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Putting Jeeves to Shame; in 2006, Running a Mansion Takes Software, Leadership and Training

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Putting Jeeves to Shame; in 2006, Running a Mansion Takes Software, Leadership and Training


Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Mary Louise Starkey, founder of the Denver-based Starkey International Institute for Household Management, has a different definition than most people of how to take care of a house - especially one more than 5,000 square feet in size.

Larger than that, she says, it is mandatory to have at least one full-time manager and optimally a part-time employee as well. "Ten thousand is two full-time; 15,000 requires three full-time," she adds. It's in her interest, of course, since she is founder of a business that trains domestic managers.

The term "butler" no longer is used, since half of the Starkey course trainees are women. And the word "servant" definitely is out of favor in a politically correct age, however much a modern manager can seem a throwback to England's Victorian era.

In today's rarefied world of service professionals, the very largest houses have the services of someone like Michael Cope, a former Army general's aide and executive chef whose title is "estate manager." He is in charge of a corporate chieftain's 4-acre property in McLean that includes two homes totaling considerably more than 15,000 square feet. In short, he is a manager's manager.

Little escapes Mr. Cope's notice concerning the physical property and its denizens, who include two young children watched over by a full-time English-trained nanny. The nanny reports more often to the couple themselves, he says.

He has more than enough to do, including plying his chef skills when the couple entertains for dinner, as they will on Valentine's Day. Exclusive of conjuring up a top-notch menu, the list of preparatory duties for that one occasion runs to 34 items.

The manual provided to Starkey trainees to cover all elements of a manager's job is a 600-page tome. In addition, Starkey clients - the property owners - are given a hardback book titled "Setting Household Standards" that outlines in full the duties of and expectations for all household employees. Learning the terminology is an important part of the monthlong training in the Starkey system Mr. Cope initially received during his time in the Army.

"You not only learn how things are done, but why," he says.

The term "Daily Graces," for instance, refers to routine maintenance functions performed by the household support staff. The chores are outlined down to the estimated time for doing one load of family wash - an average of one hour and 30 minutes.

Mr. Cope, 41, most definitely is a hands-on man, sitting ramrod straight in an office in the secondary so-called guesthouse surrounded by the accouterments of his trade: personal messaging machine, cellular phone, land-line phone, fax machine and computer. His "uniform" is conventional business dress: dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie, with a tiny American flag pin on his lapel. He is calm, confident, personable and obliging - to a limit. The father of a 6-year-old, he keeps his own family life separate, commuting daily from a home in Falls Church.

He makes a point never to live on the property where he works. "I will not have my son look up at the house and say, 'Daddy, why can't I have that?' He is spoiled enough as it is," he says, only half-jokingly.

"I'm part of the house, but not of the family," he says of the job he has held for three years, working 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. or more most days.

"It's a great profession," he says. "It's fun and exciting, but it has to go both ways. If you respect your job, the family will respect you. They have to be comfortable with you."

He calls his boss "the principal" and talks to the couple several times a day, using the honorific "Mrs.

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