From Private Equity Veterans to Multi-Family-Office Leaders. Q&A with Avy Stein and Eric Becker of Cresset

From Private Equity Veterans to Multi-Family-Office Leaders

After more than 60 years of combined experience as private equity executives, entrepreneurs, and CEO founders, Avy Stein and Eric Becker came out of retirement to launch Cresset. As longtime family office clients themselves, their families simply weren’t receiving the level of sophisticated and holistic guidance they needed. They knew there had to be a better way. Below, Avy and Eric share more about why they founded Cresset and their vision to “reinvent the way clients experience wealth.”

You both had long, successful careers as private equity executives, entrepreneurs and CEO founders. What made you decide to come out of retirement and launch Cresset?

Avy: Well, as our wives like to say, we “flunked at retirement.” Seriously though, Eric and I had been making some private investments together, and we began discussing the multi-family offices and wealth management firms we’ve worked with and come across over the years. We agreed that none of them could fully deliver what we were looking for. We are life-long private equity guys and entrepreneurs. We know private investing and the outsized potential return it can deliver. We thought, “Why can’t we create a firm that marries our background in private markets with the comprehensive services of a true multi-family office?” From that Cresset was born. Our mantra from the beginning has been to “build the house we want to live in.”

Eric: As Avy says, we knew there had to be a better way. We initiated a year-long research study to explore what was out there to meet the needs of investors like us. The lack of options was glaring. We knew we could fill that gap. We knew we could offer investing—the way it should be—for families like ours.

From the start, our goal with Cresset was to build a firm to last 100+ years. We are in this for the long haul. You almost never get to do that when starting a new business. Since we started Cresset by funding it initially ourselves, we have been able to build an infrastructure to last for generations.

You both dealt with some significant personal challenges / tragedies prior to founding Cresset. How did those experiences help define what you wanted to build with Cresset?

Avy: Several years ago, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, which caused me to step back from my role at the time as CEO of Willis Stein & Partners. Thankfully, I was able to beat the cancer. It was while I was recuperating and thinking about doing something meaningful that Eric and I began making investments together. We began having conversations about what was missing in the wealth management industry for families like ours. Although it was an incredibly difficult period for both Eric and me, it proved to be the genesis of Cresset.

Eric: My wife and I lost our beautiful daughter, Cara, in 2012 to cancer at the age of 21. Of course, it was devastating beyond words. Nothing can prepare you for such a loss. I chose to retire from my previous role leading Sterling Partners to focus on my family and honor our daughter’s legacy. I took a year off and did service in the community with my wife to foster entrepreneurship and mentorship and help young people give back to their communities. We also created the Karma for Cara Foundation, which is a nonprofit that provides microgrants of up to $1,000 to children to give back to their communities. It’s incredible what these young people are doing. It has helped mend our hearts and reorient our outlook toward a brighter future. I couldn’t have launched Cresset without this period of healing and giving back.

There are thousands of RIAs out there. What sets Cresset apart from the rest? How did you set Cresset up to be fundamentally different than your competition?

Avy: It’s the breadth and depth of what Cresset has to offer that sets us apart. Our private investing capabilities alone are very hard to match. Because of our unique backgrounds and the private market networks we’ve built over our careers, we are able to bring institutional-quality direct investment opportunities to families who have historically not had that sort of access. Add that to our robust family office services, and you have a differentiated player among multi-family offices.

Eric: Culture. From day one, we built Cresset to be rooted in a culture that puts clients first, questions conventional thinking, and encourages our employees to act like owners. In fact, every Cresset employee is an owner. Our clients are invited to be owners in the firm as well. That creates amazing alignment and transparency

Who did you create Cresset for? Describe the clients who can most benefit from the Cresset platform.

Avy: Cresset was built for families like ours. We were the first clients of Cresset, and we remain clients today. Cresset is specifically designed for CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, wealth creators, and high-net-worth families, all of whom have complex financial situations. We offer a deeply personalized set of solutions – including robust family office services, wealth planning and institutional-quality private investing – that is specifically designed for each client. It’s what we wish we had access to before we launched Cresset, and it’s really resonating with our clients today.

Eric: I’d like to add that both Avy and I share a life-long commitment to paying it forward through mentorship. We truly enjoy using our experiences to help our clients, whether with setting up a board of directors, preparing for a business exit, or reading through a business plan from a next-generation family member. It’s something we genuinely love to do.

You obviously have deep experience in private investments. How are you bringing that knowledge to Cresset’s clients?

Eric: Private investing is foundational to who we are at Cresset. Avy and I have started, nurtured, and backed over 150 businesses and raised more than $8 billion in funding in our careers. That experience is at the core of Cresset’s offerings. We offer direct access to curated private investing in real estate, private credit, venture capital, private equity secondaries, as well as some of the largest Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) funds. We have a team of seasoned private equity and direct investing professionals who have built an amazing platform for our clients. To date, we have more than $3 billion in capital commitments, so our offerings are clearly resonating with investors.

Avy: I am enormously proud that we are able to bring our knowledge in private investing to families who have been unable to access such high-caliber opportunities, as they are typically reserved for institutional investors. We invest like the largest endowments and single-family offices, which is what our clients expect and deserve.

Cresset has experienced explosive growth since you founded the firm in 2017. Why do you believe Cresset’s vision and suite of offerings is resonating so well with clients?

Avy: It’s because we are truly reinventing the wealth management / multi-family office experience. Our approach is truly holistic and so highly personalized when it comes to caring for our clients’ needs. We’ve developed an ecosystem of ideas and solutions, including events and networking opportunities throughout the year for our clients.

Yes, we provide access to institutional-quality private investments. Yes, we provide estate and philanthropic planning services. Yes, we provide tax strategy and planning. But we provide so much more. Particularly through our Family Office Services group, we dive into what it means to be a family of wealth. What are the values and vision that bring a family together? What is the legacy the family wants to leave? What are the expectations of the rising generations? We explore all of that and more with our client families.

Eric: Ditto! 🙂

You’ve also been quite effective at attracting some incredible industry talent. What is the appeal for advisors and other team members?

Avy: The Cresset team is an incredibly talented group of professionals who share our vision and values. That is most important. They are also attracted by our partnership approach. In other words, at Cresset they find a home where they have a voice, where innovative thoughts and ideas are acted upon. They are not just a cog in the machine. As stated earlier, every Cresset team member is an owner in the firm, and they are encouraged to act like the owners they are. That is a powerful incentive.

Eric: Absolutely. Cresset is our people. It is so gratifying to work alongside such intelligent, caring, and client-centric team members. Our culture is our most valuable asset. I truly believe that is at the core of why Cresset has been so successful, and why so many people want to join our firm.

I tell my wife all the time that this is the best group of people I have ever worked with. She teases me back saying, “How can that be? You’ve worked with 100 companies over 40 years?!” And I say it’s absolutely true. There is something truly special about the team at Cresset.

Finally, what’s next for Cresset? What is your vision for the future?

Avy: We’ve only just begun. Cresset is on an incredible growth trajectory. In just six years, we’ve grown to manage more than $40 billion in client assets (as of 11/01/2023) and more than 3,500 clients have joined Cresset. That is incredibly gratifying. We plan to build on that success and introduce more families like ours to a truly comprehensive, boutique multi-family office experience. We have designed Cresset from the start to be a 100+-year firm.

Eric: I couldn’t agree more with Avy. To watch what we envisioned just a few short years ago blossom into a firm that is delivering on what families like ours have long craved is so rewarding. We are more inspired than ever to expand our ecosystem of ideas, solutions and talent, because clients deserve better

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About Cresset

Cresset is an independent, award-winning multi-family office and private investment firm with more than $45 billion in assets under management (as of 04/01/2024). Cresset serves the unique needs of entrepreneurs, CEO founders, wealth creators, executives, and partners, as well as high-net-worth and multi-generational families. Our goal is to deliver a new paradigm for wealth management, giving you time to pursue what matters to you most.

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