Leonard Stover, a man with 30 years of experience as a butler, houseman, driver and personal assistant, has worked for New Money and he has worked for Overnight Money. There's a big difference.
When he worked for New Money--flamboyant Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke--he had to memorize 12 pages of explicit orders: Meet Jack at garage. Take papers and briefcase. Present him with glass of wine. Household menus were numbered in a thick notebook; Cooke would call and say, "Turn to D-17. When did we have that last?" Stover would find the calendar notation: Dinner. Jack and Marlena. Sunroom. D-17.
The self-made millionaire was quite particular about his 36 pairs of custom-made gray flannel slacks. The staff had to sew a date into each waistband, enabling Cooke to rotate them for equal wear. He didn't like dry cleaning, so he had his staff hand-remove stains and iron each pair before returning them to the closet.
"I think on a trial-and-error basis, he had learned the only way for things to go smoothly was that he would have to instruct you," Stover says.
None of this bothered Stover. He has only one tiny complaint about that year with Cooke a decade ago, an afterthought hardly worth mentioning: "He always called me Lionel. He couldn't remember my name."
Contrast that experience with Stover's encounter with Overnight Money: Late one evening, he was summoned to the impressive mansion of a newly minted millionaire couple and offered a job--house manager, $70,000 a year with benefits. He would have to start the next morning, though: The house manager who just hired him was leaving. Immediately.
In retrospect, Stover should have lunged for the door. Not that he has anything against Overnight Money; they need help, too. But they are harder to work for--they rarely know how to manage a household or a staff. So let's say all the bad treatment--the thoughtlessness, the yelling, the lack of simple good manners--came from ignorance, not arrogance. But mistakes were made.
Stover, 51, didn't mind that every baseboard and window had to be cleaned every day. He could live with the fact that no leaves--not one single leaf--could be spotted on the driveway or lawn, or that clothes had to be hung a certain way in the closets. His workday started at 7 a.m. and ended near midnight, seven days a week. Those were the easy parts.
The hard parts were the accusations of theft and the conflicting rules that made it impossible for the staff to do its job. Beds had to be made first thing every day, but the maids weren't allowed in the rooms while the owners were there--and they frequently lingered until midmorning. They expected the house to be kept perfectly clean at all times--but wouldn't allow vacuuming if the husband was home. The chew-outs were loud and frequent.
Stover's suggestions fell on deaf ears. "You couldn't tell her, and you couldn't tell him," he says. Staff turnover was constant; the house was always in chaos. Stover quit after a few months.
Overnight Money, to put it in the gentlest of terms, has a learning curve when it comes to domestics.
Suppose you came into a few million overnight. It happens every day now: A high-tech company goes public, and a bunch of working stiffs are suddenly rolling in money. Why not you? You start thinking of all the interesting ways you can spend your time and money. A new car. Exotic trips. A big house.
So you buy that big house--and soon you realize you need a cleaning lady. Then probably a nanny, a guy for the pool and maybe a chef . . . pretty soon, you have a household staff.
The question is: Do you know how to run one? Do you know about house zones and maintenance lists and average cleaning standards? What reasonable staff/space ratios are? How to behave toward employees who work in your most intimate world, your castle?
Of course not. It's an unexpected dilemma more and more people are confronting in this Gilded Age of Overnight Money. It's good to be king, but it's not easy, the newly rich are finding.
The number of U.S. households with a net worth of more than $1 million is up to 3.5 million, and the majority made that money in the past decade. Greater Washington now has 158,000 millionaires--ranking fourth in the nation behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. And the numbers increase with every high-tech IPO. At America Online alone, a thousand employees have passed the magic million mark.
"With new levels of income come added responsibility and added obligations," says Barbara Goldberg-Goldman, president of Regal Domestics, a Rockville-based household staffing agency named the nation's best this year by upscale W magazine.
Goldberg-Goldman has placed about 150 domestics this year--a hundred or so in the Washington area--and an unprecedented number were with clients who had never hired a maid or butler. "In the last two years, we have received more calls from first-time employers than ever before," she says.
Which leads to Mary Louise Starkey's current mission in life: teaching all these brand-new millionaires how to hire and manage a household staff.
"New Money says, 'I want five-star-hotel-level service,' " says Starkey, who runs Starkey International, a Denver-based household training school and placement agency. "They don't understand the number of people it takes to deliver that level of service."
So she teaches employers what they can reasonably expect from staff, both in terms of performance and ethics. Her new book, "Setting Household Standards," is for clients who have no clue that a house of 7,000 square feet requires one full-time person, 12,000 requires two, that it takes four hours to clean 2,000 square feet with "average cleaning standards" if done weekly.
What's harder to teach are the psychological nuances of managing domestics--the issues of respect, of intimacy.
Consider the five former household workers who sued actor Sylvester Stallone this week, claiming they were fired for breaking unreasonable rules. The suit says the workers were not allowed to look into the actor's eyes (they were instructed to "back out and vanish immediately" when Stallone entered a room), could not eat or drink anything from the Miami estate, and were required to undergo daily searches. Stallone's attorney says the workers were fired "for absolute cause."
"There's a fine line between an employee in an office setting and an employee in a home setting," Goldberg-Goldman says. "You're dealing with a different level of emotion in the home. In an office, it's primarily substantive, issue-related tasks. In a home, you're dealing with a variety of tasks that are interrelated with feeling and personal preferences."
For most people, it's all uncharted territory. "The old matriarchs really ran the household," Starkey says. "They knew what they wanted and they knew how to ask for it. This knowledge base has not been passed down."
Staff, Not Slaves
The key is respect, says Elise Lefkowitz, who has had plenty of experience running a staff.
"I think nowadays people don't treat their help as well as they should," says Lefkowitz, who owns a flooring company with her husband and lives on the edge of Georgetown. "When I grew up, my mother always made us respect the people who worked for her. They weren't slaves; they were human beings. They had feelings and lives. They were just like us."
Lefkowitz's father was a successful real estate developer, and she grew up with "an old-fashioned kind of staff": a cook, a housekeeper, a chauffeur. The cook stayed for 35 years; the houseman still works for her mother after 28 years.
So it was natural for Lefkowitz to have help when she got married. She started with a housekeeper; after the birth of their son, she brought in an English nanny. She now presides over a home with two teenagers, five dogs, a parrot, a cockatoo and a ferret. The family sits down for a served dinner every night at 7:30, complete with pressed napkins and tablecloths. To help achieve this level of old-fashioned civility, there is a houseman, a housekeeper and a part-time laundress.
Privileged, yes, but not spoiled. "I tell my children, 'Don't expect the staff to bring in a Coke on a silver tray, because it's not going to happen in my house.' "
Lefkowitz has two advantages: her experience and also her nature. "When you have employers who are secure and have a good sense of self-worth," says Goldberg-Goldman, "most often they respect and value the employee."
Unlike, say, the newly very-rich woman who ordered 12 dozen white long-stem roses delivered to her home every day, and exploded when she noticed that a few petals had fallen on the table. In language not fit for a family newspaper, she accused the maid of not changing the flowers that day.
Stover has plenty of war stories from his years working in some of Fifth Avenue's most elegant residences, mostly for the newly rich. There was the big-shot music producer who made a fortune but hated paying the staff. "He assumed that the fact you were associating with him was enough. You could somehow trade on that."
There was the lawyer's wife, the one with Picassos and DeKoonings on the walls, who told Stover: "I'm going to get enough turkey for you to last the week, but don't touch my food." When he asked for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday off, she said it wasn't a real holiday and refused. On Stover's birthday, she handed him $50 and said, "Leonard, don't tell my husband I gave you this. He doesn't like me to give employees gifts." He handed the money back to her.
Then there was the multimillionaire televangelist with homes in Beverly Hills, Bar Harbor, Long Island, Hilton Head and elsewhere. He owned 23 Rolls-Royces but paid his staff the bare minimum. "And no health insurance for staff without begging for it," Stover says. The boss's wife would give Stover $500 for groceries and errands, and demand that he turn in each receipt. "If you were a penny, a nickel short, she would take it out of your salary," he says.
Most first-time employers intend to be kind. Many want, in fact, to treat staff like members of the family. They call them by first names and kid around. This works great until an employer becomes dissatisfied. How do you fire a member of the family?
"You really need to know where your line starts and stops," Stover says. "Hence, I never call my employers by their first names. I'm always told, 'Call me this or that.' Thank you, but it's always 'Mr. and Mrs.' "
The truth is, of course, that turnover in the domestic field is high these days because of problems on both sides. While some employees are far more sophisticated than their bosses, some staff intimidate their young employers. While some bosses are fearful and suspicious, some workers secretly resent their young bosses because they're rich. Some employers take outrageous advantage of staff until they quit, but some staff take advantage of inexperienced employers.
For it to work, someone has to give orders and someone has to take them. The problems are greatest when brand-new employers meet brand-new servants. "I see people leaving office or administrative jobs looking for household management positions," Goldberg-Goldman says. Salaries for domestics start at $25,000 a year; a highly skilled household manager or chef can earn more than $100,000. Some thrive in the job; others simply cannot bear the demands of essentially living that close to someone else.
Gale Hayman--co-founder of Giorgio Beverly Hills, consultant for Gale Hayman cosmetics, author and wife of Human Genome Sciences Chairman William Haseltine--knows the joys and problems domestics can bring. She splits her time between New York and Georgetown, where she employs a housekeeper, a caretaker and a cook.
She once hired a houseman without carefully checking his references. The man drove her husband's car without permission and got into an accident: He was drunk, wasn't carrying a license and claimed to be the master of the house. They knew about damage to the vehicle, of course, but it wasn't until months later, when her husband received a subpoena for not appearing in court, that the full extent of the deceit became clear. The employee was fired, but Haseltine had to spend a small fortune in legal fees proving he wasn't the man behind the wheel that night. "There's always some risk," she says. "You try to prevent as much as possible.
Mostly, Hayman has had good luck with her staff. When the couple moved from Boston to Washington, her cook and housekeeper declined to move with the family but came down to help unpack and get settled. Loyalty begets loyalty. When her cook recently created an elaborate menu for a special dinner party, Hayman brought her out of the kitchen to meet the VIPs. "Everyone was thrilled," Hayman says. "Anna makes a great effort to please us. Doesn't she need to hear when she does?"
It is said that anyone who goes into this profession needs a "server's heart"--someone who takes genuine pleasure in helping others. Stover found his calling more than 30 years ago working for an older couple: "I learned, more than anything else, that it was a way of showing love." Despite all the ups and downs since then, he loves his work.
Stover adores his current employers, a couple who hired him to run their Northwest Washington home and oversee the renovations on a large Georgetown mansion. The job, with live-in quarters in both houses, comes with a $60,000 salary, benefits, use of a new Mercedes and plenty of travel. He lives on the cell phone, doing "whatever is necessary": drive, run errands, attend to 1,001 details that come with two multimillion-dollar homes, dinner parties, trips, cars and gardens. If his boss calls to say 12 people are coming for a last-minute dinner, Stover's only question is, "What time?"
You get the distinct impression that Stover would quite happily walk over coals for this family because they treat him with great trust and respect. "They show they care, not only in the questions they ask but in their deportment," he says.
He thinks of himself as a lucky man. Stover's friends say they could never do this kind of work--surrounded by the best, but never owning it. Some people can't handle it. Others get spoiled for anything but the best. "You can't kid yourself and start thinking their things are your things," he says. "It's never yours."
But, with the right people, it's a very good life. "My last job, this one," he says with a smile. "I don't want to work for anyone else."
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Dow is up; unemployment's down. Millionaires sprout like dandelions, and the rest of us wonder why we're not wealthy, too. Excess is everywhere: One Manhattan bar charges more than $300 for a snifter of rare single-malt Scotch. The neighbors are spending the bonus on a first mansion. Style is taking occasional looks at this new Gilded Age we live in and how it is changing culture, society and the size of our sport-utility vehicles.