Not only has she successfully established one of the oldest butler training schools in the world, Magnums Butler International (now called Magnums Academy), but Josephine Ive also holds the distinction of being the first female English butler for the royal family.
There may not have been any training school during her time but her education by osmosis was clearly more than enough to jumpstart her career. “I had a three-hour crash course with my father who was a butler.” Here, Ive shares the wisdom she has accumulated throughout the years.
You’re considered a veteran in the hospitality industry. Can you talk about the growth and development of more female butlers?
It’s a question that I’m asked frequently about female butlers, but it still seems to be traditional to have male butlers. But there is a place for female butlers. I just think that a woman has to be of a specific personality and character in order to be able to become one. It can’t be somebody perhaps too diminutive, too soft in approach. You have to have a more assertive nature, but you shouldn’t confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. We don’t need to be aggressive to do a job that, traditionally, a male is known for doing. But there is a place and there are a lot of opportunities for females to work as a butler, though it is not as huge a market as the male butlers’ is.
“Perhaps part of my success as a butler is that I have never tried to emulate a male one. I’ve developed my own style, and I think that probably is my best advice to any female who is going into a job.”
If you were to choose five basic but important etiquette rules, what would those be?
Not interrupting. Another etiquette skill, I think, is having almost perfect grooming all the time because that’s what people expect of you. Respecting people, respecting that not everybody is the same, and that inevitably, almost everybody that a butler works for has got a lot of money. Understanding that the rich do things differently, that they do expect things to be done differently, and that they can shock you. You have to be incredibly flexible and just be able to go with the flow. It’s not so much about etiquette, it’s more about personality.
Is it a challenge to be a female in a male-dominated industry?
Yes. Perhaps part of my success as a butler is that I have never tried to emulate a male one. I’ve developed my own style, and I think that probably is my best advice to any female who is going into a job. Traditionally, for example, I don’t wear trousers because I’m female—that was one distinct difference that I made as a butler. For a uniform, I didn’t want to wear the female version of the male uniform. I wanted to be distinct, so that was something I did.
And then the approach. Generally, women are known for their nurturing qualities. From a butler’s point of view, you don’t really need to be nurturing as much as professional. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t be nurturing and professional at the same time but a few years ago, I found out that females were [treated] a bit more like nannies than butlers, so we had to get that distinction. Butlers are, in many respects and many senses, nannies for grown-ups, anyway. But we don’t want that impression to come across.
A butler has got to appreciate that it is not going to be an instant career path; you’ve got to put some time in.
How would you define progress and success in a butler’s career?
First of all, a butler has got to appreciate that it is not going to be an instant career path; you’ve got to put some time in. You have to do your apprenticeship and do some time out there in the industry so that people will respect you for having the experience and wisdom that come with being a butler. That answers the question of progress.
The success of the butler depends on having the right personality, the right characteristics, and a passion for things, like attention to details. I think success, too, relies on personality, that a butler actually wants to provide service. It’s not a six months-and-run job. It’s a job that you’ve got to go into and give the property a certain length of time so that they establish that service. They then establish a group of guests who’d want to come back all the time because of that person.
What advice or tips could you provide aspiring butlers?
To get as much experience as possible in all layers of hospitality before they consider being one, and not becoming a butler first and then going and getting the experience after. That’s the wrong way around.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 12 No. 6