We are ecstatic to continue our “Whose Week” with Brian Daniel: Former Chief of Staff to Saudi Royalty, and Executive Personal Assistant & Estate Manager to Celebrity Voice Coach, Bob Corff, and Now: An Up and Coming Entrepreneur
DC: Hi Brian! Thank you so much for taking your time to speak with us. We are super excited to have you! Let’s start off by telling us about yourself: (Where do you live? Are you from Los Angeles? Where did you go to school, what did you study?)
BD: These days it’s a little hard to say where I live because I’m always on the road. I travel frequently throughout the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Having said that, I’ve been living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years and have recently decided to move my personal office to the greater Chicago area – but I still have satellite offices in Los Angeles and New York City, which are run by assistants that work with me.
When I was working as a personal assistant (and I’ve worked with Hollywood A-list, billionaires and royalty), I did not have a college degree. It is possible to get a celebrity personal assistant job without one. Since I started my headhunting business, though, I decided to go back to school and finish my B.A. program because it was a personal goal of mine. I went to California State University and majored in Linguistics (Human Communication), and my minor/elective classes were in Hospitality and Human Resource Management (I made honor roll, Dean’s list, and joined a prestigious national honors society as well).
DC: Tell us the story of how you became a celebrity personal trainer and how that position transitioned you to a celebrity assistant role.
BD: I have, basically, always had a job in the service industry – so the discipline and strong work acumen to please clients has always been there. It has to be or you’re in the wrong business.
When I moved to Los Angeles in the early 90s, I worked at a gym in the Beverly Hills area. Actually, it was right down the street from 20th Century Fox Studios (which straddles Beverly Hills and Century City where the “Die Hard” building is).
When working at the gym I had a lot of interaction with entertainment industry professionals. As a membership counselor and personal trainer I had to excel at customer service because in that environment someone else will take your clients if you’re not on the ball.
Eventually I switched gears and jumped into the 5-star hospitality business and regularly worked with celebrities, business leaders and even kings and queens that would visit Los Angeles. That’s when I got my first personal assistant gig with a member of the Johnson & Johnson family (a legendary “old school-old money” kind of family that’s part of American aristocracy).
DC: When you worked for Saudi Royalty, in a new country, how did you manage to find high quality services and fill up your black book fast?
BD: Funny you should ask, because it wasn’t easy. And that’s why I eventually started The Celebrity Personal Assistant Network because I wanted other assistants to have access to the resources they need when they work for jet-set clients.
Because I was in a new country every week, I was constantly faced with insurmountable challenges. Picture what it would be like to move an entourage of 50 people with one week’s notice: the VIPs, nannies, security personnel, other subordinate assistants, etc. I would have to find them a hotel (which meant reserving a whole floor of suites), arrange all of the exotic car rentals, chauffeurs, etc. It was a nightmare. In short, I had to plan something that would normally take a month and do it in a week. Sometimes I would be up for days without sleep.
DC: You mention in your StaffingTalk interview you had to start from scratch several times, what is the first thing you would do to get things rolling?
BD: First thing on the checklist was to get the hotel rooms (when we weren’t visiting a palace) because the suites are the hardest thing to obtain.
Any VIP group, especially royalty, is going to have a long laundry list of things they want the hotel to provide. So when you’re arranging last-minute rooms during a busy travel season, most of the time the hotels are already booked. I literally had to have vast amounts of cash on hand to pay off hotel managers to accommodate a large group, which often meant the hotel General Manager cancelling other reservations for people that booked months ahead of time.
I know it doesn’t seem fair (to the other people), but that’s my job. Also, the GM of the hotel is making a business decision to accommodate us. For example, my group would normally spent on average about one-million-dollars: two floors of suites, room service, car and limo rental from the hotel’s fleet, salon and massage visits, etc. So I had an extraordinary amount of authority and spending power, and I – on more than one occasion – saw the hotel GM cancel a celebrity’s reservation to accommodate my group. It’s simple business: most Hollywood celebrities are asking for freebies and are demanding to the hotel staff (without tipping). If my group is going to spend $1 million and tips everyone profusely, then it’s just common sense who is going to win out – MONEY TALKS!
On one occasion I had to fly ahead of the group because a GM wouldn’t accommodate us because the hotel was sold out. I brought a copy of the bill from a hotel we visited, which was as thick as a phonebook, to prove the spending habits of the group. I also brought a very large cash offering (call it a payoff if you want), and when he saw the utter reality of the situation, he complied immediately and gave us two floors of rooms.
DC: What has been your most memorable experience as a celeb PA?
BD: There are so many but here are a few:
- I had to arrange a top-secret meeting between two A-listers who were madly in love with each other. One had not finalized their divorce yet, so it was a very sensitive situation. The press was following each of the celebs around constantly because of the rumors that were circulating about the couple. That was sticky!
- I got to hold the real Titanic necklace from the James Cameron Titanic movie. Yes, a real one was made (worth millions) and Celine Dion wore it when she sang the “My Heart Will Go On” at the Oscars.
- Carrying around briefcases full of money while working for the royal Saudis was always a little exciting.
- I used to have one major A-list celebrity client who would hire me to sneak him into movies. When his assistant was off on the weekends, that’s when he’d go to the movie with his daughter. It would take 2 of us to arrange it. One person would go to the theater and hold the seats, and I would make arrangements with the theatre managerto sneak the celebrity in through the back door. We would wait until the movie had just started, and then we would bring the celeb in when it was dark. Then he would leave a minute or two before the movie would end and I’d bring him out the back where the car was waiting. I did that for a whole summer.
DC: Do you have any cringe-worthy moments? How did you recover?
BD: One time a VIP wanted to buy out an 8 pm movie (opening weekend) and the show was already sold out. It was about 7 pm and he wanted the whole theatre for himself. I paid the theatre manager $1000 in cash, plus the cost of all the seats (about $5000 total) to say the projector broke and he refunded all of the moviegoers. Then I snuck the VIP and his family in the emergency exit (because the main door to the theatre was taped off).
DC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a celeb PA or HNI EA and has absolutely no experience?
BD: It’s not as hard as you think. In my experience, about 50% of all celebrity personal assistants got their first gig through networking. If you do a lot of networking and know how to penetrate the hidden job market, then you won’t need a headhunter to land a dream job. Every single PA job I got was obtained without a college degree or an employment agent.
The other misconception that people have is that you have to live in New York City or Los Angeles to land a celebrity assistant job. It’s not true at all. AT ALL! For example, there are almost 500 billionaires in the USA alone. Between LA and NYC combined there are only about 60 billionaires. What that means is that the billionaires live in every corner of the United States in the most obscure places. The opportunities to work for the high net worth are unprecedented in history (in and out of the USA).
My last piece of advice on that subject: go for the high net worth families before the celebrities. The HNW pay more, the jobs are easier to get, and the long-term stability is there as well.
DC: What makes an email get a response from a busy person? How can you connect with people who can give you advice, introductions, even job offers?
BD: It’s different for every single person. I’ve developed some top-secret strategies that I can’t really share here. Email is only one way, and not always the best. I’m a big fan of an old fashioned letter.
DC: What is your best piece of networking advice to aspiring celebrity PA’s?
BD: I would say you should read every single book that’s written by a celebrity assistant. Even the bad ones have one golden nugget, so it’s worth the 10 dollars to buy it. The bottom line is that there is no one, true way to land a job. So by reading books and blogs by people who have lived it, then you dramatically increase your chances of scoring a job because the depth and breadth of your strategy will far surpass the other charlatans who are competing against you.
DC: What is the biggest misconception of being a celebrity PA/EA?
BD: That it’s all glamour. I’ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve lived the jet set life (driving Lamborghinis, drinking $10,000 bottles of wine, and living on private jets). Again, all of those privileges usually come from working with high net worth families, not celebrities. So focus on getting a job with a billionaire or high-profile executive.
DC: When did you decide to branch off and start your own agency? How is life different/same as an entrepreneur?
BD: After I stopped working for the royal family I was at a cross-roads. I had been working 18-hour days for almost 2 years and I couldn’t take it anymore. At that point I did look into being represented by the “high end” employment agencies and the experience was absolutely awful. I MEAN TERRIBLE! The agents were very rude, arrogant and demeaning because they felt like they had all of this power (as a gatekeeper), so I decided to start my own company and outdo all of them. I have since taken all of the other agencies’ clients and candidates because I offer something the high-volume agencies can’t offer: personalized service and an understanding of the business that can ONLY be achieved from actually being there on the front lines.
DC: What are your current goals? When do you know when you have ‘made it’?
I’ve recently added 24/7 global concierge services to my list of services. They are invite only for clients who made a placement through my company.
I’m currently developing radio/tv show that gives job advice, lifestyle tips and travel advice.
I don’t know that I will ever be able to say I’ve “made it.” Because if I do, then I will slow down, and I always want to learn more and keep expanding – personally and professionally.
DC: Now it’s time for the fun questions, Brian! Woot, woot!
What’s your personal style like?
BD: Less is more. I don’t really buy all the fancy stuff – believe it or not.
DC: What are your interests/hobbies outside of work?
BD: I don’t have time to do much else, but I love watching documentaries. I also like the Travel Channel and Discovery Channel.
DC: ‘The gutsiest thing I’ve ever done is: _____.’
BD: Became a celebrity assistant
DC: What is your favorite quote?
BD: I made up my own: “Believe in yourself and be a dreamer”
DC: What is the last book you read?
BD: Treasure Island
DC: What House would the Sorting Hat choose for you?
BD: I just want something quiet and quaint
DC: What is your favourite movie?
BD: The English Patient. And a very close second is The Last Emperor – the true story of the last emperor of China.
DC: ‘If I could not be an EA (or entrepreneur, or trainer), I would be: _________.’
BD: A dreamer
DC: ‘The best gift I ever received was _______.’
BD: A hug. The best things in life are free.
DC: ‘My best stress reliever is ______.’
BD: A quiet room, a roaring fire in the fireplace, and a great cup of hot coffee
DC: ‘I am most happy when ____.’
BD: It’s the end of the day
DC: What would be your super secret super power? And why?
BD: I would say reading minds, but as an experienced assistant I’ve already learned to do that.
I would say predicting the future, but as an experienced assistant I’ve already learned to do that. So I will have to say something honorably cheesy: Figuring out how we can have peace on Earth.
DC: And last but most absolutely NOT least: cupcake or muffin? What kind?
BD: One of each, blueberry please.
For more information about Brian or how to get exclusive EA/PA openings, click here.
Who would you like Donna to interview? Who would you like to read about? Let me know below.