Mr Fixer

Mr Fixer

If you were ever worried that your loved one might reject your marriage proposal, spare a thought for one romantic Saudi prince.

The member of the country's royal family had hired the Egyptian pyramids, and flown in 300 friends and family members to watch while he popped the question in front of the ancient structures.

With a lavish private party then due to be held at the site, which was sealed off from locals and other visitors, the cost was an eye-watering $40m (?31m).

Thankfully for the prince, his girlfriend said "yes".

When it comes to marriage proposals, this example takes largesse to the nth degree. But even if you have the cash, how the heck would you go about organising such an event?


Mr Fixer

The answer for the Saudi prince was simply to phone his concierge services provider, a UK business called Quintessentially.

"We made it happen," says Quintessentially's chief executive and co-founder Aaron Simpson.

For those of us that aren't millionaires or billionaires, the concierge services industry needs a little explaining.

Taking its name from the man or woman at posh hotels who can book guests theatre tickets and get them into top restaurants, the sector has discreetly grown up over the past 15 or so years.

Mr Fixer

And far from just securing tickets for the latest sell-out play, or a table at some hotshot chef's new venture, concierge firms are being used to organise many aspects of clients' lives.

At Quintessentially, which has 70 offices around the world, and 2,500 members of staff, it does everything from organising holidays, to advising clients about private schools, helping buy properties, arranging private concerts by pop stars, or booking a dog walker.

And then there is the weird and wonderful stuff, such as making a client a bouquet of "flowers" made from 100 folded 1,000 Hong Kong dollar notes, so he could give it to his partner on Valentine's Day.

Or covering an entire beach with carpets so a member and his girlfriend didn't have to get sand on their feet, and organising a flash mob in New York's Times Square.

The firm is one of the largest in the sector, and while Quintessentially doesn't reveal its client numbers or price details, it is estimated to have about 100,000 customers around the world, including 800 billionaires who pay up to ?150,000 a year.

Mr Fixer

Mr Simpson, 45, says that the firm's 2,500 employees, known as "lifestyle managers", can, generally speaking, make anything happen.

"We can arrange most things - unless of course it is illegal or there is a moral objection to it, and that very rarely happens - perhaps once or twice a year," he says.

"But otherwise everything is pretty solvable."

Born and bred in Essex, after studying geography at Oxford University, Mr Simpson spent his early 20s working as a film producer.

But given the continuing weakness of the UK film industry, by age 27 he was looking for a change of career.

Mr Fixer

After brainstorming sessions with friends Ben Elliot and Paul Drummond, they came up with the idea for Quintessentially.

Securing investment from a group of private investors, the business was launched in London in 2000 with a party to which they invited more than 200 movers and shakers. Customer numbers then grew strongly thanks to positive word of mouth.

While Quintessentially won't reveal any members' details, it is widely reported that it is used by the likes of singer Madonna, Indian steel giant Lakshmi Mittal, UK entrepreneur Richard Branson, author JK Rowling and rap star P Diddy.

The company also works closely with 400 premium brands including Ferrari, Channel, Gucci and British Airways.

In addition to running "white label" concierge services for such companies, Quintessentially has expanded its operations in recent years to helping firms with their public relations and marketing, and assisting them in studying customer data to best plan new products and services.

Mr Simpson says that the company now enjoys an annual turnover of ?150m, and he intends to continue to grow this. He adds that despite numerous suitors, he and his two co-founders have no plans to sell up.

Mr Fixer

Alyssa Haak, a New York-based luxury lifestyle expert, says that Quintessentially and other concierge firms have grown in popularity among the world elite because the ease of having someone else book or arrange things for you is "too good to pass up".

However, she is sceptical of one forthcoming Quintessentially project; its plans to build a 250m euro ($272m; ?211m) "super yacht" for members.

Due to launch in three years time, the floating private club will be 220m (722ft) long and have 100 rooms, as well as a nightclub, bars and numerous restaurants.

Quintessentially's aim is to move it around the world to places where demand for hotel rooms is likely to exceed those locally available, such as Monaco when it is hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix, or Cannes during the city's film festival.

Ms Haak says: "I'm really very sceptical of it for a few reasons... there have been a number of firms that have attempted to do yacht 'shares' that have slowly disappeared.

"Yachts are personal, even those that are built with chartering in mind block out the dates the owners want to use them.

"Finally, and I think its biggest problem is going to be dockage... a yacht this size will never be able to get 'front row seats'."

While the three co-founders still run Quintessentially together, Mr Simpson has the boss role, although he says the three men simply "play to their strengths", and he "doesn't necessarily see myself as the leader".

Mr Fixer

He admits, though, to always having been very driven to succeed in life, but says he hopes that he is a good boss "who puts his colleagues first".

Travelling extensively for the company over the years, overseeing the opening of new offices around the world, Mr Simpson says that since having children - he and his wife have two young daughters - he now tries to travel far less.

"I have a three-line whip to stay within shouting range," he says.



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