Events specialist caters for the whims of the rich

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2006, 12:00am

Timing is everything, as Emma Sherrard discovered when she arrived in Hong Kong right after September 11, 2001, looking for a job. There was no call for an events organisation specialist from Britain in a city that was in no mood for celebrating.

Sleeping on floors, she parked herself at a computer in the Hollywood Road Pacific Coffee. From there she tried everything from telesales to tapping into her father's dated connections from his Jardine Matheson days in the 1980s.

Then, by luck, her curriculum vitae landed on the desk of Mervyn Davies, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank. 'It was a great place for it to land,' she admits, without explaining precisely how it got there.

She was granted 30 minutes with Mr Davies. He was impressed that she had come out on spec and promised to see what he could do. His bank could offer her nothing but, as he was then chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, he sent her to see them.

Although impressed by her experience, which ranged from organising the UBS summer party at London's Tate Modern to staging the Duke of Edinburgh's birthday bash at the Guildhall, the chamber told her no position existed there either - so they would have to create one.

'Luckily, BritCham is all about events and organising,' says Ms Sherrard, 29, who chose a career in events because she was 'organised, efficient and bossy'.

She signed her contract and three weeks later, Mr Davies was posted to London. 'It was timing, fate,' she says. 'You make your own luck, but you must be in the right place at the right time.'

She finished as the chamber's business development manager with a bulging contacts book and advanced networking skills.

Then, last summer, she was approached to start the Hong Kong branch of global private member's concierge club Quintessentially.

Founded by Ben Elliot, nephew of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles, and the equally well-connected Aaron Simpson five years ago, this 24-hours-a-day private service network organises its members' lives - handling their travel, restaurant and nightclub bookings, getting tickets for the theatre, sporting events, fashion shows and film premieres.

As managing director of Quintessentially in Hong Kong, Ms Sherrard runs one of the club's 16 offices around the world.

'Quintessentially has quickly become an essential part of the support system of most of our members' lives,' she explains.

Elite membership costs $300,000 a year but that gets you a best friend in every city. For a $36,500 annual subscription, a second-tier membership buys a 'proactive lifestyle manager' in each city. 'My girls meet them and form a tight relationship to understand their needs,' she says.

Local members range in age from 25 to 70, many being self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs. But money isn't enough, your face must fit.

'I've had to blacklist three people,' says Ms Sherrard. 'You can either apply or get in by referral but then you must be approved.'

Membership is restricted to a few thousand in each city.

Ms Sherrard says the local branch is already profitable even though the brand has been established less than a year.

Quintessentially amounts to having a 'magic genie with a little black book in each city'. They help with literally anything from supplying a dozen albino peacocks for J Lo's wedding to buying a section of Lords cricket ground turf and replanting it in the member's front garden. They've delivered flowers to a Shanghai nightclub at 2am, fixed for someone to attend the Lord of the Rings Hollywood premiere and chartered a single-engine plane to fly over the Great Wall.

One businessman left his phone charger behind in Hong Kong and his personal assistant asked for a new one to be waiting for him when he arrived in his Tokyo hotel. It was there. The company achieves these service levels by having specialists who concentrate on developing contacts in one sector, such as restaurants, she explains.

Special deals are done for hotels and clubs. 'For clubs, we organise instant door access, the best table and free champagne,' says Ms Sherrard. Venues are happy to oblige. 'We bring big spenders.'

Mostly it's more prosaic. 'Lots of members use us as the Yellow Pages, asking: 'Where can I go in the region for four days?' or 'What's the latest beautiful villa in Bali?''

Many people need this, apparently. 'What we do is outsource a lifestyle manager,' she explains. 'We are global, so our members can tap into the same level of service everywhere,' she explains. 'So not only can we source the hottest place in London but for the Shanghai Grand Prix we negotiated pit access and entry to the Red Bull party afterwards.'

Keeping up with the club's rapid growth is a challenge. Ms Sherrard employs seven account managers here but urgently needs more. 'Recruiting is hard, I need dedicated people,' she admits.

The business model seems elastic with some offices set up and grown organically by the founders while franchising is being considered for Bangkok and Tokyo.

In London, the club has teamed up with property developers to offer onsite concierges and memberships with each flat purchase.

Ms Sherrard thinks it can go far in Asia. 'I've got the product and the relationships in place so from the balance books, it's clearly working.'

Recently, Mr Davies challenged Ms Sherrard to get him a table at London's Fat Duck restaurant, voted the world's best eatery. 'It's impossible to get in there,' she says, 'but we managed to get him a dinner reservation, it blew his mind.'