The Founder – An interview with Steven H. Hirth

As part of our white paper focused on Intergenerational Leadership, we interviewed five Family Office leaders from three generations. This is just one of many extracts from the white paper which you can download, in full, by completing the form below.

In this interview, we speak to Steven H. Hirth who is the Principal of Hirth Family Office and Founder of S. H. Hirth & Associates, an international merchant boutique bank. He also manages the Family’s Foundation which focuses on domestic and international health and education. Here, Steven discusses his leadership style, succession planning and why as animals, we should learn to speak each other’s language. To read Steven’s full interview, download the white paper.


Global wealth is still controlled by the majority of people north of 50 years of age and if the younger generation want to change that, I recommend a Rex Harrison movie called Dr Doolittle.

In the movie there is a song, if I can talk to the animals, learn their language, what a great achievement that would be chatting with a cheetah or a chimpanzee. We are all animals; I happen to be a male American animal. Our way of communication transcends age, gender, and location. If we can understand how to communicate with that animal regardless of age, we are achieving a goal.

One of the important things for the Family Office space is for Principals to realise that if they are secure in their own skin, they might not be the best messengers for the next generation, and it is incumbent upon them to put their egos aside and find the right messengers. There is nothing wrong with consiglieres, intermediaries to reach the next generation because otherwise you can flush it down the toilet.


I would use the anacronym, Care to describe my leadership style today:

  • Communication
  • Accountability
  • Raison d’être
  • Emotionally sound.

Because it is all about caring. As a child a lot of people came into our home, predominantly men. Entrepreneurs looking for investment. It was the 70s in a small town, broadly made up of men setting up their own businesses. There were very few women. They were all either people whom my parents knew or had been referred to my parents by trusted people and I saw my parents meet them in the living room, dining room or kitchen and if they liked what they heard my father and sometimes both of my parents, would look the person in the eye, shake their hand and hand them cash, a cheque, and a scribble of paper. A couple of months later a formal contract would be signed and that was that.

I thought we were an anomaly but then I moved to Vienna. It was 1985, I first studied there and was then given the privilege of working for the bank. Vienna at the time was the centre for east-west trade, there were still former Comecon countries there, the iron curtain was up, and there were people doing business with the Communist parties in Hungary, Poland, Russia, the Soviet Union and others. I got to know some of these people intimately and as I excelled in the bank, socially and professionally, I got to know some of the leading families engaged in east-west trade and some of the old merchant banking families. I noticed that these people did business like my parents. They built relationships and there was trust, hands were shaken and if you shaft someone your name is mud. You really couldn’t do things again. In many industries like the diamond business, commodity and trading, the same thing exists. A deal is a deal.

Those things made me realise, I’m not an anomaly at all, rather I am part of a relay race. I was presented with a baton that is weighted with strong ethics, values, and accountability. My parents are holocaust survivors, who persevered and protected their good names. While I lived in Europe people met me, spoke with me and aided me because they remembered my grandparents and/or parents. It boils down to the value of a good name, from generation to generation.


I believe that in all of us we have chambers and until we are put in that situation those chambers are locked. Those situations will either open those chambers or not. If someone is asked will they steal, will they kill? Most people would say no under normal circumstances but when put in an abnormal situation I think we would be surprised by some people’s actions. We are very resilient creatures and when put in certain situations, some people will shine.

We are still working on it with our boys. They are both so talented and in their own ways, one is an artist, and one is still at university figuring out what he wants to do. As a result, they will not take over the business but on the Foundation side, if they are interested in it fine but if not, in 2021 I will be gradually bringing in some outsiders that know my values and there will be two seats at the Foundation table should one or both of our boys want to fill them.

I and my life partner have decided on the causes we want to help, the impact we want to have and if the boys feel they want to participate later on they can, if they don’t it’s their decision and the Foundation will live on. There will always be people who will oversee the Foundation and I will ensure if and when our boys want to participate, they can.

I will not as many people do, control from the grave because I think that is wrong. We as parents and teachers, do the best we can with what we have at the time. We will make mistakes along the way, mess up and do a variety of things. All we can do is the best and hope that our strengths are consciously and subconsciously absorbed by the next generation. They have to blaze their own trail.

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