Article by: Dina Gachman
Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:49 AM
See the full Forbes.com article here
Mary Louise Starkey is the kind of no-nonsense person who answers the question “Hi, how are you?” with: “I’m a very busy woman.” Her direct manner comes across as intimidating at first, a little like the kind of stern headmistress you see in old boarding school movies, which makes sense because she’s the powerhouse behind Starkey International Institute of Household Management – aka “Butler Bootcamp.” When you’re preparing sixty students a year to manage the households, whims, and lifestyles of the world’s billionaires, there’s not a lot of time for silly chitchat.
Headquartered in a Colorado estate, the Institute puts students through an intense, 360-hour curriculum over the course of two months. “Most of my clients are billionaires around the world,” Starkey said over the phone. When she says billionaires, she’s talking about people whose enormous (often multiple) homes sometimes require at least six housekeepers, four nannies, and several chefs to maintain. The jobs Starkey grads transition into make most part-time celebrity assistant gigs (no matter how much verbal abuse or how many outrageous demands go on) look like kid’s stuff. “Celebrities that come to me have to have real money,” she explains. She definitely teaches her students to have a thick skin, and says the course is “sixty percent psychological.” Catering to the world’s elite is a serious, respectable profession, Starkey says. She calls the cottage service industry “entrepreneurship at its finest.”
Starkey explains that over the course of the twentieth century women took to the workplace and so “the age of the old-guard matriarch who knows how to put together a household is gone.” She doesn’t mean “put together a household” as in go to work, come home and take care of the kids, clean, cook, and try to juggle it all without going postal, difficult and stressful as that is. These are households where someone is chartering a private jet one minute and deciding to host a last minute soiree for five hundred of their closest friends the next. Let’s get real – it’s unlikely that most of these women are toiling away at a desk job all day while raising four kids. It’s more about the fact that their wealth and their lifestyles are so outrageous it literally takes an army to keep it all from falling apart. They want dancing poodles? They get dancing poodles.
So has the up and down economy of the last few years affected her business? Not at all. In fact, the number of positions today has doubled and Starkey can’t fill them fast enough. The billionaires of the word seem to be doing just fine. Pink slips are no doubt pretty silky things you purchase in France on that side of the economic divide.
Starkey creates a “new market of professionals with service hearts.” With all this need, you would think recent college grads or people in their twenties and thirties would be lining up for the jobs. In fact, most of Starkey’s students are in their forties and fifties, and some applicants are in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties. “To my horror that’s what I discovered” she said. Maybe because once you’re a Household Manager (the term Starkey coined since she figured people “were not going to be called Butlers and Butlerettes”) you’re usually living, breathing, and no doubt dreaming about your job. There’s zero time to hit happy hour with your friends on a whim.
The work sounds pretty mind-boggling. There’s admin work, housekeeping, and culinary, for a start. “You must know how to identify flavor profiles,” Starkey explains. If a client suddenly wants pressed juice, you better figure out how to make it. Then there’s clothing – “designer level” of course. She says a good Household Manager will know what day of the week they change the chemicals at the dry cleaners so “the family doesn’t get everybody else’s dirt” on their clothes. That’s really something only the uber-rich or the ridiculously germ phobic would even realize was a thing. Aren’t those chemicals harsh enough to kill just about anything? Guess not. Then there’s entertaining, property & grounds (“hardscaping, snowmelts”), maintenance, transpo & travel (“private jets, yachts, pilots, Bentleys, Lamborghinis”), safety & security, and then finally the quartet of “elder care, childcare, pet care, and guest care.” She sometimes discourages certain graduates from going after the most extravagant jobs because “bigger homes are not always better.” Try and tell that to the billionaires who keep building them. Since they’re not likely to stop, the “service hearts” will have to keep identifying those flavor profiles and putting their bosses first.