Gregory Curtis, Greycourt & Co.

Feb 15, 2023
1 year ago
Greg Curtis

An industry pioneer and prolific author, Gregory Curtis founded Pittsburgh-based Greycourt & Co. in 1988 after graduating from Dartmouth College, working as a special assistant to Mayor John Lindsay in New York, serving in Vietnam, attending Harvard Law School and heading the Mellon Family Office in Pittsburgh. Curtis has grown Greycourt into a $6 billion advisory firm serving wealthy families and has written The Stewardship of Wealth and Family Capital: Working with Wealthy Families to Manage Their Money Across Generations, as well as a children’s book, a book of poetry and a popular weekly blog

What's the latest purposeful investment you made, and why did you do it? 

In late 2021, fearing that the stock market had run too far, too fast, we rebalanced back to our equity targets on several occasions, selling stocks and buying high-quality municipal and Treasury bonds. The idea was not just to keep within our risk budgets but to raise liquidity that we could use later to buy stocks after the (we believed inevitable) price decline.  Curtis_mug

Although stocks have since declined very considerably, we believe they have further to go and so have not yet begun to reenter the markets at any scale. But if and when markets decline significantly further, we will be aggressive buyers.  

What’s the biggest advantage you have in making investment decisions for the long term?  

We are a wealth advisory firm—what some would call a multifamily office—and our biggest advantage is that we are completely “open architecture.” That is, we do not sell—not products of our own—and are not compensated by anyone for the investments we recommend. This allows us to focus on making the best investment decisions for our family clients without having to worry about which advice would best enhance our own bottom line.

What lessons can you share with other family offices about investing strategies, succession issues and philanthropy?  

I’ve written five investment books addressing those questions. In a nutshell:  

  • A) Our clients are already enormously wealthy, so the worst investment case is that they become poor. Therefore, investment strategies should focus on conservative but equity-oriented strategies. Investors should never panic but always remain invested, even if at the bottom of their target equity ranges. And wealthy families should always be in a position to be providers of liquidity to collapsing markets.  
  • B) Succession begins the day you take over. You should always know who will succeed you if that should become necessary unexpectedly. Groom your best people to become CEO—they will either rise to the challenge or not.  
  • C) Regarding philanthropy, the best advice I can give is to avoid becoming an “institutional” donor. If you aren’t willing to get your own hands dirty in support of a particular cause or organization, don’t substitute financial support. Be humble in your expectations; most of the issues people get deeply emotional about have been with us for decades if not centuries. The best you can hope to do is to make the world a slightly better place around the edges. Most philanthropies don’t accomplish even this because they don’t approach the challenges with the requisite humility. 
What wealth strategies and planning tools will help your client meet their multigenerational goals? 

Although we are investment professionals, the best and only strategies for maintaining multigenerational wealth have to do with human capital, not financial capital. Be a good parent, don’t live extravagantly, teach your kids to work and to be good citizens, educate the next generation about investments and the predatory nature of the financial industry. We can invest the capital as well as it can be invested, but that won’t prevent entitled family members from spending money faster than we can make it.

What do you know now that you wish you had known 10 years ago?  

That I had vastly more energy then than I would ever have again; that you can’t take good health for granted; that no matter how smart you think you are, intelligence alone won’t get you where you want to go; that the world is vastly more complex than we can ever get our heads around, and therefore we should plan accordingly and not be constantly surprised or disappointed.  

Charles Paikert, who conducted this interview, has been covering family offices since 2007. He is a contributor to Barron’s Advisor, the U.S. correspondent for Family Wealth Report and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Variety, Financial Planning and many other publications. He is the co-author of Madness: The Ten Most Memorable Basketball Finals and Variety’s History of Show Business.