Spa Talk With Stéphanie Cherbakow Baron of The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia

Meet Stéphanie Cherbakow Baron, spa director at The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center.

Photo credit: Stéphanie Cherbakow Baron


What was the path that led you into the spa industry?

From a young age, my desire to uplift others led me on a unique path. At first, I considered medical school, but ultimately decided to pursue a two-year program in beauty and cosmetology. During this time of growth and learning, I delved into various aspects of beauty including facials, nails, waxing, makeup, body treatments, massage, and of course, business management. This was an inspiring time for me and led me to my next journey of becoming a licensed massage therapist. I studied and trained in diverse massage techniques, such as Swedish, lomi lomi, relaxation, reflexology, as well as holistic approaches like shiatsu, tuina, and ayurveda. This is where I really found my passion for combining travel, hospitality, and spa therapy.  

As I transitioned into the role of an international spa trainer, it marked the beginning of a transformative way of life. This position not only provided me with the exciting opportunity to travel but also allowed me to collaborate with hotels, ensuring the highest standards of training for their teams. It was during this phase where I truly embraced my calling, seamlessly merging my love for travel with my expertise in the spa industry. In April 2009, I embarked on a captivating journey in hospitality, driven by the desire to explore new horizons and cultivate both personal and professional growth.

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in the spa industry?

As a seasoned spa director with a wealth of global experience, I face the perpetual challenge of staying updated on the latest trends and techniques that span across the industry. Each culture brings forth its own unique approach to wellness, offering both enriching opportunities and challenges when it comes to seamlessly integrating these elements into our spa's offerings. Yet, amid these challenges, the most gratifying aspect is witnessing the profound impact our services have on our clients' wellbeing. There's a profound sense of fulfillment in observing guests depart feeling revitalized and serene, knowing that our team has played a pivotal role in their journey toward wellness. Moreover, witnessing the growth and evolution of our team is a truly priceless reward.

What is your proudest accomplishment?   

There have been numerous milestones along my journey, each destination carrying its own sense of achievement. Yet, one particularly challenging yet rewarding experience stands out: the task of maintaining our Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating at the Four Seasons Montréal Spa during a significant conceptual overhaul. Witnessing my team's dedication and excellence during this transformative period remains one of my proudest accomplishments. On a personal level, I take great pride in successfully balancing professional growth with family life. Beyond my role as a spa director, I am also a mother of two. Seeing my children exhibit resilience and adaptability across the various countries we've lived in fills me with profound pride.

What has surprised you most about working in the spa industry?

One of the most surprising aspects of working in the spa industry has been the dynamic and intricate nature of the behind-the-scenes operations. While the primary goal is to deliver seamless, memorable, and relaxing experiences for our guests, the reality is that achieving this often involves navigating through complexities behind-the-scenes. From coordinating schedules and managing resources to responding to last-minute requests, the ability to maintain a serene and tranquil atmosphere for our clients requires a delicate dance behind the scenes. I believe that these behind-the-scenes challenges are often overlooked by most people, whether they are visiting a spa or considering opening their own. However, I emphasize the importance of maintaining a serene and relaxing environment to enable our guests to genuinely escape from the demands of their daily lives.

Where do you think the industry is heading?    

The spa and wellness industries are continually evolving, embracing a broader approach that recognizes relaxation as just one facet of a wellness journey. The concept of living well extends beyond an occasional treatment or escape, emphasizing the integral role of maintaining health consistently. Longevity should be at the core of the wellness industry approach, understanding that true wellness involves a continuous commitment. As spa professionals, we acknowledge that comprehensive wellbeing involves not only rejuvenating spa experiences, but also integrating essential elements, such as nutrition, supplements, and holistic practices. Mental wellness remains paramount, with a growing emphasis on feeling good and aligning your spa journey with a lifestyle dedicated to sustained health.

What’s your favorite skincare ingredient?

Like the ever-changing beauty industry, my favorite skincare ingredient tends to evolve over time. However, vitamin C takes the lead as my preferred choice. I believe it's one of those ingredients that can provide immediate improvements in skin appearance while also promoting collagen production. Collagen, especially in its purest form, holds a special place in my heart as another favorite skincare ingredient. The dynamic nature of the industry keeps me exploring and discovering new favorites, but vitamin C and pure collagen are at the top of my list as a must-have in your skincare regimen.

What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career? 

Each position I've worked in has been a profound learning experience. From the team members that I’ve worked alongside and trained, to the many guests that I have encountered, they have left a truly meaningful impact on me. One of my first positions as the assistant spa manager at Sofitel Philippines Plaza Manila provided me with invaluable foundational knowledge and skills. From navigating external environmental challenges, such as typhoons to managing fast-paced operations and leading teams, I was lucky to have a leader and mentor who provided dedicated support and encouraged my rapid growth. This role served as a springboard for my career, propelling me into a spa director position, leading multiple spas within the esteemed five-star hotel chain.

The Philippines holds a special place in my heart as it was where my expatriate journey began. The unparalleled hospitality of the team at the Sofitel Philippines Plaza Manila and the people of Philippines warmly welcomed me, and I could not have started my journey in a better way. This not only served as a launching pad for my professional journey, but also marked a significant milestone in my personal life. It was at that very resort where I met my husband, Alex, and where we later exchanged our vows.

Was there a time you had to make a decision in your career that ended up changing your destiny? How did you handle that challenge and what was your thought process?   

As I reflect on my career, I can note quite a few decisions that changed the destiny of my career. One that sticks out is a decision that was made for me. As the spa manager, I worked to revamp the spa program at this beautiful Atlantic Beach Resort in Morocco. After successfully completing these goals, the hotel made the decision to terminate the contracts of many expatriates, including myself and my husband, who was a sous chef. It was a devastating blow, and we were completely unprepared for it. However, after the initial shock wore off, we gathered our strength, left Morocco, and embarked on the journey to find our next destination. While it was not a personal decision, and we were supported by the resort’s top management, to help find our next stop on our journey. To this day, it remains as one of the big shake-ups of our lives

I've always prided myself on my resilience and determination. Despite the challenges and disruptions, we faced, it was important for me to remain on this path. I sent out countless resumes, messages on LinkedIn, and posts on social media. Eventually, my persistence paid off when I connected with the Four Seasons. I began my Four Seasons journey in September of 2009. My tenure with the Four Seasons brand has provided so many opportunities and challenges along the way and has taught me that with every challenge there is a silver lining waiting to be discovered.

If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would you be?   

Challenging question! I would love to do many things but feel in my core that this is my calling.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy?   

My personal philosophy revolves around embracing a positive outlook and maintaining resilience in the face of challenges. I firmly believe in the power of positivity and the contagious nature of smiles. Despite the hardships that surround us, I choose to focus on the blessings in my life and remain grateful for every opportunity. Rather than allowing negativity to consume us, I advocate for learning from mistakes and approaching new endeavors with renewed determination. As a spa and wellness professional, my philosophy is deeply rooted in the principles of holistic wellness. I am dedicated to creating spaces where guests can experience profound relaxation, rejuvenation, and self-discovery across physical, mental, and emotional realms.

Sustainability, authenticity, and inclusivity are at the forefront of my approach, ensuring that every individual feels valued and embraced within our spa community. I am committed to ongoing education and innovation, continuously exploring innovative ways to enhance the guests and team members' experience and foster overall wellbeing.

How do you like to spend your time away from work?

I usually invest my free time in meaningful moments with my family, the chance to strengthen our bonds and create lasting memories together. Prioritizing physical activities is another key aspect for me, understanding the significance of sustaining a healthful and dynamic lifestyle is something that has always been a priority for me. Additionally, I seek breaks from the urban hustle and bustle whenever possible, opting for serene environments that allow me to relax and rejuvenate myself in nature.

What are your three greatest priorities in life?

My three greatest priorities include maintaining health and living better, nurturing my relationships with my family and friends, and embarking on a journey of continuous discovery.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? 

I consider some of the best advice I've ever received to be from my previous resort manager, framed as a question: 'How can you expect others to be open with you if you're not willing to open up to them?' This resonated deeply, especially in the wellness and spa industry where creating a safe and comfortable space is crucial.

To me, this advice embodies the true essence of hospitality, aligning with the principles Four Seasons bases its service on—the Golden Rule. This moral principle encourages treating others as you would like to be treated, emphasizing the importance of genuine connection and thoughtful consideration in our interactions.