Butler Extraordinaire Steven Ferry notes the transition from servicing British royalty to Asian billionaires, Russian oligarchs and powerful North and South Americans who are changing the requirements of the personalized industry
There has been an on-going dramatic shift from traditional to modern butling, revealed by the first-time Manila visitor Steven Ferry, Founder of The International Association of Traditional Butlers, and the Chairman and Founder of the International Institute of Modern Butlers. Author of the four books, The British Butler’s Bible, Serving the Wealthy, Hotel Butlers, and The Great Service Differentiators, the guru aims to modernize the profession, he shared during a lunchtime chat at the Hotel Benilde Maison De La Salle.
Hardworking and Caring Filipinos
Ferry, considered in the 90s as an iconoclast, challenges and destroys preconceptions and established beliefs. He is a key figure in the modernization of the field, that numbers an estimated 50,000 butlers. “I was saying we need to modernize and everyone else was ‘No, we are based on tradition! We must not change!’ But now, we are not just servicing British royalty. We are servicing Chinese mega billionaires, Russian oligarchs, an American this, a South American that. They have different expectations,” he expounded.
Despite the fierce opposition, Ferry set off on his own path. He took the best of the butler characteristics, and added a more friendly and reachable approach, which he promotes in his self-founded institute, considered a pioneer in the standardization of the personalized industry.”We don’t mind people copying us, because we are getting the standards out there. We want to establish and promulgate, so that the profession continues and doesn’t get eroded.” he said.
Recently, Ferry visited the capital city to conduct a series of much-sought-after seminars and workshops to further hone hospitality skills. “I have to confess, I have trained many, many Filipinos in other countries. For instance, last year I trained all the butlers in all the ships of Norwegian Cruise Lines. Probably 98 percent of them were from the Philippines.” He continued, “Why are there so many Filipinos in hospitality? It’s because they do care, and they work hard. My impression of them is that they’re very nice people.”
The son of a lawyer and the eldest of four siblings, Ferry was given the freedom to pursue his dreams by his father. However, his mother was not as sympathetic. She persuaded young Steven to be a doctor and follow the footsteps of past illustrious family members. He opted to do other things such as writing, photography, charity, intelligence, and eventually, butling.
Ferry recalled it was his wife who planted the seed that became his life-long career. It was in 1986 when she was co-organizer of an all-star A-listers’ event in Hollywood, California. The venue was an exclusive, luxurious private yacht which needed one-on-one, top-class bespoke service — in other words, butlers.
Then they returned home to England, where he decided to explore the personalized service as an occupation. “It resonated with my own views on life. I love high quality things in a high quality environment. I wouldn’t say wealthy, but I came from a well-to-do family. I was used to living in good houses, having fine silverware, and the opportunity to be in that environment again was attractive to me,” he declared matter-of-factly. However, Ferry’s primary attraction to the profession was “a buzz out of bringing a smile to someone’s face.”
Finding a boss you believe in is the best feeling, he expressed. “If you work for them, you have to know they have your back as well when needed. Then you can 100 percent give your life to them,” he said.
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What Makes a Butler
“You don’t need to interact with people much to find out if they care about other people,” asserted Ferry. He can spot who would make great butlers in an instant. “That person could very well be a nurse, a priest, a guy at the front desk. Anyone could be a butler, but are they interested?” he posited. He added that familiarity with the life and world of the wealthy is an essential factor to pursue this calling.
When asked if one is trainable at all to become a butler, he immediately snapped a firm “No, no,” and enumerated the required qualities in rapid succession. “First off, you need to have the solicitousness, caring about others. Two, you need to have some familiarity with the high-end lifestyle. Three, you have to want to be a butler. You have to have some intelligence and some education, a butler has to be able to study,” he shared.
“Another key factor is if you’re really interested in other people, your attention is on them.” The conversation veered towards the no-no’s of butling. “Talking about your guests, it doesn’t get any worse than that.” Absolute discretion is one of the most important qualities for any aspiring stewards.
Ferry clarified inaccuracies about butlers. “Misconceptions are really the clichés we see in the media, that butlers are really stuck-up English people. Perhaps they were, but now, they’re not.”
He mentioned the increase of female butlers. There were a few in the 1980s. Today there are at least 25 percent more, both in private and in hospitality industries. While some may prefer the traditional male, others would rather be attended to by the female counterpart. “But in terms of hiring, my advice is to hire more lady butlers,” he insisted.
Today, Ferry, through his institute, is tapped by individuals, hotels, and even private companies for “soft skill training.” It equips persons to effectively interact with CEOs of global companies with appropriate social graces.
Projecting the ideal future for his profession, Ferry wishes that butlers would be in all service industries. “As long as you have people who are very wealthy, they will need someone to run the household,” he concluded.
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