Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


Most butlers and estate managers do not particularly appear to be engaged in these areas of the lives of their employers, but two who have been, offered the following responses to the questions asked:

Have you serviced employers and/or family who were active in sports?

“Yes. Children sports (high school or younger). College age young adults usually live on campus, so for them it’s more in quarterly increments. High school kids are pretty easy to take care of; they are mostly team sports. I worked with one family, the daughter was a State Champion swimmer and also a Cross-Country runner. It was mostly packing and unpacking gym bags. Making sure her bathing suits, towels, ear plugs, bathing caps, showering toiletries, snacks, drinks, team uniform, were ready to go. Then washing everything and repacking. Same with her track bag: it was obviously a separate gym bag. Cleaning and polishing her track shoes. Looking at the cleats to make sure they were in proper order. We normally had several pairs of the same track shoes, since she had to break them in beforehand. I also travelled with the family, to help load and unload the vehicle. So there was also a cooler of snacks and drinks for the family. We would eat at the event or stop at a restaurant on the way home from a swim or track meet/event. Whenever needed, I drove the individual to practice and waited in the stands, keeping to myself. If I was with the family, I cheered along with them and if alone, I kept quiet.”

“My present employer is a former Triathlete who has become an obsessed cyclist. He now has a large (purpose built) closet just for his cycling gear.”

If so, which ones?

“Adult sports: golf, hunting and equestrian eventing/horse trials. Water sports, skiing, scuba diving and snorkeling.

* Scuba diving was mostly about hosing down the wet suits, gear and equipment. My client dealt with the tanks and hook-ups. Again, it is making sure all the equipment, undergarments, garments, clothing, accessories are in the proper bags and that nothing is missing. Make an inventory list. Letting someone know if something is fraying or cracking and what needs to be replaced.

* Golf is pretty easy: Cleaning the clubs, checking the hand grips, tightening/replacing cleats, looking at the accessories, washing the golf towel; sending the golf sweater to the dry cleaners; having rain-gear ponchos packed; washing and polishing the golf bag; emptying the pockets of the bag and vacuuming out the grass; making sure to put everything back. There is also ensuring they have lots of golf balls and tees for replacements, a golf umbrella, an extra set of clothing, especially socks for one of my clients; and washing and ironing the clothing. I have had several bosses who loved golf and one had a special room layout for cloths, shoes, golf library, and all things golf. He had a golf shirt for every course he ever played. There were hundreds of shirts, shorts, visors or caps, and pants. Everything needs checklists and inventory lists. If they are going on a golf trip, packing according to the destination. Ireland was a chilly destination-golf is a sun sport normally.

*Hunting is a monster sport with lots of detail regarding the equipment. I did not clean the guns, I only put the gun cases in the truck or plane, as well as the bullets. Depending on the hunting season, I had to prepare a multitude of gear for a warm or cold climate. If you are thrown into a situation, take photographs, so you can visually see what you have and don’t have. Make a physical checklist and check items when done!! Once they are on the Safari or at the location, there are no stores most likely. They are in the wilderness, woods or mountains. Not a good time to have forgotten something. Care must be taken when unloading everything. Wear vinyl gloves to protect from the inevitable blood; look for ticks and spiders that might be on the clothing. This is a sport that is usually not packed ahead of time because the game that is being hunted requires different gear. Hunting bear or moose is different from hunting ducks or quail. Maintain a log of what is becoming worn out so proper replacements can be ordered. There also may be communication with the field guide, if it is a private ranch.

*Eventing/Horse Trials/Horseback Riding; almost always it’s the equestrian assistant’s job to exercise, feed, wash, and care for the horses—they take care of the tack room. Communication is always vital in every aspect of the team on the property. My responsibility is mostly making sure the clothing is clean, ironed, and in place, ready for packing; polishing the boots; looking for holes or splits in fabric and having it fixed; sending items to the dry cleaners or brushing the blazers and helmets. There are so many variables for each sport, but, you’ll learn, and it’s fun.

*Winter skiing is so much work—there is so much stuff, it is always a wet mess. But, it is part of the job. So better to learn to embrace it and hope you have enough staff where you work.”

What duties did you have with regard to their enjoyment of the sport(s)?

“My duties occurred before and after the sport, really: Making sure inventory lists were in place, checking and double checking that everything was included; food, snacks, and drinks in a cooler. Whether or not they are eaten, it is the availability that is important, as well as providing a good balanced meal, if required. Then after the sporting activities, food and drinks: Libations for the adults, milk, juice, water, and limited soda for the children. Fruit and vegetable trays, as they are usually pretty famished if they did not eat a balanced meal on the trip. Food preparation is a time-consuming endeavor so be sure to discuss it beforehand.”

“I have had to learn the names of each item as well as their function and how to clean or care for them. This includes everything from toe covers to base layers to arm warmers. I have also learned when to ask about packing cycling gear depending on where he is traveling. Often, he will travel just for cycling which then requires me to pack an extensive amount of gear, as well as his casual clothes.”

Any advice for keeping the principals, family, and/or guests happy with their sports?

“It is usually good as long as nothing is forgotten, checklists are adhered too, everything is cleaned and polished, packed and repacked in the precise manner. As for guests, we only washed their clothes, no other duties are expected, unless instructed.”

“I quickly learned that I have to lay out all of the cycling gear I am planning to pack so he can look it over first. If I don’t, he will bombard me with questions on the day of his departure as he will be worried/obsessed about having all the “right” gear for his trip. It is also imperative that I never touch any of his bicycles. Each one is precious to him.”

Any further notes?

“I actually like the sports end of my work as it provides variety in the job. The list of things that need to be done is extensive, so double check your workers until you are sure they can handle the job. Sign their checklists, pointing out what was done right; then what needs improvement, and finally what they missed completely so they can learn without being intimidated—no one knows everything and some learning comes in the form of lessons we’d rather forget—like being embarrassed because you forgot something really important. Everything falls on your shoulders, as I am the one training that person. If they do something wrong, I take the responsibility for that flaw. I do not point the finger at the culprit. If I am the leader, then I am to lead. If my team fails at something, it is the leadership that failed. That is how I look at it. Then again, if I have a worker who is problematic, I have to document the situation. This way there is a paper trail for dismissal if needed. I wasn’t perfect on my job at first, so why would I expect perfection from someone else? It will or should become second nature if they are good at their job.

* I worked for someone who had two yachts totally taken care of by different crews. One was a personal vessel and the other was for corporate activities. So my only responsibility was to communicate with the personal assistant, chief stew and chef. Also, I packed for my principals for the occasion, and took them to the port for departure, either by the chauffeur or I drove them myself so I could help unload and go over their itinerary again with them. Either way, I was on location for the smooth switch from land to sea. The logistics were someone else’s responsibility. I worked in unison with the personal secretary/assistant, who did the spreadsheet for food/location/wardrobe for the activities and weather. She also had to communicate with the captain and chief steward. Luckily, my end was very easy: Supply the chef with the food preferences and allergies of any new guests. The paperwork was handled by someone else, not me. I needed to know when they would leave and when they would return, making sure I was there for the departure and arrival. Also, to be available at anytime for questions.

**I had a client who had a personal fishing boat, for which I packed coolers, loaded fishing gear and drove to the mechanic on a boat trailer. It was probably a $350,000 boat that was harrowing to tow. The doctor who owned it would hitch it to the vehicle, which was a Suburban. Once I got it to the shop, they would do the mechanical work, clean and then dry dock the boat. When he wanted to use it again, the company that boarded the boat would drop it off in the drive-way, and hitch it to his vehicle. It was not used much but he loved to fish when he had a chance. One of his business ventures was running a lobster boat, which meant I was given many fresh lobsters over the six years I worked with him.

*** Airplanes, my employer had two personal planes, very much like the yachts where there was a captain to fly the plane and one attendant. Weight had to be measured, so everyone’s personal weight had to be taken into consideration, as well as wardrobe, food and the distribution of where everyone sat and personal items stored. Usually, my only responsibility was to weigh the people, the wardrobes, gear, (golf clubs), the food, beverages, and supply. The flight attendant handled her own paperwork and communication with the private secretary. The pilot handed the FAA, etc. I only needed to know departures, arrivals, wardrobes and logistics on how they were transported to the private airport/hanger. I would follow them or ride in the limousine and discuss any last-minute instructions. Then help unload the car, the flight attendant would distribute the weight of the supplies once in the airplane. After the clients were on board and the wheels were up, it was back to work at the estate.”

“Like many athletes, my employer injures himself and/or is subjected to bruises, cuts and blisters. After discovering that he would acquire ointments, bandages and ice packs on his travels, I began packing some for him. He won’t, however, acknowledge any need for first aid.  But I notice he uses whatever I pack for him.”

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.