The desk looms in the corner office, a visible symbol of corporate clout; it is vast, polished, obviously expensive. It is, however, so buried under mounds of paper that the Very Important Person who sits behind it is barely visible. There is a stack of printouts, memos and reminders. Somewhere, beneath it all, there’s a diary. Somewhere else, there’s a telephone. In short, this is a desk that’s ready for the services of Jeffrey Mayer, power desk cleaner to corporate America.
Mayer, who bills himself as an executive efficiency expert, specializes in cleaning off the desks of CEOs too busy or disorganized to do it themselves. And for Mayer, neatness not only counts, it definitely adds up—he gets $250 an hour. For that price, the executives get more than just a clean desk. If they pay attention to Mayer’s teachings, they also learn a system to keep it clean. Wherever he goes on an office call, he carries a stack of folders and expandable file pockets—the better to hold all that clutter. “People think keeping piles of papers out on their desk will serve as reminders of what they need to do,” says Mayer, 39. “But piles only bury things.” His solution is simple: Make a list instead. “Then, put all the papers in folders by category and put them away,” he advises.
Mayer, who owns a consulting company in Chicago, came to his life’s vocation early, growing up in suburban Highland Park, Ill., the son of an insurance executive and a housewife. “My mother told me, ‘If you get your work done, you can go out to play,’ ” he remembers. “I liked orderliness.” In 1985, after stints running the family insurance business and as an estate planner, Mayer decided to bring his gift for orderliness to the business world. His first client-solicited by a cold call on the telephone—was a stockbroker. At the time, Mayer charged a mere $300 for six hours.
From that modest beginning, Mayer’s business expanded dramatically. Now he sees as many as 100 clients a year, at $1,000 a session. If the fee seems high, well, Mayer has an explanation: “My clients are able to make more money with less effort after I’ve worked with them.”
Mayer still gets clients from cold calls, but most now come from referrals. Some people even give a session with the dean of the desk cleaners as a birthday gift for the CEO in their lives.