Q & A with spa industry thought leader Susie Ellis

Industry dynamo Susie Ellis shares her spa world journey.

How many years have you been involved in the spa/hospitality industry?

About 35 years.

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

Born in Illinois, I was a gymnast in high school and college (and athletic in general).  While I majored in Physical Education in my early college career, I soon realized I was also very interested in the "business" side of things.  So my undergraduate degree ended up being in Recreation Administration (University of Illinois), and later I got my MBA from UCLA.

At the very end of my graduate studies I had to do an internship, and chose a fitness club called Tom Young's Health Spa (today it would be called a day spa, but that language wasn't used at the time).  After graduation I was anxious to move to California, and when my identical twin sister told me about a job at the famous Golden Door that she had been offered (but declined due to a different opportunity), I told her I really wanted to take that job!  Well, that's what happened.  And as Golden Door Founder Deborah Szekely tells it, since she had already hired my sister - and didn't see much difference between us physically or experience-wise (we even had the same grade point average) - she hired me.  It turned out to to be the beginning of a career I would enjoy for the rest of my life.

Over the next many years, I worked at the Golden Door, and following that I opened a chain of 26 "Exclusively Women" Spas, and subsequently helped launch the first cruise ship spa, The Golden Door Spa at Sea.  Later, I returned to work at the Golden Door, where I eventually met my husband.  We got married and moved to LA, where I went to graduate school.  After finishing my MBA, I consulted for a variety of spas being created in the early 90's, including a two-year stint helping create and manage Donald Trump's first spa at Mar-a-Lago.

In the late 90's, my husband Peter and I purchased SpaFinder, which at the time was a specialty travel agency in New York that also published a popular directory of spas.  After we got involved, we transformed the business model from a travel agency into a robust online information resource for spa consumers, growing the company into what it is today; the largest spa marketing and media company in the world, with offices in New York, London and Tokyo.  Our current businesses include Spafinder.com (a large gift certificate business that includes SpaFinder and SpaWish gift certificates, vouchers, and cards) and our exciting SpaBooker software division, which offers spas tremendous tools for helping them manage their businesses, and allows consumers to book spa treatments directly online.

What is your favorite place in the whole world?

Peter and I have a home in Indian Wells, CA, and we both love being there on vacation, just relaxing, reading and catching up on sleep.  There is a great local gym we love and it's also home to my favorite massage therapist!

If you could have any profession in the world, other than what you do now, what would you be?

I think I really would have liked to be a medical doctor.  It was that darn chemistry course in college that dissuaded me so many years ago.  :)

What is your motto or concept that you live by?

"Love and be loved" - all the rest is background music.

What is your most treasured possession?

A card that Peter gave me for our anniversary, with a note saying that of all of the things he's done in his life, what he is most proud of is our marriage.  It chokes me up every single time I read it.

What’s your go-to spa treatment?

A 90-minute deep tissue massage - anytime, anyplace.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Helping found the Global Spa Summit, which brings so many spa and wellness industry leaders together in a truly congenial, collaborative atmosphere, to incubate ideas that are of benefit to all of us in the industry.  To me, it seems to get more exciting every year, and the pinnacle was the recent Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I wish I were less of a worrier.  I am a "detail" person, and I definitely sweat the small stuff.

Care to share any details on family life; i.e. spouse, partner, children, pets?

Peter and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this September.  We have two children, Courtney and Nicholas, who were just 4 and 6 when I met them.

Tell us two things about yourself we don’t know.

I have an identical twin sister, and yes, we can still fool our husbands on the phone!  I can speak fluent German.  I can't have vanilla Haagen Daz in my house or I will have to join a 12-step program.