fb-pixelPay rates climb for top family-office CEOs - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Pay rates climb for top family-office CEOs

Billionaires Bill Ackman (left) and Sergey Brin have formed family-office firmsLeft: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/FILE; Right: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/REUTERS/FILE

NEW YORK — Chief executives of the largest US single-family offices earned a median $830,000 in 2014 including salary, bonus, and long-term compensation, according to Fidelity Investments, as competition for talent boosts its value.

Three of the top four positions at the firms overseeing the wealth of single families with more than $1 billion in assets paid at least $500,000 in median total compensation, the money manager said Monday in its first major report on pay in the secretive industry.

Executives are likely to see moderate raises in 2016 earnings, according to a separate study.

The rapid rate of wealth creation in the past decade by technology entrepreneurs to hedge fund titans and beyond has created a growing market for family offices.


Google cofounder Sergey Brin and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman are among the billionaires who have formed such firms in recent years.

"There is more competition for family office talent," said Sarah Burley Reid, a partner in recruitment firm Spencer Stuart's wealth-management practice. "Families are increasingly seeking higher-caliber candidates and as a result, compensation is higher."

Median pay for chief executives and the investment, operations, and finance chiefs is in the six figures across family offices of different sizes but trails what top leaders at corporations got in the latest fiscal year. The 200 highest-paid executives at US publicly traded companies made a median of $1.17 million in salary and $28.9 million including bonuses and stock awards, according to the Bloomberg Pay index.

Family offices vary in structure, with some operating like an investment manager while others mainly handle household staff, taxes, and travel plans.

"It's often very difficult to find comparables in this space" for employee compensation, said Bobbi Bierhals, a partner at law firm McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago who counsels family offices.

Aspects of the job leading a family office merit "combat pay," Bierhals said. Chief executives usually play a very personal role, acting as advisers and sometimes mediating family disputes. It's difficult to determine how much that's worth, she said.


Fidelity's Family Office Services unit surveyed 216 single-family offices, which employ an average of 11 people working for 20 family members on tasks ranging from managing art collections to legal services. Sixteen percent of the firms have a family member in an executive role, it said.

Many of the biggest firms provide salary and rewards packages with long-term incentives, said Kim Sheehy, vice president of business administration at the Fidelity unit, which provides custody, brokerage, investments, and reporting services to more than 150 single-family office clients.

Thirty-six percent of firms surveyed said they offer executives co-investment opportunities alongside the family, and about 17 percent provide carried interest, or a slice of the profits, in deals.

Family offices are attracting executives from other types of financial firms. MSD Capital, the office of billionaire Michael Dell, hired Douglas Londal in September to run its private equity investments.

Londal was previously president at private equity firm New Mountain Capital. Ashvin Chhabra recently left as chief investment officer of Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch Wealth Management to help run Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons.

Chhabra's chief investment officer peers, at family offices with more than $1 billion in assets under management, were paid a median $650,000 last year including salary, cash bonus, and long-term incentives, Fidelity said.


Chief operating officers at the largest family offices got $500,000 and chief finance officers earned $398,500.

Chief investment officers at asset management firms and hedge funds have a median salary of $210,000 plus a bonus of $85,000, according to data compiled by Emolument.com.

The salary benchmarking site gathered pay on 67 chief investment officers in 2015 who are mainly based in the New York area.

Families usually seek someone for a chief executive or chief operating officer position who has worked at a family office before, but it's often hard to extract a high-level family office executive from a stable firm, said Spencer Stuart's Reid.