Estate managers group good fit for shore crew

Nov 13, 2012 by Lucy Chabot Reed

There comes a time in most yachting careers when crew toy with the idea of moving ashore. Often, it doesn’t last long as the realities of sitting in an office all day or watching take-home pay get gobbled up by mortgage and car payments sinks in. Many prefer to stay at sea.

But sometimes, crew find a good fit. They might start their own business filling a need, or get lucky and find a job that uses their yachting skills.

Enter estate management.

Former Chief Stew Kerry Lyons is now an estate manager and personal assistant for a family in Palm Beach. She made the move in 2009 after 23 years on yachts with her husband, Capt. Paul Lyons. She said the skills of yacht crew easily transfer to land-based estate jobs.

“It’s the same thing we did as a management team on yachts, except we’re in one place,” she said, relaxing in her own home one recent weekend. She goes home nights and has weekends off, though she is on call 24/7.

By “same thing” she means she’s responsible for everything, from the home and four-person staff to the dogs and cars, pool and sprinklers. She organizes maintenance schedules and works with about 80 vendors to keep a main house, guest house and cottage in top shape.

And estate owners are just like yacht owners, she said: they want it done yesterday, which is why yachties make good managers.

“If you’ve worked on yachts, you know you have to make it happen, no matter where you are,” she said. “Even without resources, you know how to pull things off.”

Lyons has found a strong support network with the Domestic Estate Managers Association (DEMA), which has 14 chapters across the country. The South Florida chapter — dubbed the Flamingo chapter — started in 2009 and has grown to 119 members, including several yachties and yachting businesses.

Yacht crew make good estate job candidates “because they wear so many hats,” said Michael Wright, vice president of DEMA. “If something hits the fan or doesn’t work out the way it was supposed to, it falls on them to fix it. And they handle it.

“People who have been on yachts for any length of time … they have a different gear.”

DEMA was founded in November 2007 in southeast Michigan by Wright and Matthew Haack, vendors of a high-end cleaning company looking to network.

“We did not want to start it; we wanted to join it,” Wright said. “But there wasn’t anything.”

It started as a vendor network, but now offers everything from networking and forums to consulting and a dental plan. It had its first national convention in September in Los Angeles, home to the group’s largest chapter.

DEMA has six membership types: employers, workers, recruiters, schools, vendors and national affiliates. Dues vary by type.

“It’s $50 a year for workers,” Wright said. “We do that on purpose. There are different salary types. In New York and Malibu, worker salaries are way high. In Michigan, not so much for the same duties.”

Alan Murphy of Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach introduced DEMA to yachting when he invited the principals to the Palm Beach International Boat Show in 2009. He is now southeast regional director of DEMA and encourages yacht crew to get involved.

“It’s a natural fit for people on yachts who want to go land based,” he said of DEMA. “The networking is huge and that helps with job placement, and it offers a list of trusted service providers who know not to ask who the owner is.”

Sometimes, estate owners or domestic placement agencies don’t consider yacht crew because they don’t understand the skill set. But that’s where where DEMA can help, said Richmond Schmidt, a major domo in Palm Beach and president of South Florida’s Flamingo chapter.

“DEMA is working on accrediting private service professionals such as estate managers, butlers and executive housekeepers,” he said. “Through that process, people transitioning from sea to land can be helped.”

Former Chief Stew Lyons knows the skills translate. In fact, when she needed to hire another member of her interior staff, she looked to yachting for candidates.

“To me, a person from yachting is a little bit more diversified,” she said. “They have a peripheral vision of what’s going on, not just in the room they are in but all around.”

Her time ashore has been successful. As in yachting, she said she feels lucky to have landed with a good owner and speaks highly of her employer.

“I feel like I paid my dues along my career and I finally landed one that’s very rewarding.”


DEMA in South Florida meets the third Monday of every month, typically in Boca Raton. There’s always a speaker. Recent topics included proper cleaning of Asian rugs and taking care of fine art.
The next meeting is Oct. 22, 7-9 p.m. at Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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