published Sunday, January 26th, 2014

The manny boom: McCallie School graduate's male nanny business takes off in New York City

John Brandon, center, hugs
two children at an orphanage
while serving on a mission trip
in Honduras.
John Brandon, center, hugs two children at an orphanage while serving on a mission trip in Honduras.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Less than a year ago, former Ooltewah resident John Brandon posted a profile on a New York City website, offering his services as a dog walker and baby sitter.

Any work the McCallie School and Westminster Choir College graduate picked up would supplement his income between stints as a professional opera singer.

But today, the singing career is secondary to Brandon’s new job — co-founder and owner of a rapidly diversifying caregiving agency, NYC Mannies, that has received international media exposure. He also believes it is the first such business to offer almost exclusively males as caregivers, mentors, teachers, tutors and coaches for families looking for child care.

“I was trying to pick up some supplemental income between gigs,” he says.

Brandon and his former roommate created NYC Mannies after Brandon, 28, spent some time in early 2013 as caregiver for the family of a New York billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur. Then CNN did a piece on NYC Mannies as part of its business coverage, and the dam burst.

“It went viral, and now we have no idea what to expect,” he says.

Indeed, Brandon, a critically acclaimed baritone who has performed with opera companies in Nashville, North Carolina, Birmingham, Fresno and Santa Barbara in California and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, hasn’t had time to accept any operatic roles lately because of the “manny” business.

And he’ll know by the first of next month whether a reality television show based on the business — it’s already been pitched to cable network executives — will be picked up for production.

“It’s been amazing,” he says.

MANNY MANIA

There are many men in New York City like him who do seasonal work but need money to survive in an expensive city, Brandon says.

"The arts are suffering. The arts are downsizing," he says, so it's necessary for him and his fellow artists to "be creative" in pursuing solutions.

Many of these men, Brandon says, are young, have college degrees and have worked with children.

  • photo
    John Brandon plays with ABC weekend anchor Bianna Golodryga’s son during a story on “Good Morning America."
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"You have all these overqualified guys," he says, "who don't have jobs."

Obviously, Brandon says, there is nothing wrong with women serving as nannies, but men may be able to offer a different experience -- especially for boys -- as a role model, sports coach or protector.

Statistics indicate he and his business partner, Ismael Mercado, are getting into the field at the right time.

  • photo
    Former Chattanoogan Hunner Mueller, second from right, served for several years as a manny for Jennifer Crutchfield’s three sons, Will, George and Max.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In 2012, only 5.9 percent of United States child-care workers and 1.9 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers were men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other numbers from NannyReviews.com show only 8 percent of 500 nannies at Chicago's Cambridge Nanny Group were men, while up to 10 percent of applicants for nanny jobs in New York City and Los Angeles were men.

Brandon says he has no idea what the actual numbers of male nannies are, but he is sure of one thing: "Every year the number goes up. The stereotypes [of women alone being nannies] are dying."

After spending time with the family of the billionaire just under a year ago, he told Mercado in passing that someone who started such a business might do very well. Several weeks later, his roommate, who was finishing a degree in entrepreneurship, suggested they do it.

"To go into the [nanny] market in New York City," Brandon says, "is not easy. I mean, who were we? We're 28."

Yet doors opened. A website on which a friend worked gave the business some exposure, which led to additional media exposure, then the son of Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, was born. That birth led to news media discussions of nannies, and a CNN producer spotted NYC Mannies on a Google search. From there, a CNN report on the new business reached some 300 million people.

ON THE WEB

For more information about NYC Mannies, go to nycmannies.com.

In turn, Brandon did interviews with, among others, a London television station, a South Korean television network and ABC's "Good Morning America."

Spending time at "GMA," during which he entertained anchor Bianna Golodryga's son for an afternoon, "was the coolest day."

In less than a year, NYC Mannies has matched more than 75 families inside and outside New York City -- including celebrities he is contractually unable to mention -- with caregivers.

As the months have passed, Brandon says, the company also has lined up house managers (better known as "butlers"), personal assistants and chefs. It also will try to match up women with families, though men remain the center of the business.

And he's now in the talking stages of expanding the business to Los Angeles and Paris.

"I didn't think I would be a business owner, though my father was an entrepreneur," Brandon says. "In my early 20s, I wouldn't have been able to handle it. At 28, I'm a bit more equipped."

CHATTA-MANNY?

He also believes such a service could go over in Chattanooga and is studying the possibility.

"It's a hard sell in [the mid-South] states," he says, "but once people grasp the concept, I believe it would work. It's like sending a kid to day camp, but [the mannies] come to you. It can be like private coaching, teaching games, [involving them in] outdoor activities or a mentorship. They're not replacing parents, but they have all the responsibilities."

MANNY MATCHING

John Brandon says his company's mannies are carefully matched with individual families based on a wide range of criteria, and the company is paid a finder's fee equal to a percentage of the manny's first-year salary (or an equivalence based on how long they are expected to work).

If, after three months, the family is not happy, NYC Mannies will find the family another manny, he says. To date, that hasn't happened, he says.

A full-time, 40-hour-a-week manny in New York City will make between $45,000 and $85,000, Brandon says. With special circumstances, it could rise to $100,000, he says, but the mean is around $60,000.

Elsewhere, he says, it wouldn't be as high, but "it's pretty lucrative."

Brandon says all the company's full-time mannies have college degrees, are CPR certified and have gone through first-aid and Heimlich maneuver training. They also must pass an extensive background check, which includes the examination of driving, court and criminal records, he says.

The mannies, in addition, have consultants at their disposal, including pediatricians, child care experts and veteran caregivers.

Less than a year ago, former Ooltewah resident John Brandon posted a profile on a New York City website, offering his services as a dog walker and baby sitter.

Any work the McCallie School and Westminster Choir College graduate picked up would supplement his income between stints as a professional opera singer.

But today, the singing career is secondary to Brandon's new job -- co-founder and owner of a rapidly diversifying caregiving agency, NYC Mannies, that has received international media exposure. He also believes it is the first such business to offer almost exclusively males as caregivers, mentors, teachers, tutors and coaches for families looking for child care.

"I was trying to pick up some supplemental income between gigs," he says.

Brandon and his former roommate created NYC Mannies after Brandon, 28, spent some time in early 2013 as caregiver for the family of a New York billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur. Then CNN did a piece on NYC Mannies as part of its business coverage, and the dam burst.

"It went viral, and now we have no idea what to expect," he says.

Indeed, Brandon, a critically acclaimed baritone who has performed with opera companies in Nashville, North Carolina, Birmingham, Fresno and Santa Barbara in California and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, hasn't had time to accept any operatic roles lately because of the "manny" business.

And he'll know by the first of next month whether a reality television show based on the business -- it's already been pitched to cable network executives -- will be picked up for production.

"It's been amazing," he says.

MANNY MANIA

Jennifer Ley Crutchfield, a Chattanooga single mom with three children, says she employed a manny -- she and her friends who used him referred to him as a "nanny man" -- on and off for about six years.

The man, Hunner Mueller, worked in student-age child care at Normal Park Elementary School and at adjacent Northside Learning Center, and she had a child or children at both places.

She originally used him to take the children home -- she lived nearby -- but gradually employed him more and more to take the children to the Stuart Heights pool in the summer and on various field trips in the summer and during the school year.

"One of the reasons I started," Crutchfield says, a little sheepishly, "is that baby sitters talk on the phone and text message. That's not what I needed. I needed someone to make my children tired. I didn't want to come home to wired kids who'd been sitting on the couch all day. Hunner was the answer to that. He very much for me modeled the good qualities I wanted my children to learn."

Mueller, now teaching English as a second language in China, says he took a different approach to caring for the children.

"I would make up silly games, like a zombie chase," he says in a Facebook message. "Other times we would have Nerf wars. The sky [was] the limit. I would often as I [could] keep them active. Another thing I would do is ask them thought-provoking questions: 'Why are there four seasons? Why do you think some people are homeless?' I feel too often we undercut children's ability to reason and make decisions based off of what they know of life to date."

Brittany Ferguson-Carver, whose Facebook page indicates she is a stay-at-home mom and part-time nanny/babysitter, had a different thought in a post on the Times Free Press Facebook page.

"No guy besides my husband (their daddy), papaws or their uncle will ever watch my kids!" she says.

Tracey Peck, a stay-at-home mom in Ringgold, Ga., says in a post on the Times Free Press Facebook page that she has never employed any kind of nanny, "but I think it's a terrific idea, especially with so many absent fathers these days."

"Kids need a good male influence in their lives, even if it is someone paid to take care of them for a few hours a day," she writes.

Mueller also thinks it's a good idea.

"There are many families in the Chattanooga area who have young boys [to whom] the typical nanny, sadly, just can't relate," he says. "There is a certain camaraderie between the manny and the boys. Boys know how boys think, and therefore, whether playing out in the yard [or] getting them to do their homework, a male nanny has a slight upper hand."

Such matches through NYC Mannies, according to Brandon, offer even more than a financial reward or the successful feeling of owning your own business.

"My No. 1 motivation," he says, "is that what I'm doing is necessary and good" -- offering guys who are willing to step up and say to the children for which they care that "you have the confidence to change things."

Brandon says such men -- coaches and other mentors who took him under their wing after his father died when he was a teenager -- were an inspiration to him.

One New York City 10-year-old, Liam, whose mother used NYC Mannies after her husband died, reported a similar experience in a feature story that aired on EBRU News, a cable network available in the New York area.

"Grieving will never go away," Liam said. "If any of you guys have a grandparent or an uncle or maybe like a friend or a friend's dad, that can help a little bit."

The report moved Brandon.

"I almost cried," he says. "That speaks to me. I experienced this. Now, I want to continue what [his mentors] started. Kids [will] watch your actions, your language. [They're] soaking it up. If they're surrounded by positive people, they'll be positive people."

Contact staff member Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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