Mary Louise Starkey is the kind of no-nonsense person who answers the question “Hi, how are you?” with: “I’m a very busy woman.” Her direct manner comes across as intimidating at first, a little like the kind of stern headmistress you see in old boarding school movies, which makes sense because she’s the powerhouse behind Starkey International Institute of Household Management – aka “Butler Bootcamp.” When you’re preparing sixty students a year to manage the households, whims, and lifestyles of the world’s billionaires, there’s not a lot of time for silly chitchat...
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dinagachman/2012/08/10/meet-mary-louise-starkey-the-woman-behind-butler-bootcamp/
Twenty years ago, about 1992, I was sitting at the Chevy Chase Club at the invitation of my client with 10 of her Washingtonian friends. I was new in my travels on the Washington stage so my knees were not so steady and shook a bit as I spoke softly, introducing myself to the very important looking woman on my right. I was I interrupted by the woman across from us, as she exclaimed "Letitia darling!” I froze as I suddenly realized that I had intentionally been seated next to Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy's former social secretary at the White House, Letitia Baldridge! After taking a minute to compose myself, I restated my name when they had finished. She smiled graciously and said, “Yes, I heard that you had started a school for domestics!” Embarrassed yet appreciative that my presence had been shared without my knowing, I immediately expressed how appreciative I was of her newest publication on “Business Etiquette” which I had just purchased for my school. Delighted, her face softened and she sat a little straighter. I guess no matter how famous one becomes, recognition of one’s accomplishments does feel wonderful!
I greatly enjoyed listening to her conversations with others at the table. I learned quickly that they spoke a language unique to living and being in the know in Washington, DC. It's a world unto itself with innuendos galore and references to people, policies, and being part of the in crowd that takes more than a moment to enter. However, my moment finally arrived and I asked Ms. Baldridge if she could share a fun “a la table” story she had experienced at the White House. She smiled and leaned towards me to quietly share her reply. She reminded herself and me that most of what happens at the White House is, of course, private. However, from the educational perspective, there is one wonderful story. "The Soviet Union's Premier from 1958 to 1964, Nikita Khrushchev, came to a lovely dinner hosted by President Kennedy”, she began. Mrs. Kennedy was truly radiant that night. The finger bowls came forth after we had delicately used our fingers to consume Chef Renee Verdon’s Oysters Rockefeller. It was divine. Chef used the essence of rose in the warm silky water that night with just one or two aromatic rose petals in each bowl. The bowls were exquisite Baccarat and a recent gift. Everyone was waiting for Mrs. Kennedy to begin, when Mr. Khrushchev, followed quickly by his wife, picked up his finger bowl, and drank fully from it, while smiling broadly! Without a glance, Mrs Kennedy also picked up her finger bowl and lightly sipped while smiling back. Everyone else, some smiling, some not, tasted as well. And so it went. True or not, I thought it was the best story I had ever heard. Mrs. Baldridge lightly patted her lips with just the edge of her napkin so as to not leave one speck of lipstick, and returned her attention to the rest of the table. I had been touched forever by the dance and intrigue of the formal table!
My next experience was some ten years later, in 2000 at the then Butler Academy in the Netherlands. I helped get the Academy on its way in its early days by sharing our Service Management System, and to my surprise my lead instructor Jenny Hookey, who I had sent over to provide Starkey training at the Academy, married Academy owner Robert Wenneke's brother, and with her went other Starkey jewels we had developed educationally. It was a grand time indeed. They too had an etiquette instructor who was often a guest at the table of their Queen, Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard. He began his Formal Table education, relaying what he knew to be true. I was wide-eyed and speechless as he began his story of when Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to dinner at Queen Beatrix’s table. Yes, Mr. Khrushchev smiled broadly as he picked up Her Majesty’s finger bowl. He drank! Her Majesty drank! So, of course, everyone drank!
Shortly thereafter, in 2002, I was invited to tour throughout France, visiting the principal luxury product artists including the Moët et Chandon Mansion where I attended a formal dinner. Mr. Robert Widden, a lovely British gentleman, and twelve other guests from all over the world joined us. The table was quite large, twice as large as the traditional table for twelve. The Chef had been saving his chicken oysters to make dégonfler des huîtres dans le vin for a few months and now had them deliciously nestled in a rich cream sauce. Yum! The table was beautifully set with Christoffle's best as only the French can do. Mr. Robert Widdrow, my host, pointed out that the silver was all placed turned over, tines down! He too had been warned of my post in the US, and had been informed that I was on a mission "in Search of Service"! I was ready this time, however, and ten years into my journey in Private Service Education. I quickly quizzed my British host about the amount of silver in his sterling? He gave a wonderful laugh, and said "Very Good, Mrs. Starkey!" To my delight, he then began to share his story of, (you guessed it!), what happened the evening that Premier Khrushchev came to dinner with the Royal Lady herself: Her Majesty The Queen of England. Mr. Khrushchev smiled broadly and drank. Her Majesty sniffed delicately and also drank. So, of course, everyone drank!
As a key part of our curriculum, Starkey International conducts 10-12 formal dinners per year inviting our clients who are hoping to hire just the right Graduate, charities and non-profits hoping to raise funds, or to thank their patrons, our loyal luxury product presenters, and of course our dear friends, to dinner. My very dear friend, Dr. Lloyd Lewan, former Director of Semester at Sea, always sits at the other end of my table. I tell my finger bowl story from time to time. At each of the dinners I make a point of asking Dr. Lewan and my guests, "Do you think all etiquette teachers have passed along the story of what I now call ‘The Finger Bowl Intrigue’ to teach the etiquette of the finger bowl, or did Mr. Khrushchev travel the world with great humor, drinking attar of roses?”
Look for more stories from the Journals of Mrs. Starkey.
It is not generally known in service that “the highest level of service can be achieved only when there is a high degree of structure in place.” When the structure is present and well understood by all involved, staff can easily master moments to meet even the unexpected expectations!
I have become a tea lover! While the Chrysanthemum tisane is most dramatic while watching the chrysanthemum flower open as it steeps, and green teas are described as more healthful, and good white and red teas are not readily accessible, I prefer black teas. Denver’s world famous Brown Palace Hotel created their own Crown Royal black tea for their impressive afternoon tea through Allegro, using a mixture of Ceylon and Assam loose leaf teas. I am of the old school. I tried many different teas through-out my world travels and came to my daily favorite, a middle eastern tea called Sadaf: a Melange special avec Earl Grey. This little gem can be purchased from Sadaf Foods out of California www.sadaf.com or at most Middle Eastern specialty stores.
Dear Mrs. Starkey,
I want to take a moment to thank you personally for having me as a student. I know I was not your best student but I learned a lot about being a household manager as well as myself. I certainly feel I have grown as a person and gained confidence and strength within.
You're a character of many colors (hats) and I have much respect for your continued journey to help people achieve their dreams.
I am proud of myself for attending Starkey, mainly because of my age of 67. Yet I feel and act 40.
Thank you over again,
Robert D. VaShaw
I have been watching a trend in our profession. The expectations of our Principals are dramatically increasing. This is true as our employer marketplace has grown to include many new high-net worth employers who are quick, very smart, and assume that our Private Service profession is seasoned and well developed. It’s my opinion, but as yet, the transformation from uneducated servitude to Household Management is incomplete!
Per my many interactions with the Wall Street Journal, there are reasonably 9 million employers of private staff and growing. Our current economy shows a greatly diminished middle class. Meanwhile, the upper class has grown and our profession just does not have the educated and seasoned personnel to support it.
The collective mind of our profession has been centered in the old ways of private, old guard service - where the female principal of the home understands her role of setting the household standards and putting a functional structure in place, in which the staff can both complete their duties and serve. New persons entering the profession expect to be told what to do, and that these expectations will be reasonable. This however, is not what is occurring. New employers, especially in this underemployed environment we find ourselves in, expect to have a plethora of highly educated, seasoned, skilled, and ready candidates who know what they are doing, know how to set up service management plans, and know how to effectively train and support private service staff in multiple residences. In truth, there are few individuals who have been really trained in Household Management; those who are experienced do not typically come with real management background or possess service management tools. They ultimately still operate in crisis modes. Further, there are not enough of those that do genuinely have the “right stuff” to fill the current need. In some instances, General Manager’s of the hotel world have been recruited on the scene for the larger 20,000 square foot homes, but they too do not have the Private Service savvy or real service management expertise. Wall Street hoteliers have been trained in the business of service, not the service of service, and are used to having a seasoned technical support in place – both in the front and in the back of the house.
What’s the answer? Continue to get yourself educated! This profession is not going away anytime soon. Be wary of positions where there are employers who are new to service, where there is not a “Service Management Plan” to meet their specific service expectations in place. Principals must too recognize that they have a role to play in receiving excellent service; they must know what they want and staff accordingly.
We made an Aspen field trip last week to attend the Greenalicious fund raiser to help raise awareness of children’s obesity. It was a wonderful experience for me, our Chef Althoff, and our Director of Placement, Gary Smith. We donated one of our wonderful 9 course private formal dinners here at the mansion…I believe it sold for $4,500. The Children’s Health Foundation brought in notable Chef’s from all over the US, and as you might imagine, the food was sensational. As a side note, the auction was one of the best I have ever attended. My 2 entertainment centered sons and their wives will be receiving for Christmas a free trip to Nashville with center seats at a Grand Ole Opry concert and private sessions with song producers. I hope they think I am a great mom!
Household Management Class 120 completed their entertaining curriculum of wine and formal entertaining last night. We often donate our dinners to a non-profit and are purchased by a patron, and this was no exception. The guests, a lovely group of 12, mostly Denver physicians were mesmerized by not only the finally choreographed ballet of service directed by our educator Debra Bullock, but the culinary artistry created by Chef Althoff was absolutely over the top this time. In my world travels, I have developed a pallet, and Chef's creamy artichoke soup was indeed a masterpiece. Thanks to all, students and staff both at the front of the house and the back. Dr. Lloyd Lewan and I agreed, it was a first class experience!
I am frustrated today with the level of knowledge a few of my current students have exhibited. Now in week four and having completed approximately 150 hours of Starkey education, they have not taken on the conscientiousness or service savvy one would hope for. While they are indeed serious students, how hard can it be to just bring in my daily lunch without someone holding their hand? Sound familiar? “How hard can it be to perform simple tasks?”
In the world of education we all want to be shown exactly how things are done in order to be successful. However, in private service, each Principal may give these students unique directions on how to accomplish a specific task. Now, this is week four, as I stated, and I have held the hand of the first three students who have carried out this somewhat simplified task. They each request that they be individually instructed, as opposed to learning from each other. On the other side of the coin, these are not beginners to service we are educating; these are bright Household Management students expecting to take over the overall management of sophisticated homes. Are we ever in trouble! In reading other industry newsletters over the years, one reads about how to polish silver, wash a fine piece of china, and of course iron a shirt. On the NBC Today Show, Ms. Martha Stewart said a white shirt could be ironed in 10 minutes but Matt Lauer was still stumbling after 20 minutes.
But we are speaking of just bringing in lunch here, not a highly technical, product proven skill! So I began to consider the number of factors associated with bringing in lunch. They have to include: intrusion into someone’s space, privacy of the activities being performed within the space, is the person hungry, what is the lunch, how do you interrupt to ask if I am interested in eating, knowing what the culinary offering of the Chef is, how the food was prepared, what is in the recipe, what beverage would go with the food, where to position the tray, how to put the tray in front of me without disturbing me as I am on the phone, taking just the plate off the tray, and placing it before me as to accommodate a small amount of available desk space, where to stand when doing so, and if one should speak to me or not -- to just name a few of the factors. This is a great exercise in service delivery.
In the end, Service Management is 60% psychologically understanding who you are serving and their specific expectations. The balance is technical and you really have to know your Principal.
Today a prospective client called, seeking private service training for her current household staff. She exclaimed, “Whew! You were hard to find, Mrs. Starkey!” Given that Starkey International comes up first when you Google Household Management, I was stunned until I asked, “What were your search words?” She replied, “Domestic Staff Training.” Those who know me and my work understand that I have been a wordsmith for this unique profession of Private Service and have written extensively for the industry, developing the use of over 100 words and terms including coining the title “Household Manager.”
Over the years I have rallied against ever referring to our Graduates as “Domestics.” The term domestic often has a negative association including: uneducated, low skill, not always trustworthy, non-English speaking, and more; this is not a good beginning for a growing young profession. The word Domestic is defined in Webster’s 1999 edition as, “pertaining to the home, family, or household affairs” and “tame; domesticated”. Much of my work over the last 30 years has been to actually create a world-recognized, well-respected, educated, and appropriately paid profession. The term domestic continues to play a vital role in defining those that do the more unskilled, hand’s on cleaning and outside heavy grounds work in private service. However, to continue to utilize the word Domestic to define, categorize, or refer to those who have attained years of service management education, abilities, and expertise as a “domestic” is much like referring to an architect as a carpenter!
I was recently a guest on Pro Sports Wives Radio
I can consider myself a religious and a spiritual man. The religious aspect of me can be best compared to that of a religious extremist, because those within my network promoted nothing except our own beliefs, values, and ghetto moral fiber. We believed in our turf; we worshipped it. We cared nothing for society’s wants, hopes, needs and dreams simply because they never cared for any of our own. Our distorted reality only aggravated these circumstances and we evolved to become volatile concoctions of mayhem and destruction- which ultimately insured that not only do we become a highly potential risk to the status quo and our own collective societies; we become victims to our own venomous, psychoactive selves. This caste of young miscreants and hooligans that I describe has been classified as gang-members. They infect the population like the AIDS virus.
The inevitable outcome of this complex life-problem is simply death or prison. It has conditioned us to accept this grim truth. Death is the only collector that cannot be ducked and dodged. We recklessly have beckoned this entity that we have termed as Death. At one time or another, we’ve stared it in the eyes in heavy situations… and it blinked first. MY own reward for this transitory victory was being remanded to a county jail first hand, then ultimately sent to a Colorado prison for multiple years.
As The Starkey Institute’s attorney, it is important to mention a mistake made in the November 12, 2010 article by Bill Johnson known as “Elegance on menu for felons.” Although the dinner was remarkable, and stories were shared, Mary Starkey did not convey any information about an assault conviction. Although Ms. Starkey was accused years ago of assaulting a student, all charges related to those allegations were dismissed in court in their entirety. I thought the record should be set straight.
David M. Bost, Esq.
David M. Bost
Law Offices of David M. Bost
1290 Williams Street, Suite 203
Denver, Colorado 80218
fax (303) 393-1225
From the Denver Post
By Bill Johnson
She tells the story of last Friday evening with such delight now, reveling at the memory of her chef, formerly of the White House, disgustedly taking a blow torch to his perfectly cooked lamb chops.
Mary Louise Starkey for weeks had worried over her invitation to the five felons, all out on parole, to sit at her long, white linen-covered and elegantly appointed dinner table at Starkey Mansion.
"Am I exposing myself and my school to their past relationships and the gang world?" she fretted.
By the time the ginger pumpkin soup was finished, she felt embarrassed to have worried.
It's all about relationships! Starkey hosted our "Annual Appreciation Garden Party" last week; 90 instructors, presenters and vendors attended. The weather was perfect, the service seamless. The synergy felt like family, and guests shared their visions for excellence. We sipped St. Roch les Veignes rosé with Chef Althoff's cuisine. Private Service is the most exciting career opportunity around. Service is no longer servitude...its service as an expertise.
*Update - videos of the Garden Party at: http://www.starkeyintl.com/media.htm *
Hi there Lady,
It's been 13 + years. How time flies.
It was a great experience that you offered me and thank God I took it. The years in service gave me the opportunity to have what I have today. RETIRED! I love it.The 9 + years I worked were a good part of my education. I learned so much from you, the school and the people I worked for.
Today is what it is all about for me. Sober 31 years, Healthy and Happy. I'm so glad all is going well for you and the school. I'd love to visit sometime when I get to Denver. Keep up the good work and let me hear from you when you have time.
Good Morning Mrs. Starkey,
I thought I would shoot you a quick email to just to say "hello"!
Just received the Starkey newsletter and can't believe it's been THREE years since I graduated!! I miss Denver sometimes.
Everything is going extremely well. I am not sure if you heard or if I told you but after some "reorganizing" with Sky River I ended up getting laid off. Most of us did actually.
Excerpt from “The Art of Service” by Paola Bettinelli of The Work Style Magazine
Read the Entire Article Here!
Mary Louise Starkey defines a butler as “a professional who is trained in the overall management of a private home”. There have always been excellent career prospects for one who chooses this profession, and this trend continues to the present. The number of professional butlers worldwide has increased steadily over the past 25 years. You can find butlers in multi-million dollar homes in every country in the world. Newton Cross stresses that “with the modern day butler the emphasis is moving to total lifestyle management, instead of the traditional role…multitasking is the keyword”. Usually, continues Mr. Cross, “the younger, recently qualified butlers often find work in hotels, guest houses and game lodges where there is still an element of supervision and guidance. They are also in huge demand on luxury yachts, cruise liners and trains. The older more experienced is better suited for the domestic household where the responsibilities and pressure can be huge“.
I wrote the title to this article as a reflection of the Season in Colorado – its Spring! However, after writing it I realized the MLB team Colorado Rockies also started regular season play yesterday and will have their home opener on Friday. So, for many types of “seasons” – its Spring! There is a freshness to all things and a new-ness that only comes with the Season. Today, for instance, in Colorado we had some sun, some rain, some sleet and some snow. The old season hangs on while the new season makes itself known. May the Season of Spring bring to you renewed and fresh economic activity and renewed energy on the path to personal and business successes.
Had a busy December. 2010 looks hopeful with new opportunity for Starkey. Wishing every one success and prosperity in the year ahead.