It was the middle of the pandemic, and Jon Dove’s client needed a car. Not just any car—a brand new, right-hand-drive, specific model of Mercedes. The only problem was, with supply chains shuttered, the fastest the company could get one off the line was 18 months. And Dove’s clients are not 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 car industry in general. Eventually he reached out to factories, asking if they had any canceled orders. He finally 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 of these cars] that exists on the planet and is available to buy,” he said. “And we got it.”
Dove is what is known in some circles as a “luxury lifestyle manager.” The job has many names—concierge, attaché—but they all serve the same purpose: getting rich people what they want, when they want it. Whether it’s tickets to the Oscars, reservations at an exclusive restaurant, or a trip to the French Riviera, Dove and the select, international group of professionals like him use their tightly honed set of connections—and a few golden handshakes—to make the impossible possible.
“Sometimes you do have to say no to these people,” Dove said. “But what you want them to know is that you looked at 16 different avenues of how to get it.”
The type of people Dove and his peers serve—“ultra-high net-worth individuals,” as they are known in the business—already have an army of attendants catering to them at home. Luxury lifestyle managers aren’t personal shoppers, they’re not private chefs, and they’re certainly not personal assistants. They’re the fixers wealthy people call when their PAs can’t get the job done.
Take Donna McGovern. A former event planner, she has been a lifestyle attaché for more than a decade, since a hedge fund manager she planned a party for asked her to manage his lifestyle on the side. (“I said, ‘I have no idea what that means, but ok,’” she recalled.) She now has a roster of dozens of clients, some who keep her on retainer and some who call her for ad-hoc services.
One client recently reached out because he wanted to dine at Rao’s, an Italian joint often called the most exclusive restaurant in New York because all 10 tables “belong” to longtime customers. McGovern called around her extensive network and eventually found someone with a table assignment who would give up his seat 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 fly him 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 different forms, from independent contractors like McGovern and Dove to large firms with armies of concierges around the world. The most prominent of these, Quintessentially, is based in the U.K. and employs 700 people in 40 different cities. (It is also mired in controversy around its management practices and the political dealings of its co-founder, Ben Elliot, who is the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall. A spokesperson for the company said they were “trading profitably and are in the best financial position we have been for some time.”)
Michelle St. Clair, a 37-year-old from San Diego, California, started her own lifestyle management company in 2014, after spotting a book about concierge services in a local bookstore. She 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.
Her high-flying clientele pay at least $25,000 a month for her company’s services, and they don’t expect to be told no. One client, she said, was staying on his yacht off the Amalfi coast when he asked her to send him a “hot female saxophone player.” (He had apparently seen one at a French nightclub and wanted to recreate the experience on his own.) St. Clair’s team scoured social media for the right person, then sent over a video of the top candidate. The video happened to include a woman pole dancing in the background; the client told her to send both.
St. Clair has received a seemingly endless number of these bizarre requests: a hot tub delivered to a rental house in Aspen on Christmas Eve; a blow-up flamingo delivered—fully inflated—to a yacht in Croatia; four Dalmatians for a photo shoot that day. (All of these, she notes with pride, they delivered.) Cristiano De Rossi, a luxury lifestyle manager in London, said he once set up a private screening of a movie that had yet to be released in theaters. “You can always ask for favors,” he said when asked how he secured it. “It’s knowing exactly what you can ask without sounding ridiculous.”
Many lifestyle managers come from the event planning, fashion, or hospitality worlds, where they’ve already built up a web of high-end connections to facilitate their clients’ needs. De Rossi worked for years at the iconic British department store Harrods, forging links he still uses to score elusive jewelry and handbags for his private clients. He recently expanded his services to cover off-market real estate and what he calls “unique experiences,” like expeditions to see the Titanic or taste wine aged at the bottom of the sea. He is currently working on sending a client to space.
Managing the lifestyles of the rich and famous also requires a deep, incredibly niche kind of knowledge not taught in any school. Anyone with enough money can hire 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 is willing to serve drinks 24 hours a day and won’t complain about thumping music at 3 a.m.) “It’s saying, ‘I’m going to be candid with you, this is what it’s like,’” Dove said about hiring a crew. “‘Can your crew handle that or are there going to be issues?’”
The same goes for hiring a private plane. Skilled lifestyle managers know the pilots who won’t pitch a fit when the client is inevitably three hours late, and have a contact at the airport to open the hangar if they arrive after hours. McGovern was once called in to pre-screen rental jets for a client who was dissatisfied with the ones he had been chartering. She took videos and detailed notes on each one and sent them back to the client. Among the requirements: The plane must have been made after 2015, and could never have been smoked in.
“I was told by one of these guys, ‘If you tell me no, I want it 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 do research online—she flies to the destination and stays in all of the luxury hotels in the area. That way, she can tell her clients which hotel had employees walking around handing out damp towels every 15 minutes, and which rooms had the shortest walk to the pool. Dove keeps a confidential file on all of his clients, marking down which hotel rooms his clients liked and what items to tell the staff to have ready in the room before their arrival.
Unsurprisingly, the work is often stressful, and the clients highly demanding. (“I was told by one of these guys, ‘If you tell me no, I want it 10 times more,’” Dove said.) Lifestyle managers are often expected to be available at all hours, to suit any need. McGovern said she was once fired by a client because the woman didn’t like her handwriting. She had to drop a different client who yelled at her because she couldn’t get them to Italy in the middle of the pandemic. “I have to laugh at it,” McGovern said. “Their sense of reality is a little skewed.”
But most lifestyle managers will tell you that, regardless of some less-than-sympathetic customers, they love their work. There are perks—Dove said he’s been treated by some of the best doctors in the world when he’s sick, courtesy of his clients—along with the satisfaction of delivering something hard-to-get to a happy customer.
“I think somebody either loves this work or they hate it, because it is definitely not mundane,” St. Clair said. “But for the most part it allows you to be creative and think outside the box.”
Plus, sometimes it’s just 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 have no budget,” she added. “The way that some people live, it’s really fun.”