Canada’s Butler: Charles Macpherson

Most successful people would love to say that they crafted a stellar business plan and have worked it brilliantly to success. It feeds our need to believe that all success is based on attributes such as patience, planning and intelligence. But the truth of the matter is that most successful entrepreneurs will tell you they “fell” into their success by simply being the best and acting on opportunities as they presented themselves.

Such is the case with Charles MacPherson. Almost three decades ago, Charles owned his own catering company in Toronto serving an eclectic range of the city’s quirky and luxury residences. One day a wealthy client asked Charles if he would consider taking the position of butler at her estate. Charles was intrigued. Under the promise of on-the-job training, he took the plunge that became the defining moment of his career. The job of butlering came so naturally to Charles that he can only describe it one way – “everything was logical, natural, made sense to me,” he chuckles, “I think I was a butler in another life.”

After a decade of service, Charles branched out on his own. Known as “Canada’s Butler”, you’ve seen him on the Marilyn Dennis Show and heard him on CBC radio talking about butlering, manners and etiquette. It’s a topic that conjures up eccentric visions of Downton Abbey or the luxury lives of the rich and famous.

Charles is recognized as a world authority in household management and butlering, consulting with both residential clients and hospitality corporations in Canada, the USA, UK, Europe, South Africa and China. He fulfills needs such as staffing, training, planning and managing. In the past six months alone, Charles has worked at some of the leading hotel properties in China, India and France. He wrote the department standards and was the lead team trainer for the Queen Mary 2 and Fouquette’s Barrière Hôtel along with being the lead trainer for the butler department of the Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai, China.

For luxury residential clients, Charles is like the employment centre for butlers, chefs, personal assistance, chauffeurs, gardeners and housekeepers. He can even assemble an entire estate with household staff. “Sometimes, people move into their home and have no idea how to staff it,” says Charles so matter-of-factly that I find myself commiserating. I am way out of my league here, as would anyone I know.

So how does Charles find suitable professionals to meet the needs of his discerning cliental? It was difficult so he opened a butler school. The Charles MacPherson Academy for Butlers and Household Managers located in Toronto is a registered private career college under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 and is the only butler and household management school of its kind in North America. Now Charles personally trains skilled professionals who meet the service demands of the 21st Century.

Having a butler let alone an entire staff to manage your home is far too removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people for it to have any relevance – or is it? While we may not be able to identify with the catering needs of the luxuriously wealthy, Charles claims we can all benefit from the skills of butlering.

Think about it. How do you feel when someone opens a car door for you? Waiting patiently while we navigate into the car, smiling at us the entire time. These people know that little actions do more than unnecessarily facilitate an obvious action. They know it shows what to do when the bottle of wine arrives at the table and understanding what silverware to use, it all adds up to competence, confidence and success for both the individual and the company.

Knowing manners and etiquette are also competitive advantages in business. From the sales staff at a pharmaceutical company that works closely with doctors to top level executives at financial institutions dealing with wealthy clients, proper manners and etiquette gives these companies as much of a competitive advantage as marketing executives wooing top level firms or those in international education creating partnerships with various cultures around the world.    

Take for example hosting a group of visiting businessmen from Asia, Africa or the Middle East; Charles explains that in some of these countries, touching is considered offensive. So do you extend your hand for the traditional North American handshake? Would it be considered rude to the visiting dignitary? Or do you put your hand over your heart and bow slightly to show respect? Having manners and following etiquette means you don’t take for granted that everything you do is acceptable, it means you consider others. Charles advises that all businesses big or small can gain business competence and advantages with the knowledge of global manners and etiquette.

Charles was surprised when the corporate world first started contacting him, but they’ve all claimed they saw value in increasing customer service skills through the tips and tricks of butlering, they saw value in training their employees to speak competently to the rich and famous. When asked which corporations he’s worked with, Charles smiles, “part of my service is discretion. These people don’t want exposure, they want privacy”. Ah, spoken like a true butler.

But the knowledge and application of etiquette and manners is not just for the corporate world, the luxury market or wealthy clients. Charles promotes etiquette and manners for everyone. “Learn how to shake a hand properly, make a toast, use proper silverware and follow-up with appropriate gratitude,” he says. It shows confidence and others are attracted to people with self-confidence but more than that, it gives you grace, it shows you are polite and considerate of others, that you are acknowledging others and including them. Admirable, yet rare qualities today.

There are many references to source. Emily Post’s work on etiquette in the 1920s is legendary. My mother would quote Emily to teach me proper table manners. Throughout the decades there have been other experts such as Jacqueline Kennedy’s social secretary, Letitia Baldrige. Amy Vanderbuilt and Emily’s daughter Peggy Post. But etiquette and manners are “a living, breathing document,” explains Charles who expertly evolves the rules of tradition to suit modern day cultures. “Downton Abbey would be silly today. We don’t use the same amount of cutlery or glassware but it’s how we use them that is still relevant today.”

In a world where etiquette and manners have fallen by the wayside, I can’t resist but to ask Charles of any pet peeves. Without hesitation he says, “I have many! Mostly it’s the obsession with cell phones.” When in a social situation (business or personal) Charles says put them on vibrate or ignore it all together. “It drives me nuts for people around a dinner table to answer their phones. It’s extremely rude.” Charles says if you have an urgent matter, excuse yourself from the table and take the call in another room so you’re not disrupting the other guests.

The other equally guilty crime is the modern day inability to thank properly. “A text is not a thank you!” insists Charles. A properly thought out thank you in an email is becoming more acceptable but for the most part, Charles is still a thank-you-card in the mail kind of guy. Makes me want to reorder those monogrammed thank you cards I once used.

Charles has written two books on the subject, The Butler Speaks and The Pocket Butler (2nd printing) and is working on a third, The Butler and Household Manager’s Compendium which promises to be his most definitive work on the subject. You can visit Charles website at

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