Media

New York Times


 

Today’s Butlers Are Trading Silver Trays for iPads

 

By ROBERT FRANK DEC. 12, 2015

 

When Graham Lefford started working as a butler in 1989, his daily tasks usually involved planning formal dinners and carefully arranging the daily breakfast tray with coffee and a newspaper.  But on a recent afternoon, Mr. Lefford had to tackle a more modern butler problem: a giant TV screen that had failed to descend from the ceiling. He spent nearly an hour troubleshooting the electrical system, testing the drop-down motors and scrolling through the multimedia TV controller before finally rebooting the home’s universal software interface to get the screen to pop down.

“These homes are so complicated and filled with so much technology,” said Mr. Lefford, who works for a wealthy family in New York. “If you don’t have basic tech skills, you can’t do the job anymore.”

The life of the butler has been transformed by the digital age. As the homes of the rich become filled with new status symbols of technology — such as retinal scanners, iPad-controlled door locks, hidden flat-panel screens and underwater lighting shows — butlers are becoming more like one-man I.T. departments.

Rich homeowners are increasingly looking for house managers and butlers with corporate technology experience or engineering degrees. Butler schools are teaming up with home-software companies to better train students, while home-staffing companies are increasingly recruiting from tech departments at big companies and hotel chains. Butlers themselves — who were transformed into more corporate-style “household managers” in the 1990s and 2000s — are now struggling to balance their core job of pampering their finicky bosses with managing temperamental smart-home systems.

“There is no silver tray anymore,” said David N. Youdovin, chief executive of Hire Society, a household staffing firm based in New York. “If you can’t set up a secure wireless network or sync an iPad or use the Crestron or Savant, it’s hard to be considered for these jobs,” he said, referring to two home-automation brands.  Granted, even the nonrich struggle with increasingly complicated home technologies. But in recent years, the rich have taken smart homes to a new level — and assigned their household staffs to keep them running. Weber Tysvaer, an estate manager and chief of staff to several rich families, said one home he worked in had so many motherboards and servers in the basement, the connecting wires formed giant, multicolored columns along the walls “It looked like a cathedral organ,” he said. “It was actually quite beautiful — unless something went wrong.”

Mr. Tysvaer worked in a Manhattan triplex, owned by a Middle Eastern prince, that was loaded with state-of-the-art technology and security. Yet systems were often crashing: The Wi-Fi rarely worked, the home-software system always had to be restarted, and a set of “Star Trek”-like doors designed to open and close with a smooth whoosh at the push of a button that often failed to close. The entire tech system for the home had to be redone, at a cost of about $500,000, a little over a year after it was built.

Mr. Tysvaer has worked in other homes where an iPad can be used to dial up a movie, change the music, set the lights, turn on a waterfall or have special custom-made scents pumped through the ventilation system. But many times the systems don’t work together, he said — and finding the root of the problem can take hours of calls with product manufacturers and software teams.

The buyers may not realize that these systems “are far more powerful and complex for what they really need,” he said.

Mr. Lefford, who travels between his home in Michigan and his employer’s home in New York, said technology had given him more freedom, but also more headaches. He can manage his employer’s New York home remotely with an iPad, setting the heat, shutting the blinds, turning off the lights and locking the doors with the tap of a screen. He even accepted a flower delivery at the home in New York, and selected bouquets for each room, while sitting in Michigan.

But one Sunday night, when Mr. Lefford was off duty, his boss couldn’t turn on the lights on an upper floor of the house. “To fix it, I would have to remove a panel from an electronics cabinet, unplug something else and hit a reset button,” he said. “They just decided to leave them off till I came back the next day.”

Butler training schools and associations are forging closer ties to the companies that make tech gear for high-end homes. The Domestic Estate Management Association says it’s working with Crestron and Savant to create training programs to teach butlers how to run and troubleshoot smart-home systems. Other schools are adding courses in I.T. networking and programming.  “It’s part of the standard training now,” said Matthew Haack, president of the association.

In many homes of the superrich, technology is so complicated that owners are hiring specialized techies to work alongside butlers and household managers. Kevin G. Johnson, founder of Green Baize Door, a London-based placement agency and advisory firm, said he recently placed two I.T. specialists in mega-homes in Britain. One had been the chief engineer for a big London hotel group while the other came from a corporate I.T. department. They are now earning higher salaries, “in the six figures,” according to Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Youdovin of Hire Society also recently helped place two personal I.T. experts. One was for a hedge fund manager in New York who has a sophisticated trading system set up in his home. The other was for a Hamptons homeowner who wanted a searchable video system allowing him to watch certain moments from scores of professional sports games. Both workers are making over $150,000 a year.

Sometimes a butler’s toughest tech task is to get rid of technology. Mr. Lefford said a previous employer got so frustrated with his remote digital thermostat systems that when he started planning a new state-of-the-art home, he requested the old-fashioned Honeywell dials. But the company installing the home’s heating and cooling system kept pushing for a more expensive digital controller.  “My employer insisted on the dial,” Mr. Lefford said. “He said, ‘I want to be able to change the heat in my own damn house.’”

 

 

Robert Frank is CNBC wealth editor and the author of “Richistan.”

 

Hour Detroit Magazine

 

Putting the House in Order: Domestic Estate Managers Association is Headquartered in Detroit

Masters of service and secrecy, estate managers are adept at handling life’s little (and big) details — for others. These service professionals are in demand globally, and their headquarters are right here in Detroit.

by Monica Mercer

 

Published: September 28, 2012

 

Detroit native Matt Haack needed a California guy with connections. That turned out to be Bryan Peele. You’ve never heard of him, but he’s a known commodity among the Hollywood elite. As an “estate manager” within the private-service industry, Peele had built a solid reputation managing the large home of one of the biggest pop stars in music today. That led to his current job as the estate manager for the heirs to a billion-dollar American cosmetics fortune with long ties to the entertainment industry. Like so many other private-service professionals to the super wealthy, Peele is no poser. He’s in, and he knows every intimate detail of how the rich and famous really live.

However they might define themselves, and whatever they might be called — estate managers, house managers, butlers, personal assistants, private chefs — the private-service professional basically provides services to those who lead intensely complex lives and can afford to pay someone to handle all of life’s little details. It can be as simple as paying the electric bill or as complicated as ensuring there’s enough security for the yacht docked halfway around the world. Peele was a 10-year veteran of this kind of work when Haack called him. The perfect guy, Haack thought, to spread the word in California about an association that, even according to Haack, might have found a more welcoming home base in the vortex of Hollywood wealth. But here it was, in Detroit, where Haack and his business partner, Mike Wright, decided to start the Domestic Estate Managers Association (DEMA; domesticmanagers.com) in 2007. The idea came from a simple observation: After years of running a high-end carpet-cleaning business, they had started to notice that they really dealt only with people like Peele who were professionals in their own right. These professionals were getting paid a lot of money to run other people’s estates, and they had the power to make purchasing decisions regarding home maintenance.

Months of research into private service in the United States followed. It’s an age-old profession where, in its modern form, it’s possible to make about $60,000 a year managing one vacation home, or more than $250,000 managing the upkeep of, say, five homes, the yacht, and the private jet. Topping their research off with a road trip in 2010, Haack and Wright visited estate managers in New York, Florida, Tennessee, and Illinois to gauge interest in the idea for DEMA. What they discovered surprised them. Associations are certainly powerful entities in professions such as medicine and law, where they have become resources for establishing networks, facilitators of continuing education, and respected authorities on standards and ethics. Nothing like this, however, had ever existed for private-service professionals, due perhaps to the “private” nature of their jobs. “It was amazing,” Haack says, “to come across so many estate managers who had never met anyone else who had the same job.” By early 2010, when DEMA contacted Peele, the association’s mission was in full swing to do what others over the years had tried to do but failed — connect a fragmented, secretive industry and establish professional standards for those who devote their careers to serving the world’s wealthiest people.

Peele wasn’t exactly sold, but he went to the first DEMA meeting in Los Angeles a few months later. About a dozen others joined him, and the catering consisted of fast-food tacos — not exactly the stuff that champagne and caviar dreams are made of. “I was like, is this a joke?” Peele recalls. “But instantly, I saw the worth of what DEMA was trying to do. It was an opportunity waiting to explode.”

In many respects, it has, going from zero to more than 1,400 members over the course of a couple of years. Those members work across 41 states and 18 countries, and there are 14 chapters that meet regularly in the United States alone. DEMA says that’s still just a fraction of potential membership, estimating that the industry employs at least 1 million private-service professionals working at all levels in this country and is worth billions worldwide. About 100 DEMA members now routinely attend the Los Angeles meetings, which are held at the city’s best restaurants (the catering has clearly graduated to more sophisticated fare). A recent guest speaker was the head butler of the Beverly Hills Hotel, who was there to demonstrate the proper way to pack a suitcase. That’s the perfect example, Peele says, of the kind of education that DEMA can provide for members.  

To help publicize DEMA’s efforts as it builds this momentum — they had their first national convention at the end of September in Los Angeles — the association hired a public-relations firm earlier this year, prompting national media outlets to once again dissect a lifestyle that has been easy to mock in the past. The very notion of hiring “help” in the modern world may partly be to blame, the details of which can seem downright archaic. (We all know billionaires don’t live like the rest of us, but they seriously can’t pack their own suitcases?) All of these little aspects of a monied existence, if taken out of context, are even easier to boil down to repeat tales of how the richest people in America — those who have come to be labeled as the “1 percent,” control roughly half the nation’s wealth, and whose lifestyles remained intact during the great recession — still live to excess while others struggle to recover. Peele has a pragmatic and somewhat philosophical retort, even if he can understand most people’s skepticism these days toward overly lavish lifestyles. “Since the beginning of time, there have been the haves and the have-nots,” he says. “But when you think about it, at the most basic level, aren’t we all in the service industry? Don’t we all serve someone else in our jobs, and doesn’t everyone serve us? The “haves” need someone to support them, too. You just have to think about it that way, or you could really be susceptible to building up resentment.” In order to put a more realistic spin on the industry, DEMA members, including Peele, are currently working with an independent production company in Hollywood to develop a reality series that they say would ideally avoid an “over-the-top” display of wealth in favor of a truer-to-life portrayal of the estate manager’s role, daily grind and all.  

But make no mistake, private-service professionals still work in an extremely cloistered world that even the easy-going West Coast attitude toward wealth and “new money” will expose only to a degree. “It’s a very secret society,” says Drew Esslinger, an estate manager in Detroit and one of the few here who are willing to talk about the profession. “People just don’t want you to know they have [domestic] staff.” Understandably, they also don’t want their private business broadcast publicly.

Although most of Peele’s colleagues probably know whom he works for, he’s careful to offer limited details of his job, which consists of managing four estates from a home base in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles. He is embedded in every personal aspect of the lives of the family members he serves. One day, he’s driving the teen daughter to art class. On any other given day, he’s got control of at least one of the family checkbooks. It’s normal for him to negotiate and oversee projects such as the $100,000 installation of a new security system for the main home. “I’m a facilitator. That’s really, truly all I am,” Peele says. He won’t talk openly at all, however, about his “principal,” an industry term used to describe the estate owners and other wealthy people who employ private service professionals. True, the job can be extremely rewarding — ”like living the life without having to pay for it,” Peele admits. But it can also be a daily marathon in keeping the boss’ confidence. It’s the kind of career, Peele says, where trust is the only prerequisite that counts. “It’s not like you’re sitting around the pool sipping ‘mocktails’ all day,” Peele adds. “It’s very hard work.” (And, as Haack explains it, when you’re managing the homes of prominent billionaires and have been sworn to secrecy through a confidentiality agreement, you’re also not going to knock on the neighbor’s door to gab about work and ask to borrow a cup of sugar.)

This secretive culture is perhaps nowhere more pronounced than on DEMA’s home turf, a microcosm of the challenge the association faces on a global scale in establishing trust with private-service professionals who are unwilling to risk breaking the trust of their employers. Despite Detroit’s reputation for economic woes and a blue-collar middle class that has struggled for years, the Motor City is, in fact, a fortress of old money and wealth that continues to thrive. For this reason, it made sense for Haack and Wright to keep the association in Detroit, as opposed to moving it to Los Angeles or New York, where the concept at first might have made a little more sense. Haack now regards with somewhat smug pleasure the calls DEMA receives from all over the country inquiring about what they do and how they can help, such as the call that recently came in from a “principal” who needed advice on how to hire an estate manager in France. “When we tell people that DEMA is based in Detroit, or when they find out they’re calling to Detroit, they’re all in shock,” Haack says. “People don’t think there can be that much money and wealth here to support private-service professionals.”

There is, with some of Detroit’s approximately 100 DEMA members doing the same job as Peele in California for families who enjoy a similar level of wealth. Consider Eminem and Kid Rock or that long list of family names whose influential ties run deep in Detroit. When asked about all of them, Haack’s answer comes in the form of silence and an uneasy smile. Three notable, wealthy Detroiters contacted for this story declined comment. DEMA knows some of the people who work for them, but they are token members who don’t want to be officially associated. “And if I told you their names, they’d never talk to us again,” Haack says. According to DEMA, other families less known, but equally well-to-do, regularly employ full-time butlers, estate managers, and private chefs to tend to their homes in Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills — and even such Detroit neighborhoods as Boston-Edison. Like tradition within East Coast bastions of old money, flaunting a wealthy lifestyle in the Midwest, let alone talking about it, is considered gauche. So, if the estate managers to the mega-wealthy on the West Coast may be reluctant to reveal details about their jobs, the discussion in most cases isn’t even going to start in Detroit.

An exception is Esslinger, the estate manager of the Charles T. Fisher mansion. With 48 rooms and 18,000 square feet, the home is the largest residence in historic Boston-Edison. It’s the former home of Charles Fisher and his wife, Sarah, of the “Body by Fisher” family. Michael Fisher, a cousin to the family, bought the home a few years ago and hired Esslinger to live at and manage the property and use his restoration expertise to execute the meticulous process of returning the mansion to its original glory. It’s a laborious task that could take another five years, involve countless contractors and vendors, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s also a prime example, Esslinger suggests, of estate management in its most authentic form. This isn’t a luxury service, Esslinger says, it’s a necessity. And he’s certainly not just a “servant” (although 17 traditional servants lived in the home in its heyday in the early 20th century). That kind of domestic staff in 2012 may not be necessary, but Fisher, who runs other businesses, simply would not be able to accomplish his goals for the mansion without Esslinger’s full-time, watchful eye. “Being in this home is like running a small business. I’m HR. I’m the go-to person. I’m everything. I have to have answers, and that’s how it is,” Esslinger says.

As the president of DEMA’s Detroit chapter, Esslinger believes in the potential for the association to cast his peers in a similarly more modern light here and in the rest of the world. Haack agrees, adding that one of the association’s most important roles might be to establish a new conversation about what it means to serve people in the 21st century. “There are a lot of very wealthy people out there who want to keep this on the down low, because they’re afraid of the public’s view of having staff,” Haack says. “What we’re saying is, look, there’s a reason staff is in place, and the association is here to help. The top 1 percent run businesses and philanthropies and help create entire industries. That’s why estate managers like Drew are so important. They allow the principals to go and do what they’re good at. [The principals] don’t have to worry about the house. It’s covered.”

Detroit was prime training ground in the private-service industry for Graham Lefford 23 years ago. A native of England who moved here when he was 9 and still speaks with an English accent, Lefford ditched the idea of becoming a scientist like his father to become a traditional butler at a home in Bloomfield Hills, instead. Having cut his teeth as a server at The Golden Mushroom restaurant in Detroit during college, Lefford found he was good at serving others, and the home in the suburbs certainly expected it. “It was an extraordinarily formal household that wanted a classic butler. You know, serving lunches, serving dinners every night,” he says. Lefford also managed the contractors — plumbers, electricians, decorators, fabric cleaners — who came and went regularly, paying meticulous attention to every detail of keeping up the house. “In these types of houses, people don’t understand that everything is just more special,” Lefford explains. “I’ve worked in houses where the furniture was worth millions of dollars. The fabric on one couch may be worth $40,000 alone. Mistakes in taking care of it all can be very expensive.” Once estate managers gain this type of experience and skill in managing such households, they can command a premium. Lefford went on to work for three years for a multi-billionaire businessman in New York. “He had more homes than you could count,” Lefford says. “He gave me a place to live, a car, a benefits package. It was just crazy,” he says of his time managing the businessman’s estates in New York and Florida. Recently, an agent to a major Hollywood celebrity offered Lefford a job managing the star’s estates in Los Angeles, Kentucky, London, the south of France, and the Caribbean, a position that would have meant constant travel between the properties. “They told me money was no object, but I was just like, no, I love my wife and family.”

Today, Lefford lives quietly in White Lake Township with his wife and young son, commuting to New York about four days a week as an estate manager for a different family. In the time since his early butler days, he’s come to understand his role of estate manager as more of a problem solver or consultant, or even a trusted “custodian” of wealthy people’s resources. In many instances, Lefford says, he has seen domestic staff and unscrupulous vendors try to take advantage of that extreme wealth, which he says is a constant concern for those who invite people into their homes to work on a professional basis. “You know that saying, when the cat’s away, the mice come out to play,” Lefford says. “Unfortunately, some people look at these rich people, and they think they’ll pay a premium for anything. What do they care? But in most cases, these are really good people who need good help, and I feel like it’s my job to go out of my way to make sure they don’t get ripped off.”    

 

Like his colleague Esslinger, Lefford sees the potential in DEMA for elevating these issues and concerns, and to “truly help the industry in a unique way” that he has never experienced as a veteran of the business. “For now, the subject is how to recruit more members, especially in Detroit. That’s the million-dollar question,” Lefford says, acknowledging that secrecy is still a solid mainstay of the industry. And with it, continued misperceptions, even from Lefford’s elderly father who still wonders, albeit lightheartedly, what all the fuss is about. “We had a family lunch the other day, and [my father] was making mock of me,” Lefford says. “I jabbed back and said, ‘I know you think the details are petty, but they’re not.’ ” People at other times will routinely ask Lefford what it is, exactly, that he does, and he finds it interesting that people tend to insist that having money wouldn’t change them. “My first reaction is, ‘Yes, it would,’ ” Lefford says.  “Think about it — if you could pay someone to do your laundry, cook, wash your car, fill it up with gas, and do it all exactly they way you would do it yourself, wouldn’t you do that?”

 

Forbes Magazine

 
Modern-Day Downton Abbey: Inside The Super-Secret World Of Estate Management
 

This story appears in the November 19, 2012 issue

Morgan Brennan ,  Forbes Staff

I write about real estate markets, outrageous homes and cities.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own

 

 

Two hundred fifty men and women mill around the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel ballroom, notepads in hand. They siphon off to workshops like Mastering the Arrangement of a Private Jet Flight; Art as an Asset: Protecting Your Client; and Managing Difficult Terminations: A Safety Perspective. Other educational options include lectures on labor law, green home-cleaning methods and sourcing the right nanny. Welcome to the Domestic Estate Managers Association’s national convention, the first of its kind ever organized for a secretive industry you may not have known existed.

“Everything we do happens behind closed doors,” explains Richmond Schmidt, majordomo for a Palm Beach estate and president of the Southeast Florida DEMA chapter. “There are people who work on the same block as I do, and I don’t know who they are.”

For those living exceedingly large, Schmidt and the other conference-goers represent a new breed of servant, 21st-century gentlemen and ladies-in-waiting. They may elicit comparison with Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, but unlike the late Victorian English country house concept popularized by TV, these highly educated estate managers are forging a new profession. In fact, many of them are white-collar transfers in second or third careers.

But for all that, there’s a good reason domestic estate management as a career flies under the mainstream’s radar: The job description requires unwavering discretion. Disclosure of even the most seemingly minute fact could threaten a career in an industry where staff are privy to the most intimate details of their “principal” family’s personal lives. There is a code of ethics that is signed and sealed with nondisclosure agreements. (It is not unusual for applicants to sign NDAs simply to interview for a position.)

The fact that five-year-old DEMA (which vets prospective members and requires all 1,500 participants to sign NDAs) has organized a national conference where these managers can meet one another, network and further their education among peers is a somewhat unprecedented–and long overdue–concept. The association has 14 chapters scattered across the wealthiest areas of the U.S., each meeting monthly. The local get-togethers are part support group, part educational workshop, part professional network. The idea is to add both validation and a system of checks and balances to this insulated industry.

It is believed that there are about 1,000 estate managers–at the pinnacle of the private service pyramid–overseeing properties around the country, though few data exist. “I think no one truly knows how many private service professionals are out there. … Some are paid properly and some are not, while others are on the corporate payroll despite working in the home,” says Michael Wright, cofounder of the Domestic Estate Managers Association. Adds Matthew Haack, DEMA’s other founder: “Think about just the professional sports teams out there and how many millionaires are on those. Someone is handling their estates. Now add celebrities and billionaires.”

There are 50 generally recognized household job titles, with room for more, according to Teresa Leigh, an estate manager turned household advisory specialist. The estate manager hires and manages those positions, typically overseeing two or more such properties. He or she also sources outside vendors to carry out specialized jobs or tasks.  “[My boss] pays me for the knowledge and experience that I bring, just like a CEO,” says Graham Lefford, an estate manager and the vice president of the DEMA chapter in Detroit. He has dedicated 24 years to household service, after logging a dozen in hotel and restaurant hospitality. “The CEO isn’t doing the hands-on work in a company, but he is bringing the knowledge and experience to run the company and get others to do it. That’s what we do, though most of us grab a plunger just as quickly as anything else.”

Experienced estate managers typically fetch six-figure salaries in return for a substantial skill set that spans everything from knowledge of fine food and wine to an understanding of art and architecture to skills in household accounting, personnel management, first aid, computers, high-tech security and HVAC systems.  “No task is too small or too large. In the same day you could be picking up poodle poop and calling Al Gore’s office,” says Allison Pulley, San Francisco Bay Area chapter vice president.  Social skills–and thick skin–are a must. Private service professionals must know when to enter and leave a room, when to be present but unnoticed, how to tactfully update a principal with household information. Estate managers are paid to anticipate needs and solve problems. Perhaps a principal family plans to shoot game at their ranch in Kenya for a month with the in-house gun collection. Figuring out how to transport family and firearms starts with calculating the combined weight of the luggage and the arsenal and perhaps hiring four SUVs to transport everyone and everything to the airport comfortably.

“Just because you had nine kids or because you were a corporate personal assistant doesn’t mean you can run one of these houses,” asserts David Barrie Jr., an estate manager for the Stephenson family, the founders of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Barrie, the Chicago chapter president, has worked with his principal family, based in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, for six years.  Barrie, a former engineer, starts his morning at 5 a.m. He knows how to lift a prized vase so as not to leave behind trace oils and whom to call if a 17th-century piece of furniture needs to be moved (the historians at the local museum). He has learned how to assemble staffs for several residences, how to breed Haflinger horses (and muck their stalls), how to fire guns and how to fix furnaces. He has attended both etiquette classes and codependency workshops.

If his principal family flies to, say, a ranch in Aspen, which Barrie has painstakingly transformed into a winter paradise, and the cold spurs them to relocate to a property in Florida, he scrambles to make sure every aspect of that property is ready to be inhabited without a hitch, from stocked pantries to heated swimming pool.  “David is the facilitator. He is the guy who can express Dad’s needs when he can’t be there, and that can entail any aspect of a property,” explains Christopher Stephenson, Barrie’s principal’s son. Despite the fact that he works directly for the elder Stephenson, Barrie is available to everyone in the family. When raccoons absconded with the baby chickens and baby pheasant Christopher’s son had hatched on a Sunday morning, Barrie left the concert he was attending and tracked down replacement birds from Indiana before the day’s end. “I fell in love with the family I work for and what they do,” says Barrie, in response to the appreciation elicited by his deed.A mutual display of respect, and in some cases even love, is a common thread in the work life of estate managers. That is, once they find a great family to work for. “You don’t want to work for every billionaire or celebrity or multimillionaire. You want to work for the family that you get along with best,” says Nikki Brown, Atlanta chapter president.Horror stories do crop up. Navigating the sometimes tumultuous power dynamics asserted by “trophy” wives is a common source of workplace ire. One estate manager, for example, recounts being impetuously fired by a new wife when the numbers on the replacement remote control were deemed too small. (He was just as quickly rehired when he returned from the store with a larger remote.) Some have struggled with party-loving playboys hoping to be supplied with drugs. In one instance, a female manager was forced to quit when her boss would not stop making overtures.But for every tawdry story, happy ones flood the conference rooms of the DEMA convention. There is an overwhelming sense of pride and loyalty that explains the allure of this on-call, 24/7 career. “The romance of the industry is in the ability to see and to care,” says Leigh, swiping at tears as she recounts a fond memory of a former employer’s heartfelt reaction to a simple birthday gift she crafted for him years ago. “To be able to identify all of those little things that someone likes just so and be able to make it just so, that is the magic of this industry.

 

”–On-the-Job Training: Lessons For Estate Managers

 

1) Always carry a camera. “It reminds you of the table setting for a Christmas three years ago, or of the placement of figurines on the mantel that need to be returned after the chimney sweep leaves. Employers also love to see progress on projects in their absence.”–Richmond Schmidt, majordomo

 

2) Never put your principal in the position where he or she has to say no. “I can say, ‘The chauffeur has to take Thursday off. Is that okay?’ Or I can say, ‘The chauffeur needs a day off. Would Thursday be okay, or would another day be better? ‘ “–Graham Lefford, estate manager

 

3) Maintain a communal household calendar so everyone is looped in to the principal’s schedule (events, parties, vacations, guests arriving, etc.).–Elise Lewis, founder, Distinguished Domestics

 

4) Never take your principal up on an offer. For example, never use the pool when they are not home, despite the invite.–Anonymous estate manager

 

5) Photocopy everything in your employer’s wallet–front and back. Keep it all in a safe place in case the wallet is stolen.–Bonnie Low-Kramen, author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and former assistant to Olympia Dukakis

 

 

 

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