In 1990, Julie Subotky joined the trail of new college graduates heading to Aspen, Colorado. She intended to ski for a season and then find a “real” job. Like many ski bums, Subotky did what she could to underwrite her ski habit. And in Aspen, that meant entrepreneurial opportunities beyond dishwashing.
“Everyone comes to town and doesn’t know how to get things done, and they have left their assistants behind,” says Subotky, who was soon running paid errands for the Aspen roster of “VIPs, celebrities, and people with second and third homes”.
Subotky charged clients an hourly rate for her services, such as ensuring that ski lodges were properly victualled. Before long, though, the daily chores had snowballed into more complicated missions, such as co-ordinating the chartering of private jets.
Subotky’s season-long venture turned into a nine-year stay and a company called Consider It Done.
Whether symptomatic of longer working hours or a new gilded age, more and more of the truly wealthy are outsourcing the trivial – and not so trivial – parts of their lives. The competition to service the non-financial needs of the wealthy is now almost as intense as the contest to manage their money.
And unlike the concierge services offered by hotels, independent operators are expanding their services beyond simply finding theatre tickets and making restaurant reservations. Instead, many of these companies increasingly refer to themselves as “lifestyle managers”. Yet while some of them retain the hue of traditional concierge services, others have distilled the model into very different businesses: one novel approach includes the provision of networking opportunities for its clients.
At the top end of the market, meanwhile, lifestyle advice touches on just about everything but money.
Subotky finally left Aspen and arrived in New York with no firm plans. But after a week in Manhattan, she bumped into an old Aspen client who said a friend needed Subotky’s skills. She was back at work, and Consider It Done had its first satellite office.
Today, the company’s headquarters have shifted to Manhattan where, among other things, Subotky’s team organises clients’ moves, apartment renovations and gift shopping. Recently, she planned a client’s 40th birthday party on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. The task included organising flights, dinner plans and golf outings for the guests.
Her Aspen operation, meanwhile, still ensures that fridges are filled, restaurants are booked and ski-lift tickets pre-purchased.
Consider It Done’s customers buy packages of time, with rates ranging from $125-$175 an hour. Subotky says her client base includes single men, working mothers, executives and those already fortunate enough to have personal assistants. And like any good hotel concierge, the company caters to whims, including sourcing an esoteric brand of Japanese chewing gum whenever one client gets withdrawal symptoms.
Another group that has to respond to whims is the Quincy Consulting Group. “But we aren’t party planners,” insists Rob Chand, one of the partners.
Started by a group of former management consultants, the nine-employee firm has aimed itself at ambitious entrepreneurs and corporate executives willing to spend up to $50,000 a year having their lives managed by a team of experts.
Among other things, the firm has latched on to what Chand calls “a blending of business and personal lives”, particularly among entrepreneurs.
During an initial 90-minute meeting, the company identifies the likes and dislikes of its clients and what they want to accomplish, both personally and professionally. “Then we try to open the world,” says Chand.
Using its employees’ knowledge of various industry sectors – including healthcare, property, investment banking and finance – the Quincy Group says it connects its clients with others in their chosen fields. “Successful people are always talking about business, and entrepreneurs are always looking out to see what’s going on,” says Chand.
“One client called and asked us if we could find someone suitable to make up a foursome for a round of golf at Pebble Beach,” says Chand. The firm duly obliged.
In addition to providing networking opportunities, the company says it gives clients agnostic advice on everything from property transactions to financial analysis of fractional jet ownership. And whether it is just booking first-class travel or having a Quincy Group employee on the ground at all times, the company is not above organising its clients’ holidays.
Chand describes Quincy’s clients as the sort of people who have reached the stage in their careers where they want judicious help spending and enjoying their money.
Lifestyle management company Aston Pearl, meanwhile, focuses less on the arriviste crowd and more on second- and third-generation wealth.
Founded in 2002 by Natasha Pearl, the company bills itself as the “family office for everything except money”. Aston Pearl won’t book a client’s helicopter-skiing trip, but it will source the expertise that knows the best place to go.
Pearl’s professional background includes work at consultants Booz Allen Hamilton and American Express. But a stint at the auction house Sotheby’s convinced her that a market existed for what she calls objective and independent lifestyle advice for the ultra-wealthy. She also learned that there is a big difference between what the rich want and what they need.
Aston Pearl has been retained by more than 40 clients, half of which are single-family offices worth upward of $300m. Its services include the $25,000 Lifestyle Review; a panoramic assessment of a client’s non-financial existence, from personal jewellery holdings to the amount of time spent managing household staff.
“We identify what’s keeping a client from doing what he really wants to do, and then plan their life,” says Pearl. “A $6bn family has strategic issues like any company.”
Another Aston Pearl function is to ward off predatory suppliers and introduce transparency to a client’s transactions – whether it’s selling art or purchasing property. “We’re a gatekeeper in an old-fashioned, almost medieval way. Our job is to protect people from the sharks and charlatans,” she says.
One client sought her advice after he received widely different prices from experts who quoted to teach his children the principles of investing. “The quotes ranged from $1,600 to $16,000,” says Pearl. “There was no obvious reason for the disparity. I teach people the flinch principle – no matter what the first price is, they should say, ‘Good God, that’s a lot of money’.”
Depending on the task, Pearl charges clients hourly fees of $400-$600, but receives no other commissions for her work. She maintains a list of about 4,000 people upon whom she can call for objective counsel.
For clients contemplating buying a private jet, for example, Pearl might tap industry experts for a cost/benefit analysis of fractional jet ownership and advice on the financing of any acquisition.
Pearl’s gate-keeping role extends beyond sourcing best of practice independent advice. One of her duties, she says, is to protect the rich from themselves and the rudimentary mistakes that they often make.
For example, she says: “Children shouldn’t be posting pictures of themselves on the web exiting the family plane.”
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