Leslie Voth, Pitcairn
Leslie Voth became the CEO of Pitcairn, the Philadelphia-based multifamily office, in 2012. She was the first nonfamily member to hold this role in the firm’s centurylong history. Having joined Pitcairn in 1993, Voth’s previous roles include director of marketing and communications as well as president and COO. Crain Currency caught up with Voth to learn more about why she initially hesitated to take the job and how she has worked to empower women and younger generations among both her client families and the workers who serve them.
The first nonfamily leader of a family office. Did this cause controversy?
I think it was probably most controversial with me. I didn’t see myself in that role, but I had a mentor in one of the family members who did. I spent two years engaging with professional development resources. I was deeply honored, I had so much respect for the family, and I knew it was a place I loved to come to work every day. I did want to make sure [before I accepted the job] that I would be able to implement change. Prior leaders were very much hierarchical, command-and-control, and I wanted to see that change. I particularly wanted to bring in the voices of women and the next generation. So I wanted to make sure if I took the job that they were up for the change. And believe it or not, the idea resonated with the family.
What was the role of women at Pitcairn before you steered these changes?
Culturally, at that moment in time, women were being told of decisions, not being asked. But families do better when they have diverse views. Businesses, as well, thrive when they don’t just have one generation, one gender or one discipline. It’s really a multidisciplinary game.
Tell me about Pitcairn’s Women’s Forum.
We bring together women clients to support decision-making. The idea was to bring together some great speakers, and at first we called it the “Women’s Financial Spa.” But the women got upset and said: “We can go to the spa anytime. If we’re learning financial concepts, we want to call it a forum.” So we just went to a great hotel and said, “You book your own spa.”
What else had to change at Pitcairn as you moved to enfranchise women more?
We had to change the skills of the advisers. One of the best advisers I hired was a woman, a single mom who had been a second-grade teacher and had gotten through some tough times. She was inspirational and positive. A lot of times, in these old-fashioned family offices, the culture is very discreet, very private. You really didn’t know what was going on, and this was by design. But there’s been a culture shift over the last 25 years to open it up and be more transparent.
How do you screen for the best employees for this new culture?
We look for a combination of skills. We like the CFP [certified financial planner certification] for our relationship managers. We like that it gives a multidisciplinary approach. We look for people with a high level of emotional intelligence. You’ll do incredibly well if you can read a situation. We also do a lot of training. We intentionally develop our team and are passionate about that.
You’ve written about the “life cycle” of the family office. What is meant by that?
Nothing stays the same. The idea that once you get something set up that it should stay that way for a long time is a flawed notion. When you get to the point where something is not working, you need to rethink that. Also, sometimes family members will say: “I don’t want to be a part of this anymore. I want to go my own way.” Sometimes a part of the family decides they’re going to split off and do their own thing or hire a different type of adviser. It’s natural to have this happen.
OK, so you’ve spotted some potential in Cousin Greg. Now how exactly do you develop him into a leader?
In the case of the Pitcairn family, there was a family council that would develop the next generation. We also had a developmental group where we would hire organizational development experts who could help us with personality assessments, organizational dynamics, and questions like how to use a personal coach. [In preparing for generational change], I hired in 2019 a millennial from a private equity firm with credentials in HR. I sought someone who thought about this in a different way than I did. She wanted to challenge us on how to work from home, on DEI and a more diverse workplace. She’s been amazing. I spend a lot of time with her. We don’t always agree, we have rigorous debates. Sometimes I win those debates. But sometimes she’ll take me on – and I need to be taken on, on some of that.
Interview by David Zax, a freelance financial reporter whose work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company and The New York Times.