Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

And so we come to the final topic of these surveys of our profession: Principal travel.

When your employers traveled, where did they go and what did they do?

“My previous employers traveled extensively for leisure; my current employer traveled globally mostly for business before the Covid lockdowns.”

“I worked for a client for ten years. They lived in the Northeast, where winters are frigid, so their second home was in Naples, Florida, in which they lived for about 3 months each year. They also went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year and stayed for a few weeks with all of their children and grandchildren; London for theater openings; Paris and Milan for fashion weeks, where the lady of the house would select her new wardrobe pieces. Then the tailor would fly over with the clothing for final measurements for a final fitting. Shortly thereafter, trunks of haute couture pieces arrived, ranging in price from $10,000 -$40,000 each, with a personal tailor for final fitting and approval of the selections. She had new wardrobe pieces added several times a year. Spring/summer—-Winter/Fall —-Resort/Cruise Wear. They took a cruise every year, too, to different places throughout the world. They loved Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Montana too.”

“I worked for a single male principle for six years who had been married eight times. He travelled to his second home in North Carolina and third home in Aspen. He also traveled the world, playing golf and collecting golf shirts from each course. When he was interested in a new paramour, he would whisk them off on a Concorde flight to France. Other locations for clients over the years have been Italy, Israel, Japan, Russia, Iceland, and Palm Beach, Florida. Plus many other sunny resort locations. The clients I have worked with have had hobbies that range from art collections to safari: Downhill skiing, golfing, equestrians, yachting, sailing, world travel, if they wanted to try it, they did it—money wasn’t a factor!”

What were your duties—to stay at the estate and manage it, or to travel with them?

“With my previous employer, I would often travel with them, generally arriving by commercial flight with most of their baggage prior to their arrival. I would, whenever possible, check-in to their hotel and prepare their suite for them. Everything would be unpacked and laid out according to their wishes. I would also confirm dinner or spa reservations for them. To the best of my abilities, I would try to perform all the duties I would normally preform for them in their home. I would also be “on call” during the duration of their stay. On more than one occasion, I was to order their breakfast via room service but stop the server at their door and bring the tray or cart in personally, as they were still in bed. On the day of departure, I would see them off, pack the baggage, settle the hotel bill and then depart. With my present employer, I spend 65% of my time packing and unpacking his baggage. As he only travels commercially, my goal is to minimize the amount of baggage he travels with whilst ensuring he has all that he will require during his time away. Most of the time I succeed, but occasionally I do fail—such as the time I did not pack snow boots and an unseasonable snowstorm occurred at his destination.”

“I usually only stay with the Principals in their various homes. For travel elsewhere, they utilize luxury travel agents to set up activities, dining, cars, butler and concierge services.”

If at home, was their absence used as an opportunity for catching up with renovation and maintenance/spring clean duties? Please specify.

“If I did not travel with my employers, I always seized the opportunity to have maintenance or deep-cleaning projects done. My present employer prefers that I take my [vacation] time off during his absence.”

“I spend the time the principals are away catching up on projects and bringing in the vendors for service. So many clients do not want to see people working in their homes, so the people who cleaned the gutters, the window washers, tree trimmers, electricians, carpenters, painters outside doing touch-up work all came then. Painting inside was a nightmare because expensive artwork needed to be moved, meaning we would have interior designers and art dealers working while the family was gone, too. Every appliance was serviced; heating, air-conditioners, water tanks, and generators, too. Once a pool was installed while the clients were away: Excavations are messy, backhoes and massive trucks ruin the lawn, so then we needed truckloads of sod to fix the lawn! Everything is “instant gratification,” I saw it, I want it, get it for me NOW!”

If traveling with them, what were your duties?

“I would often be asked to accompany the Mrs. to a salon for an up-do or a blow-out. During the appointment, she would ask me a litany of questions about the agenda: Who they were dining with, where they were lunching the next day, what jewelry was she wearing that evening, etc. It never mattered, because she would never remember. I would always lay out her clothes with a note such as, “Luncheon with Mr. and Mrs. X on their yacht, departing the harbor at 1:00.”  She truly needed the services of a Lady’s Maid in attendance, but I did my best for her as the Estates Manager.”

“When traveling, I would unload the luggage, provide drinks and snack foods (the property manager would pick up some beverages and snacks for our arrival). Then once they left for their activities, I would organize the toiletries, straighten and hang up the clothing, put items in drawers, and re-iron or steam clothing. Then off to the grocery store with my list made, usually for breakfast foods, fruit, snacks, alcoholic and other beverages and lots of vegetables. Lunch might be served, so I had to have supplies on hand for that. As for dinner, it was usually eaten out with friends. I just cleaned, inside and out, served drinks, called vendors if anything needed fixing, and stayed busy. I also took care of the dog or dogs, another time consuming job: walking, grooming, and feeding.”

Anything to add about traveling with the principals?  

“I have had a few awkward meetings with hotel butlers who could not or did not understand what I was doing as a traveling butler. Once I encountered a hotel butler who found that I had unpacked the luggage, ordered their drinks and had a floral arrangement delivered before the principals arrived. He grimaced at me and said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I replied, ‘Would you be kind enough to bring a bucket of ice please?’  The ice never appeared and nor did the hotel butler.”

“I try to stay amused, not take work overly seriously: It’s a pressurized, chaotic blast sometimes, and other times, it’s just a run-of-the-mill job. I have had this career for forty years now and before that was a babysitter for 8 years. I’m 61 now, and it’s been a very physical job as well as a true philosophical journey: seeing up close the inner workings of several families has been a wonderful experience. We are each deserving of respect and dignity. I find it pays to be gracious to myself and grateful for the opportunity to live life vicariously through my clients. I often thought, I spend more time in these luxury estates than my principals do as they race and chase experiences, money, or power. Whatever it is, it’s an experience to observe and be a participant. What’s still confusing to me, though, is a house with a 10,000 sq. ft. closet for the wife that was jam-packed so full with clothes, shoes and accessories that she could not, wearing three different outfits every day, have worn everything in five years. The multi-millions in jewelry were delivered in armored vehicles and then locked in a safe! (But) it’s a fun career, (even if) time consuming and with all the recently wealthy, a treasure trove of opportunities. Good luck, prevail and wear a smile, because life flies by.”

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.