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Live in luxury by pampering the rich

  • Story Highlights
  • Wannabe servants attend high-end butler and household-management academies
  • Fees range from $10,000 to nearly $19,000 for two months of tuition, room and board
  • Trainees interviewed said they don't fear recession would limit job prospects
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By Ron Dicker
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(LifeWire) -- You've probably heard the old lament that good help is hard to find. Carol Scudere has a place where the help can be found -- by the rich.


Robert Wennekes, chairman of the International Butler Academy, inspects a row of would-be butlers.

"I don't know many wealthy people who will scrub floors," says Scudere, the owner of Professional Domestic Services and Institute in Powell, Ohio. "They need people to take care of them."

Wannabe servants are flocking to high-end butler and household-management academies. Undeterred by fees ranging from $10,000 to nearly $19,000 for two months of tuition, room and board, they take intensive courses in pampering Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags, who have been growing in numbers and in holdings worldwide. The schools maintain that graduates of these programs can earn between $50,000 and $150,000 a year as butlers.

Mirela Constantine, a student at the International Butler Academy in Zeist, Netherlands, used her approaching 40th birthday as a jumping-off point. A steel company manager before enrolling, she hopes to parlay her experience into developing a personal-services company with her husband -- and perhaps later gaining a piece of the burgeoning wealth of her native country of Romania.

"I was glad to come to this school and change direction," she says.

Recession? Not around here

The domestic staffers in training say job security isn't much of an issue for them. None of those interviewed feared a recession would weaken their prospects believing that the uber-loaded are impervious to economic downturn.

The world's millionaires (those whose sum of cash and investments totals at least $1 million, not including their residences) grew 8.3 percent to 9.5 million people between 2005 and 2006. The superwealthy, worth $30 million-plus, mushroomed 11.3 percent to almost 95,000 during that same time period, according to the 2007 World Wealth Report issued by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

China and former Eastern Bloc nations such as Ukraine are minting millionaires in unforeseen numbers, and royal households from the Middle East are demanding highly trained women to serve only females in the palace.

In the United States, jetsetters are aging with the rest of the country and need more help, says Scudere. And, despite a housing slump, the very prosperous are building bigger estates with more amenities such as swimming pools, screening rooms and bowling alleys, she adds. Someone has to handle the maintenance.

'I wanted a new life'

Whitney Martens, 44, worked as a bellman in a Cooperstown, New York, hotel that catered to Baseball Hall of Fame visitors before he enrolled at the International Butler Academy. Being a butler, he says, is "part of me. It's a good decision for the rest of my life to do this." He says he's willing to go anywhere as long as language isn't a barrier.

Turning 50 made James Tobin, a Canadian rail manager, re-evaluate the direction his life was taking. He forked over $18,500 in tuition to attend the academy. "It's a special treat to myself," he says. "I wanted a new life, to commence again."

In addition to traditional tasks such as cooking and polishing brass, trainees at the International Butler Academy learn to say the word that the moneyed often don't want to hear: "No." Chairman Robert Wennekes spends a day with his charges on the subject, offering the hypothetical situation of what you do when your married boss asks you to find him some company. (Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and other places, presenting a moral dilemma, he says. In such cases, Wennekes advises his pupils to "think about their own morals first.")

Six of the 14 students in the current Netherlands class get to debate that for free. They are being supported by companies or private households, says recruiter Curtis Akerlind.

Not every butler-to-be will face such a moral conundrum. As in most professions, different positions require different personalities. One employer may require a strong-willed butler with a Type A personality, the next job something completely different, Wennekes says.

"If you would compare 100 butler jobs, you will find that all 100 are enormously different," he says.

Living in luxury

The International Butler Academy says it has 30 and 40 students graduate each year and of those about 80 percent find placement as butlers. Of the remaining 20 percent, some fail to pass the required courses and some take the classes for other professions such as working on a cruise liner.

Graduates like the work for a variety of reasons. Linda Hall combined her training as a holistic health counselor with Scudere's school to care for an older couple in Marco Island, Florida. Kurt Houck, 34, enjoys maintaining and driving his Arizona- and Minnesota-based employer's fleet of Mercedes and working on the private jet during flights.

Mick Locke, another Professional Domestic Services and Institute graduate, serves the household of a Boston financier. For him, part of the draw of the job is being surrounded by authentic works of art, antique pieces of furniture and museum-quality artifacts -- not to mention tasting expensive wines, trying exotic foods and flying on a private jet. "As you advance in length of service," Locke says, "you can find yourself able to live vicariously through your employer."

Locke, 39, at first thought he could better serve the American market by being less "old school" than the butlers of his native England. Not anymore. His Yorkshire accent improved his chance of being hired, his employer told him. Says Locke: "It's like having a French chef or a Swedish au pair." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Ron Dicker is a New York-based freelance writer who covered sports for the New York Times from 1996 to 2005.

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