It was in the middle of the pandemic and Jon Dove’s client needed a car. Not just any car: a completely new Mercedes-specific model with right-hand drive. The only problem was that with supply chains shut down, the fastest turnaround for the company was 18 months. And Dove customers aren’t the kind of people who like to wait.
So the 29-year-old picked up the phone and started calling: contacts at Mercedes, then in the automotive industry in general. Eventually he contacted the factories, asking if they had any canceled orders. He eventually found one sitting in a shipping port in Germany, waiting to be returned. It could be delivered to London in a week. “It’s the only one [one of these cars] that exists on the planet and is available for purchase,” he said. “And we got it.”
Dove is what is referred to in some circles as a “luxury lifestyle manager”. The profession has many names – janitor, attaché – but they all serve the same purpose: to offer the rich what they want, when they want it. Whether it’s Oscar tickets, exclusive restaurant reservations or a trip to the French Riviera, Dove and the select group of international professionals like him use their close connections and a few handshakes in gold to make the impossible possible.
“Sometimes you have to say no to these people,” Dove said. “But what you want them to know is that you looked at 16 different avenues to get it.”
The type of people Dove and its peers serve — “high net worth individuals,” as they are called in the company — already have an army of attendants caring for them at home. Luxury lifestyle managers aren’t personal shoppers, they’re not private chefs, and they’re certainly not personal assistants. They are the repairmen that rich people call in when their APs can’t get the job done.
Take Donna McGovern. A former event planner, she’s been a lifestyle tycoon for more than a decade, ever since a hedge fund manager she was throwing a party for asked her to manage her lifestyle on the side. (“I said, ‘I have no idea what that means, but okay,'” she recalled.) She now has a list of dozens of clients, some who keep her under warrant and others who call him for ad hoc services.
A customer recently reached out because he wanted to dine at Rao’s, an Italian joint often called New York’s most exclusive restaurant because all 10 tables “belong” to longtime customers. McGovern called his extensive network and eventually found someone with a table assignment who would give up their spot for the night, in exchange for a $75,000 donation to a charity of his choice. For that price, McGovern told the client she could take her to Italy and have a meal prepared by a gourmet chef. The customer was polite, but declined. “’I need to be seen having dinner at Rao’s,’ he told her.
Lifestyle specialists come in many forms, from independent entrepreneurs like McGovern and Dove to large corporations with armies of concierges across the globe. The largest of these, Quintessentially, is based in the UK and employs 700 people in 40 different cities. (It is also mired in controversy around its management practices and the political connections of its co-founder, Ben Elliot, who is the Duchess of Cornwall’s nephew. A company spokesperson said they ” were trading profitably and were in the best financial position we have had in some time.”)
Michelle St. Clair, a 37-year-old from San Diego, Calif., started her own lifestyle management business in 2014 after spotting a book on janitorial services at a local bookstore. It now has 12 employees and about 50 clients, including the founder of a well-known computer company, a former Zoom executive and a very famous – “if not the most famous” – player for the Yankees.
His high-flying clientele pays at least $25,000 a month for his company’s services, and they don’t expect to be told no. A client, she said, was staying on his yacht off the Amalfi Coast when he asked her to send him a “sexy saxophone player”. (He had apparently seen one at a French nightclub and wanted to recreate the experience for himself.) The St. Clair team scoured social media to find the right person, then sent a video of the best candidate. The video happened to include a woman dancing on a pole in the background; the client told him to send both.
St. Clair has received a seemingly endless number of such bizarre requests: a hot tub delivered to a rental house in Aspen on Christmas Eve; an inflatable flamingo delivered – fully inflated – to a yacht in Croatia; four dalmatians for a photo shoot that day. (All of these, she proudly notes, were delivered.) Cristiano De Rossi, a luxury lifestyle director in London, said he once hosted a private screening of a film that had not yet been released in theaters. “You can always ask for favors,” he said when asked how he got it. “It’s knowing exactly what you can ask for without appearing ridiculous.”
Many lifestyle managers come from the worlds of event planning, fashion, or hospitality, where they have already built a network of high-end relationships to meet their clients’ needs. De Rossi worked for years at iconic British department store Harrods, forging connections he still uses to brand elusive jewelery and handbags for his private clients. He recently expanded his services to cover off-market real estate and what he calls “one-of-a-kind experiences,” like expeditions to see the Titanic or sample aged wine at the bottom of the sea. He’s currently working on sending of a customer in space.
Managing the lifestyles of the rich and famous also requires a deep and incredibly specialized type of knowledge that is not taught in any school. Anyone with enough money can charter a private yacht, but a good lifestyle manager knows the difference between a yacht for a 70-year-old billionaire and his wife and a 40-year-old bachelor and his boys. (The latter requires a crew that’s ready to serve drinks around the clock and won’t complain about loud music at 3 a.m.)” Dove said of hiring a crew. “‘Your can crew handle this or will there be problems?'”
The same goes for renting a private plane. Skilled lifestyle managers know the pilots who don’t freak out when the customer is inevitably three hours late and have a contact at the airport to open the hangar if they arrive after hours. McGovern has previously been called in to shortlist rental jets for a client who was unhappy with the ones he had chartered. She took videos and detailed notes on each and sent them back to the client. Among the requirements: The aircraft must have been manufactured after 2015 and could never have been smoked.
“One of these guys said to me, “If you tell me no, I want 10 times more.”
— Jon Dove
The job also requires an almost obsessive level of attention to detail. When McGovern plans trips for her clients, she doesn’t just research online, she flies to the destination and stays at all the luxury hotels in the area. This way, she can tell her guests which hotel had employees walking around handing out wet towels every 15 minutes and which rooms were the closest walk to the pool. Dove keeps a confidential file on all of its customers, noting which hotel rooms its customers have liked and which items to tell staff to have ready in the room before they arrive.
Unsurprisingly, the work is often stressful and the clients very demanding. (“One of those guys said to me, ‘If you tell me no, I want it 10 times as much,'” Dove said.) Lifestyle managers are often expected to be available around the clock, to meet all needs. McGovern said she was fired by a client because the woman didn’t like her writing. She had to drop off another client who yelled at her because she couldn’t get them to Italy amid the pandemic. “I have to laugh about it,” McGovern said. “Their sense of reality is a bit skewed.”
But most lifestyle managers will tell you that, despite some unfriendly clients, they love their jobs. There are benefits – Dove said he’s been treated by some of the best doctors in the world when he’s sick, thanks to his customers – as well as the satisfaction of delivering something hard to get to a happy customer.
“I think somebody either loves this job or hates it, because it’s definitely not trivial,” St. Clair said. “But for the most part, it allows you to be creative and think outside the box.”
In addition, sometimes it is interesting to see how the other half lives.
“It’s so nice to be able to dream and see how you can travel if you don’t have a budget,” she added. “The way some people live, it’s really fun.”
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