Service with a smile:
Future butlers practice the
protocol of formal dining.
Classy By Doug McPherson IT MAY BE the classiest school on the planet— a 13,000-square-foot, 108-year-old Victorian
mansion nestled in the shadows of Denver’s
skyline, a kind of ultra-elegant laboratory for
its students: future butlers (the more modern
term is “household managers”).
Graduates will be lighting cigars
(hold the flame an eighth of an
inch from the end to ensure an
even start) and polishing Rolls-
Royces (be gentle and don’t leave
swirls) for their employers—that
richest 1 percent you hear about in
Harvard’s got nothing on this place.
It’s called Starkey International Institute
for Household Management, and its headmistress and founder, Mary Louise Starkey, is
just as chic as this school she started back in
1990. (And she prefers to be called Mrs.
Starkey, not Mary.)
“This is all about growing service into a
true profession,” she explains, sitting on a traditional English-style formal sofa in the mansion’s front room, just steps outside her office.
Mrs. Starkey is made for the job. She
grew up in South Dakota with wealth. “My
father had old-guard service staff. It was
beautiful to see and to have in our lives,” she
says. One of her most poignant memories is,
at age 7, watching her father’s driver, Walter,
polish a family automobile. “He did it with
such great love,” she recalls. “I can see it in
my mind now.”
Mrs. Starkey could have lounged in a life
of leisure. Not a chance. “I walked away from
a lot of money,” she states, “but I wanted to
return to my roots on my own terms.”
After college she landed a job with
Goodwill Industries in Denver, finding
jobs for the developmentally disabled.
But one day a friend asked
her to help fix up her house, and
the idea of starting her own housecleaning and cooking business hit.
“I put an ad in The Denver Post,” she
says. “In three months I had 100 clients.” That was in 1981.
As business grew, Mrs. Starkey became more interested in training her
employees in the proper ways to serve clients,
so she converted her business to a school.
Some of these clients hired her first graduates.
She also tapped advertising and publicity to
find new clients. So far she’s sent 1,200 students to the world’s most extravagant estates.
She says she’s particularly proud of turning their salaries around from $30 a week to
$70,000 to $200,000 a year.
Yes, you read that correctly. The average
starting salary runs $60,000 to $80,000. But
students have to invest about $16,000 for the
eight weeks of training.
The classroom in the mansion’s lower
level (not far from the wine cellar) looks surprisingly like, well, a classroom: three rows of
tables with laptop computers (Mrs. Starkey
has patented her own software that identifies,
teaches service with style
organizes and prioritizes service expectations), and up front a white board next to a
TV and DVD player. The walls are covered
with scraps of large easel-board papers; one
has a layout of a large home that’s separated
into “cleaning zones.” Think home economics on steroids.
Classes cover food preparation, housekeeping, cleaning, property maintenance,
transportation arranging, safety and property protection, event coordination, vendor
management, service standards, clothing
and personal care skills, wine, human
resources communications and more.
Clearly the real learning happens in
other parts of the mansion, especially the
kitchen and dining room, where the students learn the details of running a formal
dining table: “It’s an old art form intrinsic
to the family and family entertaining,” Mrs.
Starkey says. “It’s about etiquette, manners
and graciousness”—three words that sum up
Mrs. Starkey pauses and ponders a question: Has the world lost the meaning of service? “Yes. Wherever we go, we educate about
service. Service is meeting a specific expectation, and it requires both a giver and a receiver
for service to actually take place.”
An elegant toast to both. C
Doug McPherson is a freelance writer in
Centennial, Colorado, who admits he’s never
had a butler but bets his wife would love one.
Institute for Household
Owner: Mary Louise Starkey
Address: 1350 Logan St.
Denver, CO 80203
Motto: “Service as an expertise”
Comments about Costco: “We love the
quality of the local meat selection,” says
William Althoff, private service training
instructor for Starkey International and a
past aide to former Vice President Al Gore.
“I love the microfiber rags,” says
Debra Bullock, a certified household
manager at Starkey.