Case Study: COO Financial Holding Company of one of the World's 50 Richest Families
The third generation business leader of a market leader in its sector sold the family company to realise a substantial capital gain just over five years ago. The assets are now being invested in private equity, hedge funds, asset management, real estate and potentially other sectors such as renewable energy; it is also possible that the family will take full operational control of some companies in the future. Although the principal would never fully disengage from the business, it was anticipated that he would move to a more part-time involvement; therefore, he needed a general manager and strategist to act as COO to pull the disparate segments together.
The financial holding company had evolved from the family office and gathered pace with the capital injection from the sale of the family firm. The different strands of financial activity that were developed each have a leader with individual business plans that need to be coordinated to ensure a coherent overall business and asset allocation strategy. In order to have credibility with these leaders, the COO would need to bring financial and operational experience with businesses of scale, and be able to understand and help them define their strategies. The COO would also need to have the personal authority to monitor the performance of the businesses and propose strategy to the board of directors.
Sitting across a handful of different companies, in varied financial asset classes, required an individual who could balance being a mentor, enabler and even enforcer when required; and representing the shareholder's long-term interest at all times. It also required a personality that inspired trust to act as confidante. The candidate should be able to hone and influence the overall vision of the principal, and provide a buffer with the business leaders to ensure continuing alignment. The skills to be successful spanned emotional, financial and strategic attributes. It was a fascinating search to conduct, as the potential solution might emerge from vastly different models of profile. It was as much about attempting to distil the requirements down to an essence required.
There were a number of potential models for the successful candidate including: a leading CFO from the sector where most of the assets would ultimately be invested; CFO of a multinational, with a background as a CEO of a smaller scale financial conglomerate; an Operating Partner in a private equity firm; or an existing COO of a family owned financial firm. In essence it needed someone with the 'tool kit' of a CEO, but not the ego usually necessary to provide the motivation. The successful candidate needed the sensibility to adapt and be emotionally attuned, while still doggedly implementing disciplines, structure and the appropriate governance.
After much searching and advice from us on the trade-offs of potential candidates, the final profile proved the answer: a COO of a family-owned financial holding company, which had controlling stakes in leading regional and global companies, including in a related area to the family's heritage sector expertise. This individual had grown up as a CFO, COO and CEO within different national and business cultures.