UHNWI – Required Visibility vs. Desired Anonymity
The reputation and the public image can be the decisive factor for the success or failure of corporations or individuals, making pubic relations a multi-billion dollar industry. But public relations can be a two-edged sword for the ultra wealthy, who would like to protect their privacy to the maximum, while acting in a highly digitalised and hyper connected world, even they cannot escape the need to be seen.
The German Albrecht brothers, founders of Germany’s ALDI supermarket chain, took anonymity to a whole new level. While until their deaths in 2010 and 2014 virtually no photographs existed of the then richest Germans, they created an air of myth around their personas. Notoriously shy and private, even investigative journalists were unable to confirm where they actually lived, lamenting walls of silence erected by the Albrecht family and protected by neighbours, local communities and management of the ALDI empire. This extreme form of privacy was somewhat counter-productive and made them more famous than they could have hoped for.
On the other hand, there are second-row one-digit billion-dollar wealth owners with difficult to pronounce family names from emerging economies, who employ small teams whose only job it is to keep them in Forbes’ notorious rich list and make them as known as possible. When asked why they spend money to be listed among the world’s richest people, the answer is rather pragmatic: their billionaire titles act as deal magnets. Making them known as wealthy entrepreneurs and experienced investors, start-ups, visionaries and business incubators approach them with dozens of ideas. The small team of experts that keeps the investor in the media limelight is cheaper than employing analysts and researchers who would have to source deals for the wealthy investor.
If the mountain won’t come to Mohammad, Mohammad must go to the mountain.
While there are some 2,500 billionaires worldwide not all super-rich can make their way onto that Forbes list, but a net worth of several hundred million still makes them a valuable and desirable partner for most ventures around the world. In times of low interest rates, real estate bubbles and an ever-growing number of investors competing for good deals, one realises the need to be seen - in the right circle and by the right people.
Rubbing shoulders with old school buddies is a good way to keep existing relationships alive but will most likely not bring a sweep of fresh air into one’s address book. New contacts, unrelated to an existing network, introduce unusual ideas, challenging perspectives on long-held believes and unexpected business opportunities in unfamiliar and unchartered territories. And while virtual deal introduction platforms mushroom around the world, private investors and single family offices particularly, treasure personal interaction. Having actually worked for the money they are investing family offices are a special breed of institutional investor who deem the relationship with their business counterpart just as important as the profit or impact a project generates.
No level of technological sophistication can replace a handshake. Until today, in many cultures handshakes are a sign of trust and seal a deal that is mutually binding. Specialised conferences for family offices offer opportunities to break out of the familiar environment and connect to other investors - like-minded or not. The quality of a conferenceis not easily assed and must be measured against levels of privacy that is provided, as well as the level of specialisation, thematically or geographically, while always eyeing the guest list ensuring the quality of attendees. An all-encompassing global family office hodgepodge is unlikely to be able to deliver much needed insights or a wide range of opinions on certain issues, relevant to a family with a local or regional focus.
With the growing number of family offices more conferences are being held around the world, making it difficult to keep an overview. Quality over quantity is key for families looking to raise their profile with their peers, not wishing to be amalgamated with multi-family offices. While attending a low-quality conference is not only a waste of time it can also undermine a family’s reputation and efforts to maintain privacy. But once a quality event has been identified, assuming a speaking position can boost business and attract attention from fellow investors - raising capital, expanding business to new regions or bundling forces with other business owners.
A more recent trend with family members with stage fright or a very specific project in mind, is to have private, non-public, sponsor-free and by invitation-only events organised on their behalf. Other than at conferences, the host family is master over the guest list and defines the criteria for the family offices to be invited. Those personalised mini-conferences are an alternative for those who seek attention but want to decide for themselves by whom they are seen - visibility vs. anonymity.