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Revisiting the Chief of Staff

A couple of years ago, we looked at ‘The rise of the Chief of Staff’. This had been in the wake of some very interesting roles from private wealth management and boutique consultancies looking for strategic polymaths to help them on a number of discreet or complex strategic situations.

A couple of years on, we thought it was about time to check in to see whether the trends identified in 2014 have been proven, or are at least continuing in some manner.

To start with a look at the broader market, a quick Google search continues to bring up a string of ‘Chief of Staff’ like positions. As previously, there is still a little division on what the role or title should entail, with a string of Executive Assistant and PA roles appearing. However, when we mention the Chief-of-Staff role, we attribute it to a much more defined role, which is more high-level and impactful than these.

There also seems to be a persistent theme that Chief-of-Staff remains the sole remit of Hedge Funds and the investment community where the title is perhaps most prevalent. Admittedly, the job title does seem to be more firmly entrenched within financial services. However, we are seeing more and more that the role is by no means restricted to this sector. Over the last couple of years, we have seen Chief of Staff positions arise in PR, tech and Fin-tech start-ups, boutique consultancies, real estate giants, private wealth firms and family offices.

What qualifies as a Chief-of-Staff and what do you need to be one?

The role essentially boils down to becoming the proactive strategic sounding board for a Senior member of the team (usually, but not exclusively a COO or CEO).

A lot of the head-hunting for this role can only be done on a case-by-case basis as a candidate needs to be very carefully aligned to each COO/CEOs needs and characteristics. However, there are some general attributes that tend to be a constant:

  • Somewhere in the region of 5-7 years prior experience at a top-tier organisation (usually consulting experience)
  • Excellent, and usually specifically relevant, academics
  • Exceptional senior stakeholders skills
  • Communication skills and personal impact which can drive operations in complex and ambiguous environments where managing outside of an official remit is paramount

Beyond this, each of these roles comes with a number of more specific requirements and ‘nice-to-haves’ such as a multitude of vested interests from charities, sports and photography, to vegetarianism, medicine and even a love of dogs!

What can you expect to do as a Chief of staff?

The short answer is you can expect to do anything and everything!

There is very rarely a fully defined set of day-to-day activities, which can be both the good and the bad aspect of the role and depending on an inclination to experience new challenges.

An important trait is the ability to remain flexible, dealing with both the mundane and exciting, high profile work. Remits can be anything from writing up a Christmas card list or making small talk at a high-profile dinner, to assessing multi-million pound investments whilst crossing continents in a private jet.

Generally speaking, the specific Chief of Staff position tends to mean acting as the right-hand of the C-suite individual; running their projects, both internally and externally to their core business.

What’s in it for those involved?

The candidate:

Candidates get unprecedented exposure to a raft of C-suite connections across a broad range of topics and sectors. Usually, this involves building high level networks and rapport with senior staff which can ultimately lead to exciting progression which is specific to the individual after around 2-3 years.

The C-Suite:

The right proactive Chief of Staff can not only leverage time in an incredibly effective manner, but also help to massively enhance work-life in numerous ways; opening up new opportunities and closing up time consuming work. A right-hand individual with well-chosen and specific skills can drive strategic innovation, insight and act as the eyes and ears during a busy schedule. As long as not considered as a glorified meeting scheduler, they can add exponential benefit to the individual and the business as a whole.

What situations might a Chief of Staff become Relevant?

There are four core scenarios where we have seen the role become particularly pertinent:

  • Companies that regularly engage with external consultants – here the Chief of Staff can be the linchpin for all the high-cost, strategic advice and can be very valuable if a business doesn’t have the in-house capability to do the consultancy themselves or carry out the initiatives suggested.
  • Post Management buyouts / restructures – When a new CEO finds themselves with a new management team and lacking in established relationships - a Chief of Staff with brilliant communication skills can make a huge impact for a CEO by doing the behind the scenes stakeholder buy-in and liaising. This can make the difference between a new management team succeeding or failing.
  • SME’s without fully formed operational and strategic functions - Where there is just not the budget or appetite for a full blown Strategy Department, a Chief of Staff can inject the strategic credentials and thought processes necessary to bring some strategic thinking to the table - hence why we often see them dubbed as ‘Head of Strategic Projects’, or ‘Special Projects’. They can act as a strategy team in microcosm.
  • The C-Suite individual has multiple companies /Trusts / Foundations to look after – We often see that the UNHW who look for Chiefs of Staff do so as they simply have too many plates spinning in the air at any given time. Enter the Chief-of-Staff who can run things independently with the voice of the C-Suite when their attention is per force elsewhere thus allowing them to return and not find relationships and work in ruins, for having been left to their own devices. In such a manner a Chief of Staff can be vital in keeping a spread of organisations operating at full capacity.

We have seen the Chief of Staff continues to hold a huge amount of appeal as a highly interesting position for some truly excellent candidates with an array of high-level skills. Here at Freshminds we have seen a steady rise in interest from both businesses and candidates in this type of role.

Jon is the Head of Experienced Hire Team - If you’re keen to learn more about Chief-of-Staff, either to add some firepower to your business or if you’re interested in the role itself, then join the network or get in touch.

Read 'The rise of Cheif of Staff' article here