Job Focus: Chief of Staff
There are a multitude of different roles within a household, from head housekeepers to nannies, nutritionists, chefs, chauffeurs, PAs and physiotherapists. A large or diverse team of household staff requires a leader, without whom structure, order and efficiency would be compromised. This is the Chief of Staff (often acronymised to COS).
What the job entails will depend upon the family or individual they work for, and whether they are employed within a household or a family office environment. Either way, it would be impossible to give a catch-all job description for a COS – each household, estate or high-net-worth individual’s organisation will be unique in some respects, and the sheer diversity of what a COS has to oversee precludes the possibility of listing every potential eventuality.
Chief of Staff for a High-Net-Worth individual or Family Office
For a family office, or high-net-worth individual, the COS supports the principal/s and CEO to assist with their investments and financial affairs. This can include the usual business of the principal and/or their companies and interests, and matters extraneous to this, such as real estate purchasing, disposal and estate management, private aircraft, yachts, wine, art, cars or angel investments in technologies close to the principal’s heart.
The COS in such a role will usually oversee the recruitment of staff, structure budgets and expenses and communicate with a wide variety of professionals outside the organisation, and will often travel internationally with the principal.
Chief of Staff / Estate Manager
A more domestic COS role is sometimes referred to as an Estate Manager (although there might well be other estate managers in the organisation, possibly one for each of many residences – in this case the COS’s position would sit above these and act as their superior). A role such as this is primarily focussed on running the household/s for the principal or their family.
This can encompass a high level of logistical planning, particularly if there are residences in many countries. The COS will oversee budgets, recruitment, training, rotas and all other staff-related matters. As such, they’ll have in-depth knowledge of all the roles within the household, and will be involved in estate management, social event planning, purchasing of goods, services and possibly luxury investments such as art, cars, etc., administration of insurance policies, maintenance and liaison with tradespeople and suppliers.
A COS of this nature might well be expected to travel ahead of the principal or their family to ensure the residence to be visited is ready for them and operating at peak efficiency.
Further Responsibilities of a COS
As noted earlier, the breadth of the job means that it isn’t possible to create an exhaustive job description of everything a COS might be expected to take in their stride. We therefore won’t attempt to write a “laundry list” of tasks – but these are a few of the common points worth mentioning.
Discretion, as with all household staff roles, is king. Probably more than any other member of staff the COS will be privy to information of a personal or sensitive nature. It’s common practice for an NDA to be signed.
Billionaires and high-net-worth families can be targets for society’s ne’er-do-wells, and as such need security. Their businesses, yachts, fleets of exotic cars, art collections and, of course, they themselves often need round-the-clock protection. It’s not uncommon to have one or more dedicated security teams, with their own leaders. These will report to the Chief of Staff.
High-net-worth can also mean high profile, so proper liaison with the media is necessary. Controlling what is, and crucially what is not, reported is clearly very important.
Some knowledge of legal affairs will always have a bearing on the actions of a COS. This might be in relation to the principal’s and their family’s governance, wills, estates and succession planning, or in relation to business matters. Being able to liaise with, understand and direct in-house lawyers and outside legal counsel is a regular requirement.
A COS might also be called upon to arrange international travel, both for business purposes, and for holidays or vacations for the principals and their family. This might encompass one or more of the family’s homes, or exclusive excursions to far-flung destinations where a notable family can relax away from society.
Skills and Experience for a Chief of Staff Role
The specific skills and experience required will, as you might expect given the diversity outlined above, vary greatly for different specific jobs.
For domestic / estate manager COS positions, experience running a high-net-worth household or estate is a must. The individual might have worked as a private PA or butler, and key to their skills will be excellent logistical and strategic abilities. As they’ll be de facto in charge of potentially a large number of employees spread over many residences, likely in different countries, flexibility, delegation and all-round excellent people management skills are key.
In a Family Office environment, the individual will very likely hold a business or finance degree, and a solid background in these areas is required. The family office might well have its own leader (see our article on who should lead your family office), but even they will report to the Chief of Staff. Thus, shouldering the responsibility for multi-million dollar investments and budgets requires a level head, a strategic mindset and absolute faith in one’s business acumen.
Finally, one or more additional languages fluently spoken can obviously be an advantage in either type of role.