Managing Fame & Fortune

Rick Flynn launched a new multifamily office that has been carefully constructed to serve both the wealthy and famous.

Managing Fame & Fortune

By Hannah Shaw Grove | Private Wealth | Jul-Aug 2014

After more than 13 years operating as part of an international professional services firm, Rick Flynn launched his own New York City-based multifamily office in June and now leads an impressive team of accountants, attorneys and tax and wealth professionals dedicated to serving the world’s most prominent wealth-holders. Flynn was previously principal-in-charge of the Family Office Group at Rothstein Kass, which was recently acquired by accounting firm KPMG LLP. (Flynn is also a columnist for Private Wealth.) I recently spoke with him about his plans for Flynn Family Office (FFO), the organization’s expanding platform of capabilities and how the needs of the super-rich are becoming more specialized.

Grove: Rick, you’ve been leading one of the fastest growing accounting-based multifamily offices in the U.S. Why change things now?
Flynn: From the very beginning, we wanted to be known for the insight and objectivity we bring to each client situation. When the merger between Rothstein Kass and KPMG was announced, it provided an opportunity for us to become independent and grow naturally in ways that best meet the needs of our clients. Everything we do—from our core tax and business management functions to our unique industry research—is concentrated on growing and protecting vast fortunes, addressing sensitive client issues and concerns and preserving family legacies. That mission won’t change.

Grove: Can you describe the team you’ve put together?
Flynn: We are privileged to represent many of the world’s wealthiest and sophisticated individuals and families, and we know that protecting these relationships means offering stability no matter what events are unfolding around them. Our experience has taught us that putting families first is the only way to do that. Fulfilling that promise takes a team.

I’m joined in this new venture by founding partners Evan Jehle (see sidebar), Alan Kufeld and Rob Levin and a staff of more than 30 dedicated client service professionals. It’s a fantastic group of people, and most of us have worked together in a similar capacity for many years. We are looking forward to navigating the next phase of our business with our team intact.

We are currently evaluating some selective expansion opportunities and will need some talented professionals to help us do so; the key is maintaining the quality of the advice and service we deliver to our clients every day while onboarding new perspectives and expertise.

Grove: What’s the mission of the new firm?
Flynn: Simply put, our mission is to let our clients fully realize the benefits of their exceptional wealth. We do that by creating, implementing and refining customized solutions that encompass and unify our clients’ financial and lifestyle objectives. The advantages of this approach hold enormous appeal among sophisticated and discerning ultra-high-net-worth communities, including entrepreneurs, executives, fund managers, professional athletes, entertainers and wealth inheritors.

Grove: How is this reflected in your capabilities?
Flynn: Over the years, we’ve developed a platform that enables us to deliver critical thinking and technical expertise to our clients. FFO employs a classic hub-and-spoke model to surround our platform of award-winning tax, administrative and business management services. Our solutions are often enhanced through the selective engagement of elite service providers from our extensive network.

Every professional and firm we bring to the table has been fully vetted and offers something truly unique, from advanced technology to personal security to connected care medical concierge services and much more. I think of it as building a championship team, albeit heavily customized, where every player knows and is happy to accept his or her role in pursuit of client objectives.

A singular focus on doing what’s right for our clients means our metrics for success must extend beyond bottom-line results and include other factors. We’re convinced that this is the best model for longevity and stability for FFO.

Grove: You’ve served entertainers and celebrities, who are notoriously demanding clients. How does this fit within the new firm’s philosophy?
Flynn: Through industry research and direct experience, my team and I have been formally examining the intersection between wealth and fame for over a decade. We have sever- al clients who are well-known entertainers and professional athletes, along with many others who are renowned in their respective fields and arenas, like senior corporate executives, business owners and asset managers. To better address the needs of these unique wealth holders we have created the FFO High-Profile Client Division.

Grove: How will your offering differ for high-profile clients?
Flynn: As in most client situations, we will provide a core set of administrative, tax and project management services, but there are specialized capabilities, such as personal brand management, that are especially appealing to individuals who want to protect and financially capitalize on the value of their public personas.

For high-profile clients, all solutions are designed in consideration of the celebrity brand. Because of ubiquitous technology and the infinite news cycle, reputations established over years can be shredded in minutes. Our clients are increasingly asking for guidance when managing reputational risks and balancing the benefits of visibility against the inherent privacy and security threats that life in the public view entails. Other offerings include social media strategies, tour and event management and crisis containment.

Grove: Will you serve other segments of the affluent population with unique needs?
Flynn: Yes, we’ve observed that new money can be a con- fusing, emotional and potentially hazardous experience for the individuals and families who have no experience with or point of reference on significant wealth. The New Wealth Solutions Division is tasked with preparing and assisting those who benefit from windfall inheritances, life-altering contracts, liquidity events and other causes of sudden wealth. Those scenarios sound glamorous from a safe distance, but without proper planning, particularly tax mitigating strategies, the rags-to-riches-and-back-again story will continue to play itself out over and over.

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Instead, we aim to help these families manage, protect and steward their newfound wealth over the long-term by aligning the optimal network of trusted professionals, who can work together to support the family’s objectives.

Grove: You’ve also established a new initiative to serve billionaires. What can you tell us about it?
Flynn: The Billionaire Division is our newest specialty practice. It was established specifically to understand and resolve the cornerstone issues that add to the complexity and intensity that sometimes overwhelm people at the pinnacle of wealth. As part of the initiative, we’ll offer an enhanced platform that features proprietary technology we created just for our handful of billionaire clients and those who have the drive, resources and vision to ultimately amass stratospheric wealth.

Grove: What are you doing differently than the other multifamily offices and investment advisors that are trying to catch the attention of the ultra-high-net-worth markets?
Flynn: One of the firm’s distinguishing factors is its commitment to understanding the trends shaping industry best practices. With this forward-looking approach, we are prepared for the wave of generational wealth transfer that has stymied so many other providers. Our team structure enables us to use personnel in ways that are most effective for each family, allowing for differences in age, experience and working style. We’ve also proactively developed a curriculum to help families ensure that successive generations are prepared for their roles in the family and with the family’s wealth.

Another important thing we’ve done is to make an investment in the intellectual capital of the firm to enrich the staff and give our clients an edge. Meaningful training programs allow us to cultivate technical expertise and thought leadership. The research influences best practices and innovation. Within just the last year, we added some critical client service redundant capacity and also began to institutionalize our business and client intelligence. The depth of knowledge within the enterprise is intrinsically valuable and we want to be able to leverage it to the fullest extent.

Another key difference is our approach to partnering. It’s not simply a matter of outsourcing to a vetted provider—we act as advocates for our clients and seek others who share a similar philosophy. We fully explore options and pricing, working tirelessly to design the perfect solution on the most attractive terms, every time. That ultimately benefits everyone involved.

Grove: You’ve recently started partnering with single-family offices to augment their operations. How does that work?
Flynn: As an independent firm that doesn’t manage or allocate client assets, FFO is an ideal partner, especially for organizations that are looking to disaggregate and outsource their non-investment functions.

Most single-family office executives have earned the trust of the family members through years of dedicated service, sometimes across generational divides. Historically, when clients needed something that fell outside the executive’s defined areas of asset management experience, the options weren’t great—try to provide a solution alone, refer it to an outside professional or refuse the assignment entirely.

Recognizing this phenomenon, we’ve developed a platform that allows us to assemble and manage a team of qualified providers for each client relationship, working with the SFOs to ensure that all resources are aligned toward clearly defined family wealth goals.

The platform lets us deliver and oversee the highest quality solutions while keeping our pricing competitive. It’s such a compelling combination that, over the past several years, we’ve adapted and deployed it effectively on behalf of companies representing most segments of the wealth management community, including RIAs, accounting firms, agents and business managers. We help other professionals deliver a family office experience; in essence, we’re a family office for family offices.

Grove: You’ve mentioned that the FFO team has helped define best practices for the current generation of family office providers. Can you describe some of your work in this area and how it has shaped your current business initiative?
Flynn: Anyone who serves the ultra-wealthy is keenly aware that the integrity, credibility and trust cultivated over years can be undermined by a single mistake. Even a minor mishap can have major repercussions for the client. Every expert in the world agrees that best practices are the answer to reducing mistakes and improving productivity. Rather than waiting for industry consensus, we choose to define best practices by directly engaging high-net-worth clients and a range of key experts through ongoing research initiatives.

Grove: What has your research revealed?
Flynn: Regular surveys of the ultra-wealthy population and their various advisors have helped us identify emerging trends that will shape the future of the industry and quality of life for clients. Our previously mentioned in-house training programs, software models, service provider relationships, products and services, and even the formation of new divisions, have all influenced the timely insights we’ve gathered. We will continue to invest substantial intellectual and capital resources in unearthing, analyzing and understanding these issues.

Despite common portrayals, the wealthiest people in the world are generally preoccupied with many of the same issues—family, health, safety, public image—that confront most Americans. It’s the specific circumstances of their situations that are exceptional.

A number of now robust FFO services began as special projects undertaken on behalf of clients that did not know where else to start. In fact, it’s how our Billionaire Division came to fruition. Several years ago, we developed some highly specialized infra- structure and support systems for a particular billionaire client. Those processes and systems helped us bring on two additional billionaires. Since then, we’ve codified all procedures and adapt- ed the infrastructure to meet the specific needs of a fourth family , also extremely wealthy, but not yet billionaires. It’s become a scalable solution and one that is easily adapted for growth.

Grove: Can you talk about some of your other special projects?
Flynn: In just the past two years, my team and I have helped clients on a range of one-off projects, essentially everything from adopting children and building 200-foot yachts to traveling the world without fear. It’s not about wish fulfillment, but rather helping clients evaluate each event in the context of the overarching family wealth strategy, allowing them to make informed decisions.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of ultra-wealthy families interested in pursuing private equity, private placements and club deals through the family office structure. Because of the quality and scope of our relationships, FFO is able to help our clients explore and evaluate potential deals, identify co-investment opportunities involving other ultra-wealthy individuals and develop metrics for measuring impact.

Grove: What are the greatest threats to the family office universe and how will you tackle them?
Flynn: The disaggregation of the traditional SFO that began with the economic downturn a few years ago has escalated in each passing year. This has created vast opportunity in the marketplace and, sadly, unfathomable disparity in the quality of service providers. The barriers of entry to the sector are low, but the obstacles to success could not be higher. Advisors that are incompetent, under-qualified or unscrupulous have the potential to threaten the credibility of our sector, so I believe we have the responsibility to maintain the highest ethical standards.

In this environment, our proven ability to skillfully, even delicately, enhance and protect family fortunes, legacies and personal brands is perhaps the most powerful competitive advantage we have.

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