Pitcairn Update, January 2015
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Finance met fashion as Chief Executive Officer Leslie Voth opened the 2014 Pitcairn Family Wealth & Investment Forum. Addressing the audience, Ms. Voth invoked her passion for fashion to illustrate how Pitcairn was handling a generational transition similar to what many families and family businesses experience. Ms. Voth compared her own experience with the Burberry brand to her vision for Pitcairn.
Thirty-four years ago, I bought my husband his first Burberry scarf, in the classic Burberry pattern – red, black, and tan plaid. All the stylish men were wearing them and I was very excited to go in the store to purchase it for him. Today, he still proudly wears that scarf. Which isn’t surprising because the Burberry brand has always been about tradition.
Walking through London about 10 years ago, another scarf caught my eye. It was instantly recognizable in the famous Burberry colors, but something was different — oversized checks. The plaid pattern was larger and more modern. I thought to myself, “This is really nice!” I bought the scarf and dutifully wore it every day for the rest of my trip. Burberry was doing something new with its brand to appeal to a new generation.
Burberry also began making that same scarf in colors and if you go to the Burberry website, you can choose from six of the most fashionable colors each season, just the thing for the Gen X fashionista. And now, they even have the scarf in a summer-weight fabric.
I have watched Burberry purposefully evolve with the consumer market, but as my personal Burberry collection shows so clearly, through all the transitions, you always see the tapestry of the tradition.
Burberry’s evolution perfectly illustrates what it takes to keep a brand, or a firm, or a family vibrant. The foundation of the Burberry brand is a 100-year old legacy of quality, impeccable materials, and sturdy utilitarian construction. Burberry never turned its back on this rich heritage, but instead built upon it. The company listened to new buyers and adapted its tradition for new generations. The Burberry story is a great analogy to our Pitcairn tradition.
At Pitcairn, we are embracing generational transition as proactively as Burberry has. It’s an exciting time to lead the office and it’s a great time to be an employee, a client, or an owner of this business. We have taken the Pitcairn foundation and built on it in a new way. We have transformed the company, becoming not only a three-generation work force, but an office serving 100 families and partnering with nine other family offices. The steps we have taken over the past few years put Pitcairn well ahead of the curve in succession planning and far in front of its peers.
Generational transitions require a lot of planning, whether it’s a firm like ours, a family, or a family enterprise. It’s really important to look down the road and think about who the company leaders are, who the trustees are, and who will succeed them. It’s not easy. It’s emotional and it’s messy. But you can get through it.
People in multi-generational situations know from experience that the real challenges are how to bring out the voices of various generations and then balance their different needs. What has been really awesome for us is that this process gave us the opportunity to promote from within, to grow our own talent, and to bring in next generation advisors. I see my role as a bridge between the current generation and the next generation. We have recently hired 11 employees in the millennial generation, for a total of 15. We also have many Gen X employees and, of course, baby boomers. And, Pitcairn has three generations on its Board of Directors as well.
Generational change isn’t our only challenge. We have also been transitioning from a firm focused solely on service to a firm delivering service and growth. Through this process, we have become very good at recognizing the families we can best serve. More importantly, our own transition experience has made us better at helping families in transition and more attuned to serving more than one generation at a time.
Pitcairn professionals spend a great deal of time thinking about how we work with our families, striving to meet them where they are in life, whether that involves family, professional, or business concerns. We really focus on the intersection of family and wealth and try to relate to the needs of multiple generations.
Our journey has transformed the ways we serve families. We now offer greater variety, flexibility, and transparency through multi-generational and multi-disciplinary teams. We are a flatter organization, with professionals who are empowered to help Pitcairn be more responsive, nimble, and profitable.
I often say change is not an option, but like Burberry quality, some Pitcairn traditions will never change. Pitcairn will always be steadfast in planning, in the rigor around investments, and in implementation. We will always be accountable to help you create and implement your plan, track it, evaluate what’s working or not working, and revise as needed.
When I stepped into my role as Pitcairn CEO, the company was about honoring tradition, family heritage, and the foundation of this family office. That is the core of the Pitcairn brand and that will never go out of style.