As we all can appreciate one of the most important things in life is the people we work with. Having people around us who are on the same wavelength, possess the same attitudes and philosophy towards work is vital to a harmonious working relationship and this importance is magnified ten-fold when those same people have to live with us and in close proximity to our private lives.
Choosing household staff to look after your home and, most importantly, your children is of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Thus, it is imperative you source the right company that has the passion, integrity and reputation to help you. After researching several top agencies we came across a leader in the field - Polo and Tweed - and sat down with their founder Lucy Challenger to see what sets her company apart from the crowd!
How did you get into the business?
After I finished two degrees, I launched a number of businesses. I also started to help small businesses with their own cash flow, predominantly because I was good at start-ups. One of these was a domestic recruitment company. I worked for them for a couple of years and found it fascinating. I had my son in 2015 and took some time off. However, a great number of contacts I had made at that company tracked me down on LinkedIn asking me to help find them staff. I kept refusing until I finally gave in to one client in Monaco, promising to help recruit a nanny for them. Before I knew it, I had multiple clients and no staff of my own or anywhere to work from. So, I had to do everything in reverse. I had to find an office and I had to recruit staff. Polo & Tweed was founded in November 2015 and five years later we have a base in Mayfair and a global network of clients and candidates.
How difficult is finding suitable candidates and what are the challenges?
I think the key thing you've got to remember in recruitment is that you are working with human beings and human beings are ultimately imperfect. Some are fabulously organised and get back to you when you ask them to, and others are not quite so accommodating. You may have the perfect client and job spec but not the right candidates. Or vice versa. The challenge is getting it all perfectly aligned. We have a reputation now, so candidates as well as clients find us organically, whether that’s through word of mouth, our social media or our website. When they join our books, we thoroughly vet them. That means we verify their references, we speak to them and then we meet them in person. Because in domestic recruitment you have to have a match of personalities. It cannot just be skills based. In an office someone goes to work, they do their job and they go home. In a home you can be around intimate situations and staff need to be able to deal with that, with finesse and discretion. So, it’s our job to make sure they can. Sure, they have to be good at what they do, but at the same time if their personalities don't match, then the placement is not going to be a success.
Wealthy individuals are very demanding, how do you manage these clients and their expectations?
When you're placing staff into people’s homes, I think the client has a right, within reason, to demand the best, particularly when it comes to looking after their children or their property. How rich they are is almost irrelevant. Cultural differences are probably a lot more challenging. In the Middle East for example you have a high proportion of staff who are very underpaid, who come from places of extreme poverty like the Philippines and India. When these same families then relocate from the Middle East to the UK they are sometimes shocked, not only by the expected salaries but workers’ rights. So, my team have to be constantly on the case, helping to educate and guide clients. Because just because they are wealthy, it doesn't mean they can get what they want in terms of staff working 24/7 and for the minimum wage. Conversely, if a Middle Eastern-based client is looking to recruit from overseas we tend to approach it from a global market perspective, conforming to UK standards of employment. In short, wealth has nothing to do with it. You can have less wealthy families who are incredibly demanding and extremely rich families who are the same. It’s ultimately just down to how you communicate with them.
Your clients are international, but can you help them source in their respective areas?
Yes, we have a network of global candidates and clients who are based in the US, Europe, Australian, the Middle East…. Just about everywhere really. The difficult bit is finding staff that have a right to work in certain countries. That’s a key job for us, vetting to check that staff are legally entitled to work where we are recruiting.
What are some of the most bizarre requests you’ve had from your clients?
Well we’ve been asked to source butlers who can bake and butlers who are trained in yoga. Some of our clients require round the clock glam squads, from hairdressers and make-up artists to masseuses. We've recruited for a dog nanny - someone whose sole responsibility is the four-legged member of the family who is in essence the principals’ baby and gets treated as one. One of the weirdest requests was for 45 butlers - male and female - to attend the first ever music festival in Riyadh. Sadly, the same event has been cancelled this year due to COVID but what an amazing experience it was for our chosen candidates to serve the royal family in the VIP boxes.
The current pandemic must have helped boost your business in terms of staffing – tell us more
It has been challenging because a lot of domestic staff have been furloughed. Many have lost their jobs altogether. But people who need domestic help still need help, regardless of Covid. In fact many who didn't need help pre-pandemic now do because they're suddenly working from home for instance or having to shield and want someone to do so with them. So, we've definitely seen an increase in demand for live-in staff and clients looking to get ahead of the next wave. When we returned to work on 12th May we simultaneously launched our online e-learning programmes and were overwhelmed by the demand. Many candidates had been furloughed or lost their jobs and were now seizing the opportunity to retrain and learn new skills.
Obviously, discretion is huge in your business any names you could drop without getting into trouble.
I'm not going to name drop because discretion is of utmost importance. We have worked with A list celebrities and famous actors, actresses, writers and many many musicians. We have recruited for royal family members around the world. Plus, billionaire families who are so secretive that they spend vast amounts of money having themselves removed from search engines. It’s not just the super-rich we work with. Professional families – from lawyers and architects to accountants and doctors – sometimes need just as much help as the super-rich.
I’ve just won millions in the lottery, I need a nanny, a chef, a chauffeur, a gardener and a tutor, can you help?
Congratulations! We quite frequently recruit for entire house setups. It tends to be less about lottery winners and more about those who are relocating. For example, we had a billionaire client move from the US to the UK this summer and we were tasked with fully staffing their house for their arrival. Every job is different, so it is vital that we study the brief closely. What type of nanny do you need? What cars do you own so we get the chauffeur just right? And how many gardeners would be needed to look after your grounds? What is certain is that we can make your life a lot more comfortable, leaving you more time to enjoy your winnings. If that sounds good, we look forward to hearing from you!