Maria Babaikova

How to Handle Household Staff?

Certainly the most elite Art Basel kickoff was hosted by Maria Baibakova at the family’s new La Gorce Island home. Guests were ferried from the Sunset Harbor Yacht Club via VanDutch power yachts to the elegant Mediterranean Colonial where the enjoyed cocktails, dinner, and a tour of a small portion of the family’s enviable art collection- including works by Stingel, Sherman, Ruby, Kruger, Hirst, Prince, and Gursky.

As the head of Baibakova Art Projects, the 28-year old Russian heiress is an art collector and philanthropist who serves on the boards of Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim, and the Tate, among others. . She graduated summa cum laude from Barnard, with a degree in art history, before doing a master’s, at the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London. She spent her college years in New York interning at Sotheby’s and at galleries in Chelsea and later went on to get an MBA at Harvard.

Recently, Ms. Baibakova made headlines not for her influence on the art world, but for her disctinct opinions on household staff. In a lengthy article in Russia’s Tatler magazine, the heiress details her philosophy on how to manage household servants and expresses her firm belief that servants must not be treated as equals, or allowed to get above their station. Quotes like”The only person who has the right to sit with you at the same table is your son’s tutor. A boy should be educated by a man and clearly the boy must respect the tutor or he will misbehave.” illustrate the fine line between practicality and hauteur.  (The rule does not apply to a girl’s tutor, she added.)

Overall, she employs an approach that manages to be both brazen and practical (in this estate manager’s opinion). Other key points include understanding boundaries, creating a strict hierarchy and roles in the house, knowing how your household works in order to not be held hostage by your staff, employing business-level HR management and releasing staff efficiently and expediently when issues arise. Buzzfeed presented a highlights column last month with personal Instagram pics that is rather entertaining while digesting the article into some headliner bullet points.

The heiress later apologized on social media: “The concept that I was attempting – running a household like a corporation – was lost in translation. My general goal was to share some Western best practices in staff management that I learned at Institut Villa Pierrefeu from Butler John Robertson when I attended the school as a lark after completing business school. There is an unfortunate history in Russia of mistreating household staff, so my underlying hope when I was given this assignment was to incentivize Russians to treat staff fairly by giving employers a financial incentive to behave in a more ethical manner (e.g. dismiss staff professionally without emotional abuse and provide fair severance pay, etc). I was hoping to inspire the Tattler audience to set clear boundaries with employees, as any boss in a professional setting must do.”

As mentioned, this author agrees with the gist of Ms. Baibakova’s viewpoint. The Celebrity Estate Management Network would like to hear your opinion. We invite you to post comment or submit an op-ed for publication in an upcoming issue.

Kimberly Varney

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