Ben Lake is a Private Concierge for High-Net-Worth Individuals. Aged 35 years old, he has over 17 years’ experience in the luxury hospitality industry. He runs his own bespoke concierge business based in London. He is charming, passionate, ambitious, gregarious, and has a new born love of life, which he puts partly down to his time working as the Concierge Manager on board The World, the largest privately owned Residential Ship in the world. He works one to one with each of his clients, giving the ultimate in personalised service, in a slightly…unconventional manner. Nothing is too much trouble for him, and if it is, he will tell you. He can organise some of the best seats at the Wimbledon Championships to a bespoke trip to the furthest corners of the globe…a master at balancing his work with his own passions. Ben tells the story of his time on the most exclusive ship at sea, and honestly reveals how he operates his business to assist his ‘family’ of clients…
Can you tell us about your time on The World ship?
Before starting my own business four years ago, I was the Concierge Manager for The World – Private Residences at Sea, otherwise known as the world’s largest Mega Yacht for the super wealthy. My experience there was otherworldly and one that changed the course of my life. The World introduced me to a number of inspiring, powerful, influential, generous, kind and philanthropic characters (otherwise known as Residents), some of whom now form the base of my key ‘clients’ or I could say friends or extended family, some who I consider mentors and guides. They have shown me a way of life that I can aspire to carry myself with the same ‘zest for life’ that they have and the same moral and ethical codes that many of them encompass. I am eternally grateful to them and the ship. There is nothing else like The World in the world…forever may it exist.
So what actually is the The World?
Essentially it is a floating luxury residential ship made up of 165 apartments, swimming pool, tennis court, helicopter pad, spa, five exceptional restaurants, state of the art gymnasium and so much more. A floating 5* hotel essentially but, if you are a Resident, you own an apartment on board and you decorate your apartment to your own taste, most likely with no expense spared. The ship circumnavigates the real world every three years, going from port to port, city to city and to the most remote locations at every corner of the globe, but in absolute style. Papua New Guinea – Antarctica – Australia – USA – Russia – Tahiti— North Korea even!!! (We ran an inland tour there from South Korea.) Name a country and The World has most likely been there, and if it hasn’t there is good reason…mostly because the country is inland and the sea does not meet it… And, every three years the ship goes into dry-dock, an overhaul where the communal areas are refurbished to the highest of standards and the exterior is given a makeover. It comes out looking brand new again! After 17 years!
What made The World so special? And, why did you leave!?
One of my frustrations working in hotels before the ship, was that it is hard to create a long-standing rapport with a guest, unless they were regulars. On The World, you are let into a magical place – ironically, you are working away from your real family, temporarily, but you return after each vacation to a much bigger family: your Residents, Bosses, Clients, Friends, whatever you want to call them, they are all there for much longer periods of time for you to do your best to wow them! And that is exactly what happens – the crew are trained experts at doing that, and take the utmost pleasure in going far and beyond for their affluent counterparts upstairs. I speak very passionately about the ship, as I am so grateful for the experience. I consider myself privileged to have visited 60 countries, and thanks to my inspired time on board, I plan to visit those 60 again and raise that to 195 before my time is up on the planet. Why did I leave? Good question! I wanted to live out my own ‘zest for life’ but on my watch, and whilst building my own business. So, looking back on it, it had nothing to with the ship; it was my own ambition and drive that led me to leave. A thirst to do my own thing. I have been offered jobs as a Personal Assistant by some of the world’s billionaires since leaving, which I have turned down without a second thought. I want to do my own thing and tailor my own life and work. The ship allowed me to personally experience seeing through my very own eyes a mother polar bear and her baby in the wild feeding off a freshly killed walrus… I saw land-diving by tribesmen in Papua New Guinea after a full day trek through the jungle and swimming underwater through caves… I took a helicopter flight in Bora-Bora. In addition to this, I was privileged enough to be involved in organising for the Residents an exclusive group visit to El Cellar de Can Roca (at the time, the number one restaurant in the world.) As well, while in Barcelona, arranging for a family of five to go and watch Valencia Football team; securing the best seats for sumo wrestling matches in Japan; organising trips to the Palio di Siena in Italy and luxury Amazon River Cruises, besides planning and operating helicopter trips from the actual ship in the middle of the Northwest Passage. The list goes on and on and on, and on a daily basis this was happening, all around the world. I may not have realised this immediately after leaving the ship; maybe I became too accustomed to luxury life. I went through a difficult year or two after leaving, a couple of personal problems, but four years on, I am moving forward and fast. You can’t help but come off that ship and have a love and thirst for life. Why wouldn’t you, after seeing what the world has to offer, and knowing that you can do it in such style and comfort. It opened my eyes to the endless possibilities. I can now look back and be incredibly grateful.
Tell me about your business now, and what sort of services do you offer?
What do I offer? So often you hear Concierges say I can do ‘anything’, and get themselves into a bit of a pickle … I used to say it myself, but now I am not quite as cliché as that. Whilst I believe I can help my clients to achieve absolutely anything they want to achieve and nothing within reason is unobtainable with a little bit of work and, lateral, ‘out of the box’ and creative thinking, I am not scared of saying…’This is not my area of expertise, but I know who can help or where to find the answer.’ I am confident I can always do this effectively and, most importantly, in a timely manner and always communicating with my client. And you can be guaranteed that I will look at every possible alternative until all options are exhausted to get the result. Giving up is not in my vocabulary.
Travel itineraries: I work with a number of clients on helping them to arrange their trips worldwide, tailored to their requirements. I am privileged to be able to say I am connected to some of the world’s best tour operators in all countries; therefore, together with my clients and the tour operator, I am able to help create unforgettable experiences tailored to each client’s specific needs. When my clients are travelling, I like to keep in touch and make myself available via WhatsApp or email for any last minute adjustments they may wish to make with their itinerary, as well as any feedback they care to share. My clients like flexibility, and I completely understand this, so I want to be available if they have urges to change the course of their trip at any moment.
Hotels & Accommodations: When I was 23, I became, at the time, the youngest UK member of Les Clefs d’Or, the Concierge society for the best hotels in the world. Partnered with my travel on the ship, and a boutique travel agency I now work closely with, I am able to give my clients hotel and accommodation recommendations all over the world based on their preferences, and partnered with those little added benefits that make a world of difference, such as favourable rates, room upgrades, food and beverage credit, spa credit and more… I then facilitate and make the bookings for my clients obtaining the best possible rates, and ensure that my clients are ‘well taken care of.’
Events: Through my extensive contact list, I pride myself on being able to get access to the best seats at events and arranging hospitality to events whether it be sports events, intimate concerts or well, just about anything really whether in the UK or worldwide…
Recruitment: I take great pride in being a good judge of character and knowing my clients so well, that I feel like I have a good idea of how they operate and what their preferences are, so this gives me a little bit of an edge in helping to assist when my clients are looking to find a new member of staff, more often than not, a personal assistant. I know how valuable time is for my clients, and that time needs to be used effectively in order to get the ultimate outcome and reach goals, so when it comes to recruitment, I either look at my own vast database of professionals that I am connected to worldwide that may be looking for new opportunities or I work closely with an exceptional bespoke recruitment company in looking for the perfect match for my clients.
Connecting people: I am the first to admit that I can’t do / know everything, far from it; my area of expertise is problem-solving and working with clients to create unforgettable experiences. That said, I welcome every request, whether it be sourcing an impossible retail item or to find a contact to market a client’s 150 unit development they are building, the probable chances are I know someone who I am happy to introduce, or I know I will be dedicated to find the right contact through my sources until all possibilities are exhausted and I know I have tried my hardest to fulfill my client’s request as best I can.
What makes your business so unique?
Whilst I have a team behind me, my clients will always be dealing with me directly. I pride myself on my reputation with current clients and from my time on The World that I am efficient and constantly communicating with my clients, whether through phone calls, email or WhatsApp. I build a personal relationship with each of my clients individually and tailored to how they like to operate, once I know how they like to communicate and I know their needs. That’s where I think I differ from other companies. My clients know they will get me at the end of a phone and not whoever is first to answer the phone. Concierge companies can grow too fast and lose that personal touch, which our clients deserve so much.
What memorable experiences have you created for your clients?
There are so many…I have a client who is a documentary filmmaker, who hires me when travelling in Europe to be his PA, driver and on the move cameraman (he has had me trained.) Really a five person job. But he wants me because I am quick and a lateral thinker, I help him to capture what he needs when he needs it. Anyway, we have formed a close bond, and when travelling back from Belfast to London on British Airways, I teamed up in advance with the crew for the Captain to make a special birthday announcement to the whole plane, whilst the crew delivered his chocolate cake and candle, which I had especially made in the morning before getting on the plane, and then capturing it on camera. Not something that all of my clients would enjoy, but the beauty of it is, I pride myself on knowing who would and who wouldn’t!
The private visit for the family to the Valencia Football club to watch them training was a real pleasure for me. Such a lovely family, and really they gave me the free reigns to do it, and the kids came back with massive smiles. Unforgettable for me too.
I am working on a trip for a group to Glastonbury music festival at the moment, which will be done in absolute style, luxury camping (otherwise known as glamping), potential helicopter transfer direct into the festival itself to avoid the 10-hour queues….…Countless experiences I am proud of.
What are the costs of your services?
I operate differently too when it comes to pricing. Just like my services, I tend to tailor this to my clients, unlike most other companies that tend to offer a high yearly membership fee, and then the client goes into an agreement to work with a ‘lifestyle manager’ they have never met before or known, or even worse, to work with several people and whoever answers the phone.
I only have a membership fee (retainer) with several key clients that use me on a very regular basis and I know I can manage their requirements effectively with my time. I am not scared of being honest and saying I don’t really have room for many more of these, a couple, maybe three at a push, because I won’t give myself too many key clients and risk sacrificing the quality and speed at which I deliver to them. As I say above, my clients always deal with me directly.
With any new clients, I look to work with them for a little while, with many of the requests not costing them a penny, so I can see what they require, how they operate and what requests they are making, and to get to know them and build a rapport, and then, if necessary, I may suggest a fair fee. But the way it tends to work is that anyone can email me requests anytime and it won’t cost them anything until we have a confirmed activity.
It’s crucial to me that my clients feel like they are getting good value, and not being ripped off. There are many companies out there, not just in my industry I might add, that take advantage of the wealthy, and my clients are wise enough to know when that is happening, that’s why they come to people like me, something I am very proud of. My clients respect there is a higher price tag that comes with luxury and instant gratification but they also know when they are getting ripped off. I want to be sure that we are all winning, and I do this by being honest and upfront with my clients, as well as offering an opinion and guidance on pricing when they are not so familiar with what is reasonable.
There are some services where I occasionally charge a service fee (for example, planning a travel itinerary.) Then, there are services like hotel and transfer bookings which I receive a commission on, etc. Sometimes I may charge an hourly or daily fee, as is the case with a client with whom I travel periodically and have this arrangement. But there is no need for a membership fee, unless it is a key client I am working with all the time. Some of my clients are even so overly generous to me, I feel I do not need to even charge them anything ever. I say contact me, and we will figure out what works for both of us.
You are being quite open and revealing about the way you run your business, are you worried about other people doing the same and becoming competitors?
I say ‘bring it on’! A fellow Concierge friend contacted me recently saying he is thinking of starting out on his own in London just like me. I welcome it. I don’t see it as competition, I see anyone in a similar sort of profession as help. We should all help each other, that way we can achieve anything. There are plenty of people needing our services in the world, enough for everyone and more, and I don’t want a huge amount of clients, as then I won’t be able to give them that service I want to give and they deserve. The more people that do what I am doing the better…there could be thousands of people operating like me and it wouldn’t bother me, I don’t see it as competition. I see it as someone making the most of a talent they have and making the most of what they can offer for everybody’s benefit!
What is the future for Ben Lake and your business?
I don’t want to grow the company too big. I do have a team behind me who help me out, but it is essential that my clients are always dealing with me directly, unless I make an introduction to someone in a different field of speciality. Having a team behind me to help me out does free me up a little and allows me to become involved with events abroad, so I intend to grow my relationships and make new ones in the USA over the upcoming years, I intend to be moving between New York, Los Angeles and London throughout the year. Most of my clients do not live in the UK anyway, and contact me when they arrive during peak season, summer months such as June & July when Glastonbury and Wimbledon is on. So, I am going to move about and follow the seasons a bit. I will be in Japan in October, for example.
What about your leisure time and will you be doing this forever?
Well, nothing is forever ;)…that is what is so amazing, and I have my own desires, investments and travels to fulfill in my lifetime, but there is no rush to do this, and I am fulfilling a lot of them right now. I like to keep healthy, play golf, tennis, ski, theatre, concerts, EVERYTHING really that life has to offer, but I am proud to say I am a bit of a whiz at fitting these all in along with my work. With the help of my trusty Apple Watch, I always know if a client is desperately trying to get a hold of me, and I am happy to stop what I am doing. I can travel anywhere in the world now as long as I have my laptop and my phone, and I inform my clients if I am on the move again so the response time will be reflected, usually minimally thanks to technology, 5G, the cloud, wireless and the rest of it, means I can continue to balance. I won’t be stopping doing what I am doing now anytime soon, but for me personally…one thing I definitely know, there is a whole world out there to explore, and I intend on seeing every last corner of it….TWICE!
Contact Ben to see what he can do for you: