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Sterling Service.


It's got to be right, or don't bother," Mary Louise Starkey's mother used to say. Starkey, founder and president of her eponymous Denver-based institute, obviously paid attention.

For a decade, Starkey International Institute for Household Management Inc. has trained service-minded people in the fine art of professional household management. That means turning raw human material into the Jeeveses of the future -- the gentlemen's gentlemen, the household managers and housemen, the housekeepers and private culinary chefs of the Computer Age, which is not to be confused with the Gilded Age.

"The highest level of service that takes place in the marketplace is in a private home," Starkey says.

The gracious "Mrs. Starkey," as her students call her, ran her own housecleaning business for 15 years prior to founding the institute. Earlier, she was a social worker and a VISTA volunteer.

Starkey's experience in placing housekeepers brought her in increasing contact with homeowners searching for household staff. Starkey soon discovered that well-trained household managers were in short supply, and in 1990 she conceived Starkey International to fill the growing need.

With more wealthy Americans than ever moving into increasingly larger residences, the demand for household help is booming. The New York Times reported recently that the number of U.S. households worth $10 million or more has quadrupled in the last decade. American houses are growing, too: 17% of all new homes built in the last year were 3,000 or more square feet, compared to only 7% of new homes in 1984.

Starkey International is housed downtown in a formally appointed 1901 Georgian mansion with 12,000 square feet of living and teaching space. The house serves as a laboratory for the students, who care for the fine furnishings, cook and serve meals in the formal dining room and practice their cleaning skills. The students, who eat three meals a day together, rotate their duties to experience every level of service. Each person will take a turn as the cook, household manager and employer (referred to as the "principal" by the students).

Starkey International offers two programs: Household Management, an eight-week course with 360 class hours, and Nanny Manager, a four-week course with 50 hours. The average age of institute students is 45, and most are college educated; many are embarking on a second or third career. Students dress in conservative white shirts and khaki pants, and politely call each other by their family names. There is a brisk demand for the Household Management program, with a waiting list for the three remaining sessions to be offered this year.

Classes average 16 students, with 13 staff instructors and a host of outside experts teaching a variety of skills. In addition to learning practical household skills, such as removing a Bordeaux stain from the Oriental rug, poaching the perfect pompano and mixing a good martini, students learn about the character and heart of a server.

Students are trained in the subtleties of fine service, such as discerning the principal's preferences for the "daily graces," the special tasks that make a house a home. Perhaps the homeowner likes the drapes opened each morning, the flag raised, or fresh orange juice in a crystal glass.

Personal Dynamics classes teach the standards that are written in the school's code of ethics, for instance: The Household Manager will keep all confidences, refrain from gossiping and remain non-judgmental.

A recent class on the work ethic got off to a noisy start. A howling wind blew through a crack in one of the old windows in the basement classroom. Two students hopped on chairs and tugged at the reluctant window until it pulled shut. Smoothing their neckties, they resumed their seats.

Order restored, Starkey asked students to consider how they would react if their employer were having a bad day. After she performed a tongue-in-cheek impersonation ("Will you puh-leeze do something about that!"), a lively discussion ensued.

Starkey reminded students, "It's not about how the other person treats you. You can't take bad moods personally." She paused and looked at each person in the room. "Haven't you had a day when you weren't at your best? You have to decide that your work ethic will be in place, regardless." The class murmured and nodded in agreement.

After completing the course and passing a credit, driving record and background check, the company's placement service helps match graduates with qualified employers. Graduates can expect a compensation package worth $24,000 to $100,000, including room and board, vacations, benefits, and possible use of a car and other amenities. The institute places 90% of graduates, Starkey said.

The company also produces two books, Setting Household Standards ($129), and Mrs. Starkey's Nanny Manager ($79.95). Starkey International also developed its own computer software, The Household Manager's Software ($650), which helps the user identify and schedule the service delivery functions within a household, manage property inventories and keep track of personal information.

To keep in touch with alumni, the institute produces a quarterly newsletter, Tales from the Mansion. This March, it's hosting the first Household Management Conference in Denver for about 200 attendees.

In all, "It's a million-dollar business," Starkey said.

"To work and serve in someone's home is an honor," Starkey said. "To be entrusted with a person's private life, their home, family, friends, relatives, guests and personal affairs is profoundly significant."


Starkey International places individuals and couples into professional positions requiring a variety of skills and training.

Estate-Level Household Manager

Job description: An administrative manager who can set up, train and manage a household staff. Generally for large homes of more than 20,000 square feet. Salary range: $60,000 to $120,000 per year.

Household Manager

Job description: Skilled in handling the management role of the household. Trained and tested in all aspects of home economics. May be a combination butler/housekeeper. Will manage one household or work under an Estate-Level Household Manager.

Salary range: $35,000 to $60,000.

Gentlemen's Gentleman

Job description: "Jeeves." Provides cooking, valet services, light cleaning, and often travels with a single male employer. The female counterpart is called a Personal Assistant.

Salary range: $50,000 to $100,000.

Household/Private Chef

Job description: A culinary chef with at least two years' experience. Able to identify family favorites, keep a kitchen, prepare meals for household entertaining, arrange flowers, pick wines, etc.

Salary range: $35,000 to $100,000.


Job description: May function at the Household Management/Chef level or the domestic Housekeeper/Houseman level. Varying capabilities and abilities may be required.

Salary range: $60,000 to $120,000 at the management level and $50,000 to $70,000 at the domestic level.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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