Inside the Billionaire Service Industry
Inside the Billionaire Service Industry
And this is a little blurb I recently blogged following alot of questions about the old vs new Butler that may give you something as well
“The modern day butler is a far cry from Downton Abbey’s impeccably mannered Mr Carson. In that era, the butler had to embody the virtues demanded of the head of a household, as well as polishing silver, decanting the wine, and ensuring the rest of the staff were performing their duties, looking immaculate and following the protocols of their rank. I am struggling to find any parallels between Carson’s role and that of a modern Butler that the Agency trains and places with wealthy people.
In my opinion, the two most desirable qualities in a good butler are loyalty and discretion. Loyalty, but also the ability to ignore his pretensions (and there are many), and discretion as a confidant who can also stay socially aloof.
It is no surprise to me that it is English butlers who are most in demand, and that their clients are mainly from China and Russia. For the new super-rich, an English butler is a status symbol to line up alongside the Swiss banker, French chef, German car manufacturer, and Italian lover. The English are seen as refined, dignified, deferential, reserved, formal when needed, and able to adapt to any given situation without giving way to emotion or anxiety. They are also there to bring sophistication and old-world charm to the halls of their otherwise ostentatious homes; a touch of class alongside the gold taps and garish chandeliers.
I believe the true test of an intelligent modern butler is not how much he knows how to do, but how he behaves when he doesn’t know.
Constantly by the master’s side, the Butler is privy to things that even his inner circle do not know. This can be infuriating to others and there are always political waters to navigate. But with knowledge comes power, and with power comes responsibility. As the relationship grows, the Butler gets to observe his master’s quirks, his weaknesses and his vices, some of which are not always palatable. Once the Butler has earned his boss’ trust, the lines between master and servant begin to blur. A butler will never expect to be treated equally (nor would he want to be), but the hope is that one day the master/boss will come to rely upon having the Butler by his side. This is the unspoken understanding, that one day the balance of power will shift, and the butler will know more about what his master wants than the master himself. Classic Jeeves and Wooster stuff.
As a modern-day butler you are expected to be well versed in etiquette, and conduct yourself with a suitable demeanour; on the other hand you must also adapt to your master’s culture and all the contradictions this brings with it. A Butler is always on call, and should never say no unless he can be certain that no is the only answer. The modern day butler must be able to navigate the trials and tribulations of the modern world with efficiency and style and, in whichever way he can, make life a little bit easier for his master. In that respect The Butler’s job probably hasn’t changed much since the 19th-century, other than the fact that he carries two BlackBerrys instead of tails.”
Need designer lighting for your jet? Fancy a dressage horse for your daughter? Have staffing issues in your 60,000-square-foot house? A growing army of industry experts stands ready to bear any burden for the ultrarich
Follow the famous Bespoke Bureau at work with their High Net worth clients on twitter @bespokebureau
The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing wider for some time, but the really rich have now achieved escape velocity. They have far more money than ever before—and a mind-boggling number of decisions to make about spending it. The “ultrarich”—loosely defined as those with investable assets of more than £30 million—often lead tremendously complicated lives. There are approximately 30,000 such people based in the US and at least 100,000 elsewhere in the world, according to Sara Vestin Rahmani-Director of the London based bespoke Bureau. They are the aristocracy of a new Gilded Age—and providing services to them has turned into a gold rush.
Becoming wealthy in the first place might seem like the hard part, but once a person has money, other real challenges present themselves: What kind of rich person does one want to be? Is a sprawling mansion or a slender townhouse preferable? Should one build a game park or an English garden? And then there is the matter of figuring out who should look after all these things. To hear the caretakers of the ultrarich describe it, the wealthiest among us are like dinghies adrift on the open sea—lost in their money and the endless options that come with it. (You could call it “Overwhelmed Billionaire Syndrome.”) Fortunately, the free market will provide: an army of experts has sprung up to help them navigate their lives.
One of the Bespoke Bureau experts is Monica, a former recruitment consultant for the company who wanted to step up her game and start working more closely with the people that had relied on her services for the company before. She helps the wealthiest people make their lives easier. and transformed her role into a “lifestyle consultant,” and she hasn’t looked back.
Some of the Agency’s customers have problems that the merely upper-middle class could hardly conceive of. She has helped parents look into buying a £40,000 dressage horse for their daughter to ride while away at college, sorted through museum-quality art collections forgotten in storage, and found an expert to negotiate aircraft leases. One family considered hiring her to find public- relations specialists who could help with crisis management—basically, to keep them out of the news and off the Forbes 400 list. (Getting on the list may be a triumph in some circles, but in others it’s even better to stay off.) And a young hedge-fund manager asked the agency if they could find someone to identify the best parties in London, New York and Beijing each week—and to make sure he was invited.
Business for concierge firms like Bespoke isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. A look at the wealthiest UK residents reveals that those at the very pinnacle—the top 0.1 percent—have done so well in recent years that everyone else is eating their (gold) dust. The average net worth of those on the Forbes 400 list has mushroomed in the last twenty years, rising from $390 million to $2.8 billion, and the number of U.S. billionaires has increased over that same time from thirteen to 374.
In the meantime, the UK’s less fortunate have seen their share of the country’s wealth drop—but there’s nothing like shopping to ease the pain! Lubricated with cheap credit and the social acceptability of carrying huge amounts of personal debt, Britons at all income levels pile into the luxury marketplace alongside those who can actually afford to shop there. And so the truly wealthy have had to get more creative about spending money in order to distinguish themselves from the shopgirls waiting on them, who are likely to be carrying the same Hermès handbag (or at least a convincing knockoff). One way to set themselves apart is by pouring resources into experience and “lifestyle.”
All manner of professionals see a future in whispering into billionaires’ ears. (It would be a decidedly “soft” science, but one can imagine “helicopter-fleet management” becoming a university degree.) Like any subculture, this piece of the service sector comes with its own assumptions and its own delusions. Its practitioners are as slick and on-message as a group of Wharton-trained management consultants. Plenty of self-aggrandizing jargon gets thrown around: terms like ultra-high net worth are mixed in with Jack Welch–style business talk; rich people are principals, and even the most minute aspects of their lives require management in order to be optimized. This work requires subtlety, even amateur psychoanalysis; those providing the services are selling trust to people with unlimited resources, coaxing them into articulating their dissatisfactions and then doing something about them (which usually means spending boatloads of money). Sometimes pie charts are involved.
The job isn’t all champagne and roses. “You have to be selective,” says Sara Vestin Rahmani who handles finances for 24 ultrarich families. “I’m not just taking any multibillionaire off the street. These people are typically control freaks—extremely focused, sometimes extremely difficult. You don’t become a billionaire by just sitting passively by.”
The wealthier the client is, the more options there are for insourcing advice on how to spend creatively. Vestin touts her company, Bespoke Bureau , as “The Private Bank for Everything Except Money,” and she comes armed with a Rolodex that would make a village yenta proud: 2000 names in 250 subcategories, including “designers of lighting for Gulfstream aircraft” and “specialists in seventeenth-century hand colored maps.” Once all those advisers are hired, they need to be managed, transforming the wealthy person into a corporation in miniature.
Her sense that the ultrarich are sometimes almost helpless when confronted with the challenges of everyday life infuses Vestin and her team with compassion; she sees her job as a combination of sales and public service. Around the next corner, for example, an opportunistic decorator might be lurking, hoping to bilk an unsuspecting billionaire on overpriced housewares. (Recall the former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski’s explanation of the wildly extravagant shower curtain found in his apartment after he was indicted: “I understand why a $6,000 shower curtain seems indefensible,” he told The New York Times. “But I didn’t even know about it. I just wasn’t even aware of it.”) “The wealthiest people are very vulnerable to being taken advantage of,” Pearl says, her voice taking on an urgent tone. “New money doesn’t know what things cost, because they’ve never bought a Mercedes Maybach or a $10 million home. And old money also has difficulties, because they’re shielded from these things. They don’t shop, generally. They have people shopping for them.”
A The ultrarich often have a “fix me, get me surgery right away” attitude, and will pay handsomely to have it accommodated, says Vestin who founded Bespoke Bureau in 2003. I heard of one family that kept a group of doctors on retainer for years, paying some of them more than £100,000 annually to be available at a moment’s notice. But the arrangement became difficult to maintain: the best doctors resisted being tied to a small group of patients, and some questioned whether the practice was ethical. So the family joined Pinnacle instead.
As this story illustrates, finding the market price is one of the trickier aspects of serving the ultrarich. “There’s no transparency about what the fees should be,” Vestin says. “How much do you charge someone to curate their wine collection? You can’t comparison shop for that.” She does offer one rule of thumb: “If you’re not the type of person who’s planning an anniversary party in the south of France for fifty friends, where you’re going to fly them over, we’re probably not going to be able to help you. It’s not that we can’t help you; but you’ll find that our fees are prohibitive for what you want done.”
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