Surprise is the reaction I get most often when I describe how I got started in the private service industry. Most of us have interesting stories about making this a career – you can’t just choose it as a college major (yet) – so the getting started story is actually one of my favorite questions to ask candidates during an interview... what road led you to become a Personal Assistant, an Estate Manager, a Private Chef, etc?
Masters in Psychology
In the early 1990s, I was studying for my Masters in Psychology in San Francisco and working with at-risk youth. I saw an ad in The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper (that's how jobs were posted way back then!) for a live-in Nanny. It described beautiful separate quarters and helping a family with two young children. I thought "I can do that!" and felt a break from counseling work would be refreshing. I interviewed with an agency and met several families. In fact, I met the client that the advertisement profiled and we liked each other, but she couldn't see me working as her "domestic." The owner of the agency, Monica, and I chuckled when we heard that and knew it wasn't the right placement for me. But when I met the Taylors, I was at ease and loved the idea of working with a 13 and 16 year old, mentoring them and keeping the house organized. I was planning to be with them for one year while I completed graduate school and they agreed to this arrangement. Well, I stayed on for three amazing years and it was a life changing opportunity!
ceo of the household
The Taylors sent me to cooking school (roux, souffle, cornish game hen!) and I cooked all the meals for the family. I did all the errands, managed contractors, drove the children to and from school and after-school activities. I had a split shift schedule, which I know is not desirable for many, but it was ideal for me while I worked on my Master’s thesis. I researched summer camps and took the son to France for soccer camp, giving me several weeks free to explore Europe solo, which was a great perk. I took the daughter on all her college visits and tutored her when needed. The family called me "CEO of the household." Today, we would call my role "Household Manager and Family Assistant."
Mom worked in finance and had an opportunity to run the Asia division. They wanted me to stay on and move to Hong Kong with them. I gave it serious thought since it was a different direction than I intended to go after grad school, but I felt the travel and expat life would be an incredible learning experience. And it was.
MOVINg to Hong kong
We postponed the children’s move to Hong Kong because it was the daughter's senior year. Mom "commuted" to Hong Kong and came home to San Francisco once a month for a year. Dad was busy in finance, too, and he was traveling to India a lot to build a client base there. I was running the household and staying overnight for weeks at a time. It was challenging, but the goal was stability for the children and we achieved that.
Mom was, understandably, eager for the rest of us to move to Hong Kong and we did, as soon as the school year ended. I had the dog transported there without being quarantined, which was quite a project. I oversaw the move and got the son settled at the international school.
Then, I had an amazing year living the expat life. I was very involved in the AWA (American Women's Association) which is a group of women doing fun activities and volunteering. The mom used to say to me at dinnertime, "I am living vicariously through your adventures." The son was 16 at this point and the daughter was at college in Boston. We had a live-in Amah (housekeeper/cook) and a Driver so it was a relatively carefree year for me. The parents wanted that continuity for their son and they had the resources to make it happen.
Mom and Dad taught me valuable lessons. They felt it was imperative to have a "Nanny" with their children through high school since their careers were so demanding. They were from the Midwest and instilled strong values in their children. Even though they had four homes, the kids were not spoiled with material things. We had a mutual respect that made me feel valued and professional in my role, so I was glad to stay on for three years. I've taken those lessons with me in my professional life and my personal life as a parent. I learned that as a woman I could have a fulfilling career and that a full-time Nanny would enable me to be a great mother myself.
When I departed, I traveled in Asia and Central America for three months. I then came back to San Francisco and asked the agency to find me another similar gig while I worked on my doctorate. They laughed. And they asked me to come work for them as a Placement Counselor. I did, and I loved it. I utilized my psychology background and my direct experience in a private home daily while changing the lives of clients and candidates. I worked for that agency for over 15 years, as most of you know, and had a fantastic time. I grew with the company and placed every type of person you can imagine in private homes.
I've stayed in touch with the family and a couple weeks before I departed from the agency, I met with the boy (now a grown man and teacher in San Francisco!). He was beginning his own Nanny search... it had come full circle.
And now I am fortunate enough to do placements on my own, matchmaking to genuinely improve people's lifestyles. I empower others to do what they really want to do with their lives and that is so gratifying!
I know many of you have similar stories about this industry and I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to email me.