I recruit nannies, personal chefs, and even palace managers for the ultra-wealthy. Here’s what it’s like to deal with the 1% every single day.

Darren Lewis

We’ve all spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic, even the richest people in the world. As a result, there’s never been more demand for highly qualified household staff. As the cofounder and director of Pembury Partners Household Consultancy (Pembury), I’m the person some of the world’s wealthiest have on speed dial when they’re looking to hire executive staff for their private residence — or residences.

I wasn’t looking to start my own business. For the last few years, I’ve been at a senior level within the private household recruiting sector. When the pandemic first hit, my team and I were put on furlough, and that became the catalyst I needed. I gave Evie Dakin, a colleague and good friend of mine, a call and told her we should go it alone. It was hard to take that first step, but we haven’t looked back since.

Pembury officially became operational in June 2020. Our offices are in London’s Mayfair neighborhood, although I’ve been working at home for the better part of the year. For the first six months it was just Evie and I doing everything from business development to accounts and marketing. At the end of last year we made our first hires, a project manager and expert in childcare recruitment. 

Currently, we’re working with about 100 UHWNI clients, many of whom are celebrities and athletes.

Dealing with the 1% everyday is super intense, especially because all of my clients want to have hired someone yesterday. But that’s nothing different to recruiting for the luxury hotel space, where I’ve also worked before. The UHNWIs (ultra-high-net-worth individuals) of the world want their home to be run like a six-star hotel, too.

At any one time, we could be looking to fill any range of roles in a number of locations. For example, we’re currently recruiting for a property and assets manager in Azerbaijan, a chief of staff in London, and a palace manager in Qatar. 

For many people, the past 12 months have been tough for business but for us it’s been nothing short of a boon. We’ve really pushed through COVID and are growing all the time. 

We staff for all types of specialty positions, such as performance chefs for professional footballers. 

By performance chefs, I mean people that cook the right meals for sportsmen and women, chefs that have formal education in nutritional science and who know what are the key ingredients for optimal athletic performance. It’s definitely a growing trend that we’re also seeing cross over into the UHNWI space — healthy living is the phrase on everyone’s lips right now.

It’s quite a niche market, but once one professional athlete hires a chef, they all want a chef. It’s something we’ve never done before but it’s been hugely successful so far.

We don’t employ staff on behalf of our clients, we’re just an introducer and charge our clients a percentage of the candidate’s first year salary as a fee. Right now, that’s 25%.

In terms of salary range, nannies can expect to earn between $55,000 to $140,000 depending on experience, chefs between $70,000 and $350,000, and chief of staffs from $100,000 to $425,000.

Although some candidates register with us in response to vacancies listed on our website or on social media platforms like Linkedin, we mostly head hunt. While travel restrictions and local quarantines have been obstacles to navigate, Evie and I have the right knowledge and know the right tools to be able to track down the right pool of candidates anywhere in the world.

Most people we hire must have prior experience in private households, or on superyachts or in luxury chalets.

A stable CV is essential, as is five years of excellent references and a clean criminal record. The vetting process is extensive and to the highest standards. Once we put a candidate forward, they then connect with the principal client or their representative for a face-to-face or video interview.

After filling a vacancy, we don’t follow up with performance reviews, but I did place a chef in a training camp for a World Champion Boxer who retained his title with one of his best performances, so I like to think that had something to do with it. Feedback is always welcome, although unusual. 

This week I had a chef on trial with a British billionaire and the female principal client texted me after the meal to say she loved them. That was nice. Because we reference check every candidate we put forward, and they trial with the client, it’s rare that anyone is ever unhappy once a placement has been made.

We may get a call at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon asking for someone by Monday morning. 

Evie and I don’t work fixed hours, as is usual in the UHNWI space. If I’m working for clients on the west coast of the US, I’ll adjust my hours to be on their time for as long as required.

There is one rule I abide by as much as possible, however, and that is to not work on a Saturday. I’m Jewish and practicing so I keep from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday as my protected family time. For the other six days, there’s no holds barred, and I’ll pick up my phone 24/7.

It may sound draining but my job does allow me to work from anywhere in the world and be with my family. In August we will visit Israel for the month. I’ll work early before my children wake up, and then we can spend the morning together, probably at the beach. I’ll work for a couple of hours when it’s really hot in the afternoon and then we can go out at night. At home back in London, I usually break up the day with time on my Peloton.

I deal with household names daily, so the expectations are high (and some egos are extremely big).

It’s fascinating working with UHNWI and celebrity names, but in the end it becomes normal and it’s not really something I talk too much about with my social circle. Of course, NDA’s prohibit me from sharing too much detail, but, in any case, many of my friends wouldn’t understand the world I live in and the inner lifestyle of UHNWIs.

Darren Lewis

My wife and I recently celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary during Britain’s COVID-19 lockdown. Since we couldn’t go out to mark the occasion, I asked one of the best private chefs around to come and cook our anniversary meal. Vegan cuisine is his speciality, and he’s previously worked for Claudia Schiffer and Stella McCartney. 

Later this month it’s my birthday and weather permitting, I’m hosting six friends in my garden and will have a private chef come and cater our meal. I guess you could say those are definitely the "perks" of the job.

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Chrissie McClatchie May 19, 2021 at 07:57PM

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