Global Citizen: Dr. Juerg Steffen
“I like pressure…especially the tasks that seem to be almost impossible”
If you are fortunate enough to secure some time in Juerg Steffen’s diary and have him regale you with an account of his professional journey to date, it is almost certain that you will walk away feeling very inspired — or possibly like an underachiever. From very early in his life, Juerg has cultivated a determined and ambitious approach to his work, which explains why, today, he is the CEO of Henley & Partners, a firm that is widely regarded as being the pioneer of the investment migration industry.
When Juerg tells the story of how he and his close university friends organized a massive university party that was attended by a crowd of almost 12,000 and featured Run DMC as the evening’s entertainment, it is clear to see that this wealth planning expert has been entrepreneurial, business- savvy, and visionary from a young age.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1970, Juerg is one of three children. While his siblings pursued medical professions — his twin sister is a dentist and their older brother a doctor — Juerg was quite certain that he wanted to pursue a career in private banking.
To kickstart his banking career, a 19-year-old Juerg secured holiday employment at a local private bank while studying economics at university. Not quite satisfied with the idea of sitting in a lecture hall and being dictated to, Juerg’s ambitious streak prompted him to convince his superiors at the bank to take him on, on a part-time basis. He remembers fondly that his life was so consumed with his interest in banking work that in the evenings he preferred to study at the office.
During a year-long break from his economics studies, Juerg worked almost full-time assisting one of the bank’s board members and helping to formulate guidelines, policies, and regulations, an unlikely role for a new professional but one in which he thrived and found great pleasure. Having been impressed by Juerg’s contribution to developing important documents for the bank and noting his precision and attention to detail, Juerg’s boss suggested he continue with his studies and pursue law, which explains how Juerg returned to university at the age of 23. Shortly after, Juerg and a friend started a company with the aim of selling imported medical equipment, which — together with his party planning gig and part-time work at the bank — left him very little time to focus on his academics. The approach of his final exams was a startling wake-up call, inspiring Juerg to take seriously the remainder of his studies — which he did determinedly.
Upon graduating from law school, Juerg was invited back to the bank and, at 28 years old, took on the role of head of front office support, reporting directly to the CEO. He went on to stay for a total of almost 15 years at the bank, which included stints managing a subsidiary bank in Guernsey and establishing, as well as running, another in the Bahamas. Remembering his time there, Juerg reflects on the challenges he encountered considering the changing legal and regulatory landscape following the then-recent 9/11 attacks and a world beset by anxiety and insecurity. Nevertheless, he persisted and established a successful business — a real testament to his resilient and ambitious nature.
On a less serious note, Juerg also remembers very fondly his first few days in the country having to deal with no luggage, no electricity at his accommodation, and no confirmed office space from which to work — which meant calling clients from telephone booths in parking areas — as well as having to build credibility in the tightly knit community of Nassau, where trust was the order of the day and many outsiders struggled to break in. But all of this enthralled him immensely — Juerg says: “I like greenfield operations. I like to build up things. I am a builder” — and fueled his work habit that persists today, of which he shares mischievously: “I just love working…It’s like a hobby. I just love to make business and work.”
With his sunny Bahaman days behind him, in 2004 Juerg moved back to Europe, where Germany’s tax amnesty program had recently been established to encourage wealthy citizens with accounts abroad to repatriate their funds to the country. At that time, a significant portion of German wealth was held in Switzerland, where Juerg himself was based, which inspired Juerg to develop an onshore German product line for clients interested in leveraging the amnesty.
But Juerg also felt the need to improve his wealth planning knowledge and set his sights on working for leading global wealth manager UBS. In the mid 2000s, “I went to UBS, knocked on their door, and said ‘I would like to work for you in wealth planning’, Juerg says. He chuckles as he tells this story and realizes the temerity of approaching a bank to hire him despite having “not much of a clue” about the sector he was interested in. Nevertheless, and rather surprisingly, UBS brought him on board, having been impressed by his charm and personality. The condition of his employment, however, was that he would have to complete a master’s degree specializing in wealth planning, which the banking giant funded and Juerg pursued during evenings and weekends.
He speaks enthusiastically about his time at the bank, his face beaming and voice rising in an obviously passionate and authentic manner. “It was amazing. I never learnt as much and in such a short time anywhere else as with the UBS wealth planning team,” Juerg shares. It was a highly charged and inspired time for the broader team too, with business doing exceptionally well. Juerg made great professional strides aided by his developing combined tax and legal expertise. “We were an amazing team…I did a lot of relocation and inheritance planning for the cross-border wealth management department and wrote financial plans for wealthy clients to help them optimize their wealth over the medium to long term.”
Juerg developed an interest in relocation planning and, realizing that the literature on the topic was sparse, successfully convinced the professors of his master’s class to allow him to focus on this for his thesis. Indeed he did, and Juerg later published it as the book Relocation to Switzerland: An Introduction for For High Net Worth Individuals and Entrepreneurs.
At the relatively young age of 35, Juerg was fast making a name for himself and caught the attention of one of Europe’s wealthiest families, with one of the largest single family offices and wealth of over EUR 20 billion at the time. The family approached Juerg to come on board and advise their members in Switzerland.
Juerg moved to Austria a few years later for personal reasons and took on the job of head of the wealth planning department of the subsidiary of a leading Swiss bank that was eager to fortify its resources with an experienced senior banker from Switzerland. Once again finding himself in a position of needing to grow his local client base, Juerg commenced plans to publish another book, this time focusing on advising high-net-worth clients regarding relocation to Austria. This saw him approaching and building relationships with several key expert peers, one of them being Dr. Christian H. Kälin, Group Chairman of Henley & Partners.
Despite initial hesitation to leave the bank and accept an offer of employment at Henley & Partners, Juerg relented and soon found himself in Singapore setting up the firm’s Southeast Asia operations. He says: “It was very difficult at the beginning. I didn’t know anybody. I had never been in Singapore. But I survived and after a few months I had the first client.” Juerg relished the opportunity to start something from nothing, another greenfield endeavor, and is rightfully considered a catalyst of the firm’s continued success in the region.
Now the CEO of Henley & Partners, Juerg has played a pivotal role in growing the firm and, indeed, the investment migration industry at large; Henley & Partners now has 30 offices worldwide and a staff complement of over 300. His leadership of the firm is highly praised as it navigates the choppy waters of industry growth, growing public interest, and increased media discussion about the value of residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs generally.
One thing is certain: with Juerg bringing over 30 years of corporate experience, a natural inclination to work hard, and a tenacious, ambitious, and entrepreneurial approach to handling challenges, Henley & Partners is in good hands.