Written by Nanette Hebdige
Trying to break into the personal service arena? Do you have the qualifications, mental quotient and professional background to become an efficient and accomplished estate/household manager? This industry is finally getting some major spotlight – deservedly so.
The days of Downton Abbey may be long gone, but many UHNW families are recruiting la crème de la crème to manage and run their estates effectively. From estate/household managers, personal assistants, majordomos and butlers, these positions are the latest trend requested by the very wealthy.
Many employment firms are now concentrating exclusively on recruiting for the service arena, and they are seeking the very best candidates to provide that stellar kind of service.
The qualifications for an effective and superlative estate/household manager are numerous, which comes from years of tenure and a combination of many skill sets.
Whether it’s the management of one large estate or several, there are numerous areas to take into consideration and your qualifications, not to mention experience and exposure needs to be extensive.
Being efficient, meticulous, uber-organized and having transferable skills are just some of the prerequisites that will get you in the door. Don’t just rely solely on your management style, attention to detail and great admin skills, as there are many other variables that will get you noticed.
Keep in mind that to excel in the personal service industry, you’ve got to judiciously leave your ego on the doorstep, as every position is different and your availability has to be 24/7. It’s a roll up your sleeves, no task too big or too small role and you’ve got to lead by example.
My mother once told me that my rings aren’t going to fall off if I have to clean a toilet or scrub the floor. A job description is merely a starting point, as there’ll be a myriad of tasks thrown your way and being adaptable, conforming and humble is key. If you start thinking “that’s not part of my job description”, start packing your bags or better yet, don’t get into this industry.
What makes an exemplary estate manager? You’ve got breathe and live your job and have thick skin. Be modest and kind; discerning but firm and no matter how many balls are up in the air, you can’t let any drop.
To succeed, delegating and cross training are essential and that goes along with your excellent project management skills to keep you focused. One of the biggest mistakes estate/household managers make, comes from a lack of entrusting staff. Working in a collaborative team environment proves you’re not a control freak or a micro manager and delegating will not only make you more efficient but also gain you the trust required to work together effectively. Your team will have confidence in you and in turn you will as well.
Suffice to say the more accomplishments and exposure you bring to the table, it will make you a better candidate. For example, even if the job doesn’t call for event planning, it’s a skill that will come in handy, will get you noticed and probably even provide a bonus or a promotion.
It’s not just the polish and distinction the individual brings to the role, it’s the communication skills that are vitally important. Learn how your principals want your feedback. Business etiquette is vital, not only verbal but written, as many tasks will include handling your employer’s correspondence. Your principals are busy people and the sole purpose of your existence is to make their life easier and complication-free. Communicating concisely and effectively is key, but also determining the frequency and method: daily, once a week, monthly? Via email, text, phone call or face to face. Everyone’s management style is singularly different.
The same goes for when you’re communicating with your team. You always get more with honey than with vinegar, as the old saying goes “Treat others the way you want to be treated” – with respect and kindness.
Maya Angelou said it perfectly, “People will forget what you’ve said, but they will never forget how you’ve made them feel”.
Expand your software skills
Take an Excel class to hone in your budgeting skills and learn about Smart in-home technologies Crestron, Savant, Lutron and security system operations. All are different with the user interface, but the rudimentary opps are the same.
Familiarize yourself with a Project Management software to keep your tasks organized and trackable. Trello and Asana are good programs, as they allow you to set tasks in real time and prioritize them with trackable collaboration. Ensure that your team is trained to use it regularly for maximum effectiveness – if it can’t be measured it can’t be managed
Develop basic culinary and event planning skills
Part of the staff may be an executive chef and you may be asked to prepare simple meals if the chef isn’t available. Likewise, menu planning is key for any household and a solid knowledge of wines is also essential to select what pairs well with any course and wine cellar cataloging. Even with a small intimate gathering, large party or vast philanthropic event, you need basic event planning knowledge to execute and plan the theme, table décor, linens, china, glassware/flatware, flower and seating arrangements.
Mixology & bar setup
The mixology of cocktails, beverages and decentering of wines is equally important. Learn how to make a highball, whisky sour or a margarita and how to shake a martini to chilled perfection. You never know when someone is going to ask you to make an Old Fashioned. There are many mixology books that provide the basics on cocktail preparations as well as creating the perfect bar setup.
Know your etiquette
Diplomats and celebrities may be regular visitors at the estate and you’ll have to train the staff on the correct etiquette to address VIP’s, as well as knowing when to be invisible but still available.
You may be asked to perform Personal Assistant duties, such as detailed travel arrangements and at times liaise with an Amex concierge for the provisioning. Whether it’s commercial or private travel and coordinating with other residences to ensure that all preparations are accounted for. Calendar management is a skillset that is necessary even if you’re not the PA.
Guests may require similar service. Be in the know of current events, concerts, museums and theater. Know which is the newest and hippest restaurant so read everything you can get your hands on to have as much knowledge as possible.
Depending on the complexity and size of the estate, oversight of security teams, security access and changes for staff, guests, contractors and trades will need to be provisioned for as well as NDA’s.
Vendor procurement, monthly management, scheduling and invoice management. RFP’s and contracts should be reviewed yearly and vetted for existing services, as well as the administration of daily and monthly household activities. Additionally, the management and distribution of information on activities placed on household calendars is as crucial as generating databases for staff and related services which should be periodically updated. Creating a household manual delineating policies and procedures is vital for the smooth running of any household.
Interior AND exterior
The maintenance of any estate falls under two categories, interior and exterior. The estate/household manager needs to bring a basic property management knowledge. You should have basic hands-on knowledge on the residence so you are able to ascertain if any repairs are performed correctly by your handyman or maintenance crew.
The same goes for the gardeners. Are they using their own tools that could potentially cross-contaminate the gardens (trees, foliage, shrubs, turf) from servicing other residences that may have plant deceases? Should your recommendation to the principals be that the gardeners (even an outside vendor) use equipment that is proprietary to the residence?
Septic tanks – are they emptied by the city or by a vendor and how often?
Generators – when have they been serviced regularly to withstand a power failure?
These are just some of the many things that need to be taken into consideration.
Emergency procedures and insurance
Depending on the location of the residence, emergency procedures need to be established. Emergency action plans created for areas susceptible to hurricanes, cyclones, flooding and storms. Some of the responsibilities will include tree trimming, maintenance of generators for loss of power and notifying alarm companies in preparation for the emergency. Insurance policies should be checked to ensure proper coverage is in place for any emergency.
It’s also a bonus to get CPR and First Aid certification.
Project Management & Relocation
Estates will experience and require repairs, additions or renovations. The ability to interpret blueprints and know construction jargon is necessary when working with GC’s, architects or vendors to manage a project of large or small scale. Knowledge of interior design and having an aesthetic eye is also an important asset to maintain the interior and exterior appearance of the residence.
Familiarize yourself with relocation methods in case the family wants to permanently move to any other residence.
Housekeeping and laundry
Housekeepers will look to you for guidance. Knowledge of certain cleaning materials – nowadays most households request organic cleaning supplies specific for each task. Surfaces, fabrics as well as floors need to be maintained with the correct products that won’t be harmful. Create a cleaning/maintenance rotation schedule to address different needs, spring cleaning, closet dusting, checking pantry items for expiration dates, window cleaning, carpet and curtain maintenance as well as the cleaning of lighting fixtures. It’s your responsibility to ensure that these duties are carried seamlessly and the work is performed by your team.
Antiques and priceless works of art will have to be given special consideration for their cleaning and maintenance.
Polishing of any silver, brass or copper will also have to be placed on a schedule as well as seasonal closet rotation for the members of the family.
Create laundry procedures for linens. Become acquainted with the proper care of delicate and unusual fabrics and clothing items. Familiarize yourself with the packing and unpacking to/from traveling trips or different residences and know who’s responsible for handling the task.
Domestic employment labor laws pertaining to your state
Most FLSA info is usually accessible on any government website in every state, so you are in the know to safeguard the interests of your principals and prevent any staff conflict that could arise. For example, if the staff is required to work on statutory public holidays? Is their time accountable and their pay reflecting for hours worked? Tracking of when OT (over-time) occurs, worker’s comp regulations etc.
Any estate/household manager requires a fairly solid knowledge of Human Resources. Recruitment for staffing requirements and working with personnel agencies may be common practice, drafting job descriptions or create employment postings. In addition to handling candidate prescreening/interviewing, there will preparations for on-boarding paperwork and tackling terminations correctly. Training, coaching, counseling and dealing with conflict resolution are key responsibilities that fall under the estate/house manager role. Not to mention staff scheduling, vacation tracking and basic supervision of your team reporting directly to you.
Personnel files need to be throughly kept and any conflicts or reprimands have to be documented in case it leads up to the termination of the employee. Here is where we circle back to project management software and having the correct technological tools to track completion and accountability of staff.
In closing, the service industry is a very specialized niche. You can’t start at the top as you’ll be required to put in tenure and hone your skillset. Wrap your head around what “service” really means and ask yourself if this the right career for you.
An old guy a long time ago said: “Pleasure in the work puts perfection in the work”. Aristotle 367 BC