By Carrie Adelstein

The Butler Did It is an Event Staffing agency that supplies wait and bar staff to all types of Special Events around the GTA. If you’ve been to an event where someone has offered you an hors d’oeuvre, poured you some wine or fixed your napkin while you momentarily left your seat, you’ve probably encountered one of their staff. The majority of the special event community can attest that The Butler certainly does do it, so well in fact that you might not even notice him/her.

“The Butler,” as it’s most commonly referred to, is the Event Staffing agency of choice to some of the city’s largest and Exclusive venues – from the ROM to the AGO to The Carlu – yet few actually know their history or how the company is run. 2014 marks the company’s 25th in business and, with them being so busy helping make everyone else’s event go smoothly, they have barely even had time to celebrate their own success. I decided it was high time the world got to know the three men responsible for the success of The Butler Did It, Michael Schneiderman, James Nienhuis and John Sowden, to discover just why The Butler has survived, and thrived, for so long.

 

Carrrie:

So how did the company get started?

Michael:

I had always worked in the hospitality industry both in Toronto and in Halifax, where I’m from. I eventually realized I preferred not to work for other people and only wanted to work for myself. I had a friend who was a student at Ryerson University who created this small staffing company. The two of us clicked and split everything 50/50. He eventually decided he wanted to move to New Zealand and I bought the business from him.

Carrie:

Tell me about the good old days…

Michael:

I had one big client when I took over and the business just grew from there. I found our entire roster of staff through word of mouth – this person worked at a bar with that person who got sent over to me. We were a small group and I was doing everything, from supervising all the events myself to booking people, to accounting, hiring, you name it. After seven years I was burnt out and was looking to sell the business. That’s when I met James.

James:

Michael and I met through a friend of my mother’s. I had also been in the hospitality industry for a number of years and was on the verge of moving to live overseas. My mother told me a friend of hers knew a man who had a business he was looking to sell; I met Michael and liked him immediately. I had no clue if we could work together, but I saw unlimited potential in the business and felt we could build together. I decided to stay in Canada as I was excited at the possibilities and saw a vison for the future. I needed to be a part of it.

Michael:

I was about to sell 100% of the business to James but I decided at the last minute I couldn’t do it, so I agreed to stay on as a minority partner which suited me just fine.

James:

For the first few years we worked out of my basement. We did all of the hiring on the couch in my living room. I remember working at least 100 hours a week for my first two years. It was nuts, but so much fun seeing the business grow and developing relationships with amazing people.

Carrie:

What was it like working together in those days?

James:

Michael is a soldier and one of the most solid people I have ever met. I am a quirky guy that likes constant change and always strives to make things better. Our roles always really suited our natural strengths, with Michael holding down the booking/ office role and me the front guy and trainer. When I started, TBDI had one big client and a few smaller ones, so I was not only supervising the events and developing the systems, but was also bringing in a lot of new business. One of my strengths is that I know where I’m weak, so I surround myself with good people that help shore me up. One of the blessings in my life is that amazing people come my way.

Carrie:

So how did John (Sowden) come into the picture?

James:

John has been my friend for many years and I reached out as we had come to a crossroads in the business and desperately needed help. John came in as a consultant initially to help implement some much needed system and structure at a critical time. Ten years into the business some tough decisions needed to be made. Michael and I were struggling under the weight of the workload and the business had reached a size where we needed to learn how to really run this business like a business.

John:

I am an entrepreneur by spirit. I have always loved the autonomy and the ability to shape something. James and I met at George Brown but were both “too cool” to know each other. We met shortly after we graduated. He heard that I had just finished selling a group of companies and asked if I would come on board as a consultant. At the time, James and Michael were victims of their own success, two nice guys whose business was starting to grow past their abilities. My strength is in operations and numbers, exactly what they needed to reach another level. I am good at implementing systems and structure, so I stayed on to help grow the business focusing on a more balanced and sustainable approach. We have put a lot of energy into the owner dynamics and have brought in consultants, including a life coach, to help us create a common vision and make sure we stay on the right track.

Carrie:

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Michael:

I think you need to be level-headed. You need to be a visionary who wants to build and grow.

James:

I never really saw myself as an entrepreneur; I just knew what I wanted in life and felt I had to be the one to create it. I see a vision and then will do whatever it takes to get there.

John:

I think it’s an opportunity to create a company that resonates with you; your culture and your values.

Carrie:

We hear a lot about “culture” when we talk about The Butler. What is the culture within The Butler and what makes it so unique?

James:

We have a culture of caring. It’s been my focus from the beginning to foster a feeling of community and togetherness. We achieve success as a team. So many incredible relationships have been formed over the years within the company, it’s really inspiring. I can’t say enough great things about our amazing office team and frontline staff that work hard and do what they need to do to ensure each event is a success.

Michael:

I used to know every Butler’s phone number off by heart, now we’ve grown so much that I hardly know anyone that way anymore. As far as creating community, we show our appreciation every year to our staff by having a big barbeque for them, a holiday party; events to show them we know how hard they work for us and we want to return the favor. So many of our people are actors, singers and dancers, and we wanted our clients to see how talented and passionate they are, so we started hosting a cabaret performance every spring. It’s now been going on for 16 years. Every year I am blown away by the talent.

Carrie:

What has been your biggest challenge and your biggest success thus far?

 John:

The company’s culture is our biggest success and also our biggest challenge. The business needs of a company usually supersede what’s best, but with The Butler, people are our business so we have a responsibility to do what we can to look after them as we continue to grow.

Carrie:

What does the future look like for The Butler? The next 25 years?

John:

We want to grow the company within the culture of caring. We are trying to support and mentor a generation of young leaders and continue to collaborate with good people. We now own a building in a very cool area in Bloor West, we have a culinary division to provide chefs to our clients for their events, we have a division for music festivals…the sky is the limit.

Carrie:

So what does The Butler mean to you?

Michael:

It’s a big success story. This is my home and everyone who works here is my family. When I know I’m going to work in the office on a Saturday and I’m going to spend the day with our people, I know anything can go wrong and I’m still going to have a good day. After 25 years and being semi-retired, I still look forward to coming to work.

 

 

…You can’t ask for better than that.