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Job Descriptions and Functions: Estate Manager

Estate Manager is perhaps the most widely used term in the business. Most candidates with a bit of experience running a household will mistakenly call themselves an Estate Manager. Likewise, other terms can be confused with it such as Majordomo, House Manager, and Butler. However, it is important to recognize the overall scope of the Estate Manager, being held in high regard as the top position title in private service.

Some other variations may include “Director of Estates,” “Director of Properties,” and “Chief of Staff,” but with a clear picture of the Estate Manager’s functions and a working definition of “Estate,” it is easy to see who truly fits the position. A common abbreviation for those in the industry is “EM.”

Author’s Note: One of the greatest pleasures of my career as a private service agency owner has been learning from the vast array of employees we get to know over time. It has always amazed me to meet and speak with Estate Managers who are deep in their years of service to elaborate estates and intriguing clients. The many skills and experiences make for what some would call a modern day version of the “Renaissance Man.” I continue to learn as we hear from these great service professionals in a field that is unique and rarely understood due to the privacy and discretion we all must honor.

Environment

The first qualifier we must consider is, “what defines as an estate?” Pulling from the online dictionaries [dictionary.com] we find several meanings:

noun

1. a piece of landed property, especially one of large extent with an elaborate house on it: to have an estate in the country.

2. Law.

a. property or possessions.

b. the legal position or status of an owner, considered with respect to property owned in land or other things.

c. the degree or quantity of interest that a person has in land with respect to the nature of the right, its duration, or its relation to the rights of others.

d. interest, ownership, or property in land or other things.

e. the property of a deceased person, a bankrupt, etc., viewed as an aggregate. Under the meanings associated with an elaborate home and grounds and/or the sum total of properties and possessions owned, we place the Estate Manager as the highest appointed role within a client’s private staff.

Geographically, the Estate Manager would be located near the primary residence or offices of the Principal and have a “home office” of their own to base their administrative activity. When multiple properties are held, the EM is usually a travel based role with oversight duties at the various locations. In this instance the EM will go mobile with their operations, employing the latest technology and communications to run things from their fingertips while on the road.

Functions

Estate Manager is the top level in the household. He or she works directly with the owners to plan and execute the overall management of property and service. Where there are large or multiple homes the Estate Manager is the “C.E.O.” of the organization, carrying out the wishes of the owner at each location. Estate Managers typically set the service standard and are responsible for the hiring, training, and ongoing management of staff required to meet the service needs of the household. In addition to personnel management, the administrative functions are many. All related financial matters including accounting, budgets, and payroll normally pass through the EM’s hands. Based on the size of the property the Estate Manager may wear many other hats or delegate these functional areas to dedicated experts in the employer’s stable. Interfacing with accountants, attorneys, curators, captains, pilots, architects, financial advisors, and more is par for the course. Common direct supervision tasks may include screening and overseeing outside vendors, contractors, construction projects, maintenance of grounds, collections, autos, yachts, private planes, etc. With multiple properties, most EM’s travel ahead of their employer to get a property ready for their arrival and bring the staff up to speed on any necessary changes or service requirements. An Estate Manager may also be called upon to plan and execute events for the owner. This could range from a simple dinner for eight to a grand, formal gathering for eight hundred. For this mode an EM would regularly connect with top caterers, event planners, temporary service staff, and entertainment agencies. The levels of “hands-on” involvement can vary, but to truly exemplify the Estate Manager title, the details of service are executed primarily via management, and not as a service provider.

Qualification

The top Estate Managers in the industry are some of the most well rounded workers that can be found anywhere. The unique combination required to succeed in this position is rarely found in other professions. Important abilities include:

-Highest level of personal service experience with private families and/or individuals.

-Well educated in luxury items such as fine art and antiques.

-Proper social etiquette and cultural knowledge.

-Acute business skills in areas of finance, computers, planning, and organization.

-Human resources management.

-Leadership and motivation skills.

-Independent and team project management.

-Creative and intuitive thinking and problem solving.

-Very resourceful.

-Extremely well-traveled.

-Up to date on applicable technologies and global communications.

-Negotiating skills.

-Often multi-lingual.

-College or other advanced degree.

-Service training for private and/or hotel environments.

Above all, the right person for the job will be adaptable to the standards and desires of the employer. Execution of plans and tasks can be taught and developed with a basic skill set, but only those who are truly “in sync” with their boss and environment will succeed for the long term.

One variation worth mentioning is the substitution of a Family Office for the estate management function. We have worked with a few management companies who handle the Estate Manager’s duties as a group. They involve several specialists to coordinate and maintain the vast holdings of the employers and sometimes include extended family’s properties. For example, they may have a specialized real estate department to oversee acquisitions, renovations, and sales of global properties. A second specialist may work with staffing and training for the service needs throughout the homes, and another might be an inventory and insurance expert for all collections held. There are many potential configurations on the larger, global scale, but in our niche we will be referring to the individual who heads the overall estate regardless of any additional supporting personnel or office.

Compensation

The typical salary range is $100,000 - $200,000, while some Estate Managers in service for many years or with specialized project skills can earn in the range of $250,000 and up. Additional benefits may include fully paid housing, automobile, insurance, paid travel, clothing allowance, and more. One of the main factors for earning at the top of the range is the level of financial accountability this role has. Is there critical decision making at the purchasing, planning, construction, or other business transaction that would cause a profit or loss under the EM’s direction? If so, the real value presented to an employer can be easily measured. We’ve seen bonuses given for project completion or meeting budget goals, and some salaries or bonuses have been tied directly to the employer’s own financial success. When the scope of the job affects the bottom line, the compensation has the potential to continue upwards. Many in the high net worth category employ a “pay for performance” model, not uncommon in the financial industries where many of our clients derive their wealth.