust and even if it appears to be an incredible opportunity, initiating an interaction in this way doesn’t pave the way for trust to be earned. Those with something to give (time, money, connections) can often feel on edge about what people want from them. When someone I don’t know introduces themselves with a pitch on investments, it’s clear their intention is focused on their own interests, as they know nothing about me except that I wash my hands in the bathroom.
Over a decade of engaging with prominent families and their children, it’s become apparent that earning their trust comes from being transparent and focused. Additionally, ensuring their privacy often helps to build relationships with other similar wealth holders. There’s a fine line between seeing people as ‘opportunities’, as opposed to people with whom to build a relationship through opportunities together. No one likes to feel like a target.
Imagine being asked about deals, philanthropic gifts or for favouritism every day, and then being criticized because you won’t automatically prioritise one person’s favour over another. To be judged because you don’t see the same opportunity someone has just, immediately presented to you, even though they would never jump that quickly into the same situation themselves if the roles were reversed.
The secret to nurturing trust in your family office network starts by acknowledging that there are three types of value to be maintained, not two. We often ask those in prominent situations for their time and their money, which is easy to measure and attach worth to. The third type of value is not so tangible but is equally important. Often, we forget to honour the relationship we have with these individuals and the impact that can have on future endeavours. It’s crucial to remember that building a community based on strong, trusting relationships will gain all three types of value.
Here’s how you build trust and relationships within the family office network
Best explained in a case study, years ago I had a meeting with a young woman in Brooklyn. As we bonded, she continued to shift the conversation back to how she could help me, her apparent impetus for the meeting. I was polite but continued to focus on her and how I could help her and she eventually told me about a new business she was launching where she needed a CTO she could trust. I immediately knew a few people to ask and introduced her to her founding CTO, who stayed with her the longest in her start-up. We maintained a friendship, and as it developed, I made sure not to ask her for what everyone else did—her money. Continually balancing the gift of her time, and mine to her, led to a beautiful friendship with a prominent privately-owned consumer goods company during Covid-19.
In this example, we see that by giving first – be it time, expertise or connections – instead of asking, you begin to build trust and show your intentions aren’t simply to make a person feel like a target or a ladder to climb.
Follow-up with gratitude, without asking
Through numerous conferences and mutual contacts in the industry, a prominent family office principal, successful in beauty, health, SAAS, began to recognize me as a peer, based on the connections made over years of guiding others. After a few interactions of our own, he offered to introduce me to several philanthropic families, which ultimately led to me finding a key member to join the board of directors for a non-profit I was running. Following this, I reached out to say thank you for the introduction, to which this colleague responded by asking if there was anything else required of him. There wasn’t, this was just to say thank you, without any ulterior motives or other requests. This response was fascinating because far too often a thank you is made under the guise of another request. By simply calling to express gratitude, and nothing more, this colleague now has a different perception of how I operate.
The point here is, don’t only reach out to ask for something. Simply showing a bit of manners goes a long way and can set the tone for future interactions.
When you do need to ask for something, be transparent and explain the impact
It is possible to have relationships that also involve transactions but they have to start and build on the relations first. No one expects everything to be for free, especially in a world where, by being around great wealth, people endlessly see great opportunity. Once you’ve gained someone’s trust and expressed gratitude, there’s nothing wrong about asking them for their input. The difference lies in being clear about the nature of a request and the intended positive effect it will have, on both the situation and for the person making the request. For example, I asked a friend to vet a very important project I had been working on. I explained the impact of what investment into this product would be, as well as how it could change the trajectory of my work with a prominent family office. When the presentation was made months later, this friend was already happy to help, because their advice had been taken, and the project was in more alignment than before. It also became clear that this cemented the friendship between us.
To sum up, if your contacts are also in it for you and know your worth, they won’t baulk when your value involves a transaction, as long as you separate opportunity and relationship-building from the onset.
Understand that a healthy family office network is worth its weight in gold, and then some
On paper, this seems simple, even commonplace. Give first, follow-up without asking for anything in return, and then when you do need to ask for something, be transparent about the impact of an opportunity. Human interactions shift when we don’t feel we have to read between the lines, for what is not transparent or being presented. Especially when every ulterior motive involves a potential transfer of capital from the family office without a full understanding of the risks involved. And, just as important, the time that individual spent engaging with someone to consider this investment.
In a world where trust and relationships are currency, treat those relationships with the same respect as you would a million dollars in a briefcase. Quantify them as you would an entire day’s worth of time dedicated to your projects, and through this unlock a new level to your family office networks.