Meet the man who is a fixer for the super rich ... and says many of them want to give back to society
Aaron Simpson is the co-owner of Quintessentially, the world's foremost luxury concierge service. He says that billionaires are more and more looking to spend their millions on experiences which are meaningful.
Aaron Simpson chuckles as he says: "We'll kidnap you and drop you on Ibiza in a pair of budgie smugglers without a wallet." It's a strange phrase. When it comes from a man who, over the last 17 years, has built a reputation as the pre-eminent fixer for the world's super rich, it sounds positively bizarre. But it illustrates a point.
Simpson's company, Quintessentially, gets wealthy people the things they want, anywhere in the world. A Patek Phillipe watch that has an eight-year waiting list? He'll get it in a day. Private hire of an ancient Egyptian monument? No problem. A Bat Cave with functional Batmobile? Consider it done (seriously). But the extremely well-heeled people on Simpson's books are increasingly favouring experiences over old-fashioned hedonism and bling, he says. And that's where the budgie smugglers come in.
I should clarify: tech entrepreneurs and Saudi billionaires are not going to start falling from the sky onto the Balearics, sporting revealing lycra swimwear. It's a strictly tongue-in-cheek example of Simpson's latest project. "It's a game concept," he says. "We take an individual and we throw them into a situation. They don't know where they are and they don't know what's going on. The whole premise is to test the limits of their own psyche.
"We'll put people through psychological profiling so we can see where their pressure points are and take them to the extremes of those points. People want to feel fear but in a controlled way," he says. "We aim to be very much surprising, sometimes delighting and probably more likely shocking."
It sounds like a personalised version of a Derren Brown TV programme. No-holds-barred, immersive theatre for those who have the bank balance to hire Brown to whisk them off into a subversive parallel universe, just for fun.
Simpson's dabbling in immersive theatre is a side show to the main event: the luxury concierge service Quintessentially. Its global team is on hand at all times to arrange anything that the company's clients might desire at short notice. The company offers what it calls "luxury lifestyle management" for a subscription of around £7,000 to £20,000, with some clients reported to pay significantly more for a higher level of service.
He founded the company along with friends Paul Drummond and Ben Elliot in 2000, a few years after the trio became friends while studying at Oxford. It now employs around 2,500 people in 60 countries. Simpson, who grew up in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, wasn't born into huge wealth; so how did he break into the world of the super rich? "You don't break into anything," he says matter of factly. "You just deliver things that people want: whether it's selling a pack of biscuits or delivering a world-class service to people who want access to the inaccessible. Like all networks, it's viral, it's quick and it's achievable."
I suspect his personal qualities have also been a significant factor. It's hard not to like him. Despite a contact book full of celebrities he comes across as down-to-earth and refreshingly unguarded. Simpson also made valuable connections while working in the film industry after university. Quintessentially co-founder Ben Elliott also brought his own contact book as the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Quintessentially was undoubtedly the right idea at the right time. It has grown as the wealth of the people at the very top of the tree has ballooned, but it would be wrong to think the company has simply ridden a wave. Many others have tried to replicate the formula. Most have failed. The company is rumoured to count celebrities from P Diddy to JK Rowling as clients and now encompasses 28 businesses, specialising in luxury property, weddings, travel, wine, and more.
It's easy to see how the business quickly multiplied into so many strands. Simpson is fizzing with ideas. Aside from tending to the needs of the global elite, he's working with fellow entrepreneur Simon Squibb on the board of a start-up which he says will "democratise entrepreneurialism". The platform allows people to collaborate to solve problems. "It's crowd solutions rather than crowd funding," he says.
He cites as inspiration the example of a patient who had such a bad experience with the NHS that she wrote to them with a list of solutions and managed to save her local health authority over £20m. "A lot of people come up with great ideas in their garden shed but never follow through with them because they don't have the expertise, or the balls, to go out there and do it. Then life takes over."
Squibb is a good example of another increasingly prevalent streak among wealthy people, says Simpson. "He's made his fortune and now he's looking at how he can apply what he does - which is tech - to have a wider impact by giving people a platform and a voice."
One client of Quintessentially's is spending "many, many tens of millions" building a marine research vessel that will carry a team of scientists. Then for a few weeks a year, the owner and his family will use it for holidays.
Despite this apparent shift towards wealthy people giving something back to the community in which they made their millions, Simpson says he understands why rich people get a bad press in the current "very divisive" climate. "But there are a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly millennials, who don't see building an empire as the be-all and end-all," he adds. "Many billionaires are very philanthropic, they just don't like to shout about it."
Most billionaires do care about widening inequality in the world around them, Simpson says. He points to the hundreds of billions of dollars that some of the world's wealthiest people have vowed to give away through The Giving Pledge, an initiative founded by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Entrepreneurs including Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerberg have all signed up to donate the majority of their wealth to good causes.
Despite this, any reports of the death of conspicuous consumption have been greatly exaggerated. The new superyacht Simpson has planned exemplifies that displays of wealth and status will always have an allure for those with the cash to flash. Dubbed the Quintessentially One, the floating private members club will be a 220-metre, 45,000-tonne temple of opulence costing £250m to build. Quintessentially members can purchase a cabin for several million pounds.
Its maiden voyage is pencilled in for 2020 and will take in elite gatherings such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix.