Letters to the Editor Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, June 2018, Letters to the Editor

Steven Ferry

Letters to the Editor

In the Times of London there was a nice little article about the salaries of household staff—maybe something for Butlers in the Media column? I must admit that I was still a little surprised by the numbers that were mentioned in the article. Soon after I left the Butler Academy, I realized that the beautiful salaries that were mentioned during our training course were more the exception than rule. Now, ten years later, few of my old colleagues have reached the salaries that were promised then; yet in many articles on our beautiful profession, these high figures are mentioned. What a contrast with this article in the Times!” AB

Ed: Thanks for catching this and for bringing this to my attention. I saw that The Telegraph also picked up on this Greycoat PR release.  I understand your disappointment, as the figures are low. One only has to see what HM (the Queen of England) pays her butlers to understand that we are talking about a lowly, minimum-wage position for the simple reason that butlers traditionally have been drawn from the “lower classes,” ex-military batmen, etc. The infamous Paul Burrell was a truck driver, as I understand it, before being taken on by The Palace.

However, the Modern Butler, which is what you were trained to be at The International Butler Academy, and its predecessor, The Ivor Spencer School in London, was breaking the mold and tradition by opening up the profession to career changers as well as college or university graduates. What we lost, by this sea change, in the depth of knowledge relating to a narrow range of duties gained by working one’s way up the ranks from Hall Boy to Butler, we gained in having more-educated and – possibly – more intelligent individuals with a wider range of skills, joining the work force. As the role of butler morphed into that of Butler/Steward in the 19th Century, managing the whole estate or multiple estates, the butler gained value and thus set up members of the profession to eventually be able to command a higher, more managerial salary after a century (things do move slowly in our profession, no?).

As you know, the duty of a butler can range from simply managing visitors, food and beverage service in a smaller household, to being an estates manager. Just as a CEO is paid more than a departmental head, so we have a wide salary range for butlers today depending on their duties and role, as well, obviously, as the expectations regarding salary of the employer or their agent. Obviously, the people that Greycoat placed/interviewed, have lower roles in part; but also, perhaps, are being placed with people who still think of their butlers as low-wage earners.

So, just because one agency puts out one report (I have not received a copy, so cannot comment on their analysis) and multiple newspapers pick up on it, does not mean that the information is accurate for the whole profession everywhere. Nor that those promising higher salaries have taken liberties with the truth. I understand it seems that the higher salaries are the exception rather than the rule when looking at your fellow students: It has been a long time since I trained at TIBA, so I do not recall what was being said then, but I would think that “up to” $150,000 or whatever the figure given, was how it was phrased.

As such it is true, but omits facts: such as the fact that the UK traditionally pays a relative pittance, for the reasons given above; and butlers from third-world countries working in the Middle East, are paid a pittance, too. One has to go to the US, or be hired by a Russian or Ukrainian or an Italian Prince, for instance, to find the higher salaries.

Fifteen years ago, I was offered a position in the US managing many (almost 30) estates and paying $350,000 with all the usual benefits. As I am not motivated by money, I declined: there was a reason for the attractive salary, and to me, life is too short to expend energies unattractively—and apart from which, we were just starting the International Institute of Modern Butlers and I was not looking for a position in service.

The Institute occasionally provides placement services, and so we see what employers are willing to pay in the US for a properly trained/experienced butler—$120-150,000 is quite normal. The highest we saw offered was $500,000, the client wanting the butler to manage his portfolio, too, requiring some experience/training as an investment- or stockbroker. This is the extreme end of the salary range, but it does show that these higher salaries do exist. Perhaps this is what the Greycoat report failed to mention, thereby adding to the general view in the private-service field in England that butlers are low-waged workers.

In other words, an own goal if we view Greycoat as being on the butler team, which they are not necessarily, representing their clients as well as other positions. If they can procure competent butlers for a pittance for their clients, then their clients win, but the butlers in their files not necessarily so. Our view is that all parties should win.

As with any trade or profession, there are those who add value to their offerings, work hard, and reap the rewards, and those who are quite content with the way things are. I personally think that it is up to us as a profession to raise the value of our profession in the eyes of our potential employers, as well as raising our value as individuals through ongoing training, etc.

The day we think the status quo is fine, or that we cannot do anything about it, that day we cease to grow and improve.

Which is why I thank you for bringing this article to my attention! I would like to publish this letter and response in the next MBJ (anonymously for you), so we can help our potential employers (and those who find staff for them) understand that the CEO of their home deserves a CEO’s salary, given the value of the home’s occupants and trinkets. One last point: I have no idea of actual inflation in the UK, but I can say that the real value of the dollar has halved in the US over the last decade, given the profligate and unfortunate expansion of the money supply out of tandem with the value of goods in circulation, meaning that there is even more reason to increase wages and salaries.

“Thank you for your prompt and extensive reply. It is indeed interesting to see that in some households the butler’s role has changed over the years, and with that the salary of a few of them. And luckily, more and more employers realize that it costs a few pennies more to have educated and higher quality staff.

“But as you describe in your letter, there are enormous differences in the offered salaries. On one side, the new billionaires offer enormous salaries, and on the other, there are many employers expecting too much for too little. It is just very confusing for those new to the industry, and even for the more experienced who are looking for a new position. What can one ask for his/her services?

“When I started with my current employers, they offered a very low starting salary but promised to raise it as I gained their trust and the way I developed within my role. Within eight years, my salary was five times as high, and I consider myself very lucky in both my role and salary, so there are no complaints from my side. I just find it very difficult to answer questions about the salary to new butlers contacting me.” AB

Ed: Well done for 5xing your salary in eight years by dint of demonstrating your worth. In itself, that is a good answer for anyone asking. And maybe my last answer provides the way to tackle the subject, too.

I would put it like this: “Do not start with an inflated idea of your worth, but equally, do not accept a deflated idea of it in your employer, if they offer low with no promise of a timely adjustment as you prove yourself. Politely decline the position and keep looking.”

As for what salary beginners should ask, I would follow the lead of the agency in knowing the market and estimating your value. If the market in a particular area does not remunerate well, then either seek work in another market, or hold out for a well-enough paid position while using the time to improve your value.

You began this communication with the focus on money, thanks to the media’s fascination with money (and six other torrid subjects, such as sex and violence—always guaranteed to spawn an article or a series of articles), but in fact, the more important question when starting, is finding a position at all to place your foot in the door and build your resume.

I would not be too demanding about salary in this case. When I started as an Estate Manager/butler in England, it was at the princely sum of 50 GBP, plus house and car, for a 5.5-day work week. That is just over 2,500 GBP per annum, which makes the 45K quoted in the article quite generous! When I emigrated to the US the following year, I found a job immediately and it paid $40,000 plus a custom-built and even-better house and car, and health insurance! As that was three decades ago, the value in 2018 dollars is probably closer, in purchasing power, to an $80,000 salary today. Right there, that shows the difference between modern perceptions of value versus Old World perceptions.

So there is hope for those just starting, but my advice to them (and maybe yours, too, based on your experience?) is to stay focused on learning and servicing, because the money will look after itself.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.