Natasha Kuznetsova is the Director and Head of Family Office at Tamsel, a London-Based Single Family Office. Starting as a student of Physics in Russia, Natasha has gone on to complete an MBA at Harvard, strategize for Coca-Cola and re-shape Private Banking at Coutts. She has also taken on the world of Family Offices, a space she says is conducive to female leadership. There isn’t much the mother of three hasn’t achieved in the last 25 years and joins us this International Women’s Week to tell us why her Family Office capitalises on all of the above, why it requires a level of Emotional Intelligence only found within women and why diversity of thought is key.
From a Child of Soviet Russia to a Woman in a Family Office
I was a child of Soviet Russia. We were really not brought up with a view of discrimination, either we did not experience it or we did not fight it. Both my parents worked, both Engineers in highly technical research institutes and I didn’t see my mother at home any more than I saw my father at home. It wasn’t because they needed to financially, they were expected to. The same can be said about my grandmothers, they both worked in senior positions – one a doctor and the other an accountant.
I grew up with role models that never made me question the equality of potential. I think excelling was not due to gender but rather human nature. It was what was expected of me, to do my best. Why did I study physics? Because my father was a physicist. We are a product of our environment and my environment was full of people, men and women, who were successful and achieved their potential.
Following my degree, I needed to find a job. Physics was a great thing to study but it wasn’t me. It was very accurate, analytical and far from the creative and strategic career I soon found. I opened the yellow pages and started with A, applying as you did then for role after role and somehow on C, I got lucky.
I remember interviewing with Citi Bank but ultimately ended up at Coca-Cola. I fell in love with the company. A young and creative team. It was 1995 and Coca-Cola had only been established in Russia for a few years. It was a start-up environment with a big name and a big budget and it was incredible, full of life and energy. We were inventing and creating as we went along.
Half the 1995 Coca-Cola team are in or around London today. Everyone was entrepreneurial and everyone sought excitement. It was a great springboard for those of us wishing to challenge the boundaries, which is why we have all ended up in the positions we are in today.
I then went to Harvard and completed my MBA. I kept up Marketing and Consulting but brought Strategy more into the picture. I did three to four years of Consulting at Coca-Cola on corporate strategy, project and product innovation, always with the focus on the end consumer. I then joined Coutts and the world of Private Banking before I found my Family Office.
This was the first time I had ever worked for a Family Office and while looking at my resume or career history you may look at my role today as a Woman in a Family Office as quite an unexpected career turn when actually, joining a Family Office wasn’t off-track but a combination of my life-long skill-set.
I have only ever known a highly-entrepreneurial environment and the Family Office capitalises on everything I had ever done before, everything I had ever learned and excelled in. Constantly analysing potential target investments, Team Management, Investing, Interpretation, Analysis, Tax and Legal. It’s a place where my career comes together and I love it.
Learning from the Family Office Environment
In turn, it has taught me a great deal too and I say the same thing to anyone who thinks about a career in a Family Office.
When you work for a large company in the corporate world, there is always someone who checks your work. Even as a CEO, you have a Board, Advisors – scrutiny wherever you go. In a Family Office, this is the last line of defence and you must be responsible for establishing your own system of controls. You are of course responsible to the Principal but you also work as a team of 10, with no spare capacity.
You are a very small company that manages a great deal of wealth and any mistake can potentially be very costly. It is this responsibility that is incredible, massively inspiring and encouraging but it is a tough role. You always have to ask yourself if you have done the right thing and that is one of many incredible things the Family Office environment has taught me so far.
Hiring Women for Family Offices
When I think about Women in Family Offices, it reminds me of when I joined Tamsel six years ago. I was convinced that the position of Head of Family Office, the role I fill today, was a woman’s job.
You need so much empathy, a flexible ego, you want to stand your ground, show that you are both knowledgeable and professional but you never at the same time want to compete with your Principal. Someone who has achieved incredible things and who is incredibly successful. I think it requires a combination of both massive respect for yourself and lack of ‘going head to head’ with your leadership team. It requires a complex skill-set made of several different quadrants of Emotional Intelligence of which it is proven that women possess in high quantities. I was convinced it was a woman’s job.
It was only upon going to my first Family Office event which was funnily enough with Agreus that we discussed resourcing and recruitment and soon came onto the topic of Heads of Family Office. There were several men in the audience with the same title and I simply could not believe it. Of course, there are several people of different genders fulfilling the rule brilliantly but the reason for sharing this story is because I truly believe the Family Office is a springboard for women’s leadership.
Family Offices require a unique combination of both strong and effective professionalism with an ability to be empathetic, balanced and approachable.
Everyone states that men and women are different and in truth, we are and that isn’t something to shy away from. We are different but equal and in a Family Office where there is a strong emotional component, a woman’s skillset comes to fruition and it is put to incredible use every day. I believe generally speaking that smaller and flexible companies are conducive to this too but nothing quite compares to the world of Family Offices.
While it can certainly facilitate female leadership, it can also be much harder to build a career within a Family Office and that isn’t gender specific but relevant to the size and structure of a Family Office.
In a corporate world you are able to progress after two or three years as the rules are clearly defined and there is an up or out mentality. It caters for phenomenal career progression. In a Family Office however, because they are very small, often with less than five employees, you simply cannot expect the same career progression. I discuss this with all potential candidates and say the same thing.
If you want career progression, a bigger team to manage, a new title every few years and more stars on your shoulder, you should not join a Family Office. If you on the other hand want financial and human appreciation, pride in what you do, flexibility and autonomy, you can most certainly find it within a Family Office.
My title has never changed, nor have the titles of my team. They may have a slightly different title every few years but there are no more people for them to command. You can be very skilled and handsomely rewarded but you will not be a department head for a 200 person call centre. What you will have is a certain pride that you simply cannot find anywhere else.
Is it harder or easier? It’s different. What is hard for some is that you cannot jump from Family Office to Family Office, we respect loyalty. People stay for longer than you would see in a traditional corporate career as loyalty is the rule of the game.
I believe it is essential to maintain a balance in leadership within a Family Office because especially in a small company where everyone stays for a long time, it is vital you have diversity of thought, fresh thinking and an understanding of most perspectives. It is also vital not only that potential hires understand the Family Office and what it allows but what it expects and when you only make one hire every so often, they have to be right.
I do not however bring gender into the equation of hiring. I always try to see a balanced list of candidates but ultimately, I will always hire the most competent and most highly-skilled employee. This does not necessarily mean the person with the highest proficiency but the one with the highest potential and as a result I can genuinely say we have an excellent and balanced team.
Advice to the Future Women of Family Offices
I will never forget the advice I was given as an MBA Student and it wasn’t directly to me but a class of 80 at Harvard. We had a lot of career celebrities present to us and I cannot remember exactly where this speaker was from but she said something simple and powerful.
“It gets very lonely at the top so my advice to you is to not do it alone for as long as you can.”
Throughout my career I always made sure to work with someone who is both inspiring and clever. Someone who can teach me a lot. My Principal is both intelligent and remarkably inspiring and I feel incredibly lucky. I have also built a network of mentors and advisors as Family Offices can be very lonely spaces.
We say it all the time, Family Offices are all different. As we discussed they are also incredibly small and so you need a support network made of advisors and friends. You do not want to do it completely alone and so I chose not to.
Another important thing to remember is that there is no rush to the top and no rush to be the pinnacle of anything because when you get there, who is there to talk to?
I also try and remind everyone not to step on anyone else to feel a little taller and as cliché as it may sound, know your worth.
Women are as valuable as any other person in any room and if you believe in your value and your worth, you will succeed. A lot of female success is determined by how much you believe in what you yourself are doing. When it comes to our male counterparts, whether it is biological or a product of our society, they have ample amounts of this self-belief and it’s an area that I think women need to become equal in. An area which is completely within our control.