Managing Households Is In My DNA

Nines’s first chief of staff Ivone Vallejo on quarterbacking service teams.
Meet Ivone Vallejo, Chief of Staff

I was born into the private household industry; in fact, I grew up in a traditional, formal household service setting. My parents were a domestic couple—a position you don’t see that much anymore—and my sister and I grew up in the main house of a 26-acre estate where my parents worked for 30 years. My attraction to Nines in many ways grew out of the decades of experience I had in every aspect of personal service, because I have lived it firsthand. It’s in my DNA.

My parents came to this country from Portugal. They met in Angola when it was a Portuguese colony and the economy was strong. Particularly in Luanda, Angola’s capital, there were a lot of Portuguese people working in a beautiful environment many people describe as Floridian. My mom’s parents were bakers; my dad’s family had a cargo and taxi company. Our roots come from offering service. In 1975, the Communist Revolution broke out and my parents got on a boat and went to Portugal and later Geneva. Ultimately, they were sponsored to come to the US because of my dad’s technical experience as a specialized auto mechanic. He worked in that industry and my mom worked in a factory; my sister and I stayed with my aunt in Portugal until my sister was five years old and I was fourteen months. 

Soon after we joined them in the US, my parents went to work as a domestic couple in Purchase, New York—a wealthy community in Westchester County—and we all lived on the third floor of a grand old historic estate. In the 1980s, service was traditional: my mom was the cook and the housekeeper, my dad was the butler and the driver, and as we got older, we sisters served at dinner parties—even for heads of state—and did their gifting and other jobs. After they’d expanded their staff and their driver fell ill, I even spent a year and a half as their driver. Growing up in this environment taught me how to navigate an environment of wealth; when to step in and when to step out; the level of perfectionism and detail that these jobs require, and how intimate the setting is when you are all living together under one roof.

When I picked up the job description for a Chief of Staff position at Nines, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.

Later, after I’d spent ten years working in the corporate world, I returned to private service in roles such as childcare, personal assisting and estate management in Connecticut. Those roles often entailed managing an entire household and serving as an intermediary between a principal and the service professionals working in the home. I was that person a principal could confront if cleaning supplies were left out or a blanket wasn’t thrown artfully across a couch. And often, I’d roll up my sleeves and get the job done alongside the housekeeper so we could go through every detail together. In these roles, I realized how private household service had changed since my childhood. Fewer households employ as many live-in staff, and even fewer hire full-time estate managers. Consequently, those who are hired to fulfill one specialty can end up feeling isolated. You might be placed in a home and not have anyone to turn to. 

As modern households hire fewer staff and have less defined hierarchies, principals sometimes don’t anticipate all the details that go into managing professionals that work in diverse roles. They’re busy running, say, a hedge fund or a law firm during the day, and the last thing they want to do when they come home is to have another management conversation. But not wanting to have the difficult conversations that lead to better relationships and better service can create dissatisfaction on both sides of the equation—as well as high turnover. And there are so many positions that don’t enjoy the same level of professional respect that my family had.

So the industry needs to be modernized. When I picked up the job description for a Chief of Staff position at Nines, I knew I’d found what I was looking for. It said, as we still say today, “We’re trying to modernize the private household staffing industry.” That resonates with everyone I’ve interviewed as a prospective service professional. They’re responding to the empathy of a company that will give them ongoing training and the benefits they deserve, as well as to the fact that they’ll get someone like me—a buffer or quarterback—who can have the hard conversations on their behalf and offer them support and guidance. Having a Chief of Staff outside the home that both the member and professional can turn to is unique to Nines. Just the fact that the professionals I interview respond to that one little prompt shows me how necessary the service is that we’re providing.

I feel like it’s my calling to go into a household and be able to help everyone organize.

And of course, the service benefits both the principal and the service professional. We have some prospective members who immediately understand the value proposition—that we’re doing a tremendous amount of work to get to know their household and match them with the best professionals, and that we’ll be a continuous resource. Many households are accustomed to working with a staffing agency, not getting the support they need after a placement, and going back to the agency and paying a huge premium on another placement. When they understand that we’ll eliminate that back-and-forth—and ultimately the expense—of staffing and re-staffing by supporting their household on an ongoing basis, they ask where to sign! For those who are new to the industry, we feel a responsibility to educate them about fair labor practices, empathy, and respect. We want our members to understand that it’s not about just basic compliance, it’s about bringing an expert into your home and working cooperatively with them to elevate everyone’s experience. 

Every household is unique, and every home is set up differently. I feel like it’s my calling to go into a household and be able to help everyone organize. What we’re doing is finding a modern way of helping a household find harmony, and for me, there’s nothing more rewarding.

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