For more than two decades, Michael Tompkins has led award-winning teams in the spa, wellness, and luxury hospitality worlds. As Chairman of the International Spa Association, he brought spa professionals closer together, igniting their passion while adding warmth and a wonderful sense of humor to the position. He just joined Hutchinson Consulting, a hospitality recruiting firm that recently lost its beloved founder, Lori Hutchinson. As Bill Hutchinson explains, “Michael is one of the few people whose reach and connections in the worlds of spa, hospitality, and wellness rival hers.”
You began your career as a nurse before segueing into the world of spa. Tell us a little bit about how they relate, interconnect—and how did you get into spa, what drew you to it?
I viewed my nursing and hospitality careers in the same exact manner—taking care of people. I was fortunate enough to work in clean hospital environments, so I found the transition to hotel/spa very easy, still clean but with a bunch more comfort and a place where great service could shine. My first spa position was as Nursing Director at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. While I knew how to manage people and work a medical office, I needed to learn a lot about hotels, spas, financials, project management, development, marketing, and service. I was fortunate to be taught much of that at Canyon Ranch. I was also blessed that Canyon Ranch owner Enid Zuckerman took me under her wing. She taught me beauty, art, and aesthetics. It was a gift I will never under-appreciate.
Give us a brief history of the Michael Tompkins’ spa timeline.
Nursing Director at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, promoted to Health & Healing Director, and Associate Managing Director. I then became Director of Hotels and Spas at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, built Skana Spa there, and was promoted to Vice President of Hotels and Spas. I joined Miraval shortly after as General Manager, built the Villas at Miraval and Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins, and was promoted to Vice President and then President/CEO of Miraval Resorts. Just a couple of years ago, I rebranded Hilton Head Health as CEO and built Indigo Spa and then became Co-CEO at PALM Health for the build of that facility in my hometown of St. Louis. I’m excited now to join Hutchinson Consulting as a recruiter for hotels, spas, and wellness facilities.
Volunteer work has brought me something I could never get by being a hospitality executive. It has given me a platform to show others the good work of spas . . .
You rose quickly though the ranks to become CEO at Miraval, followed by CEO at Hilton Head Health. Looking back on those two properties, what are you most proud of?
At Miraval I’m most proud of the legacy of my leadership. I was a conduit of communication for 400+ employees, our guests, and its board. We had a hub of innovation tied to a united team front. The staff gave me my legacy by delivering on exactly what we said we did. And you don’t always get that in a product.
At Hilton Head Health, I’m proud to have built the beautiful Indigo Spa with a very small team and especially proud of its accolades for the team there. I helped refresh a great brand which had programming that worked! It’s a place to find weight loss in an easy manner.
What were a few of your highest highs and your lowest lows along the way?
My highest high was my promotion to CEO at Miraval. I worked hard and was creative, but more so I built a team of people that became innovating in delivering unique services that spa goers loved. I went to work every day happy and replicated that happiness with a strong team who served the sophisticated spa goer and received accolades for our work. We delivered true hospitality to our guests.
I’m also very proud of my work as Chairman of the International Spa Association. I have loved my board service over the past six years. We have a strong brand that is inclusive. Volunteer work has brought me something I could never get by being a hospitality executive. It has given me a platform to show others the good work of spas and to highlight those in our industry who work hard every day to take care of someone else. My Chairman role has taught me large stage event production and media sophistication. There’s a lot to becoming a leader in our industry. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth. Fail often and remain humble.
My low point has been in disappointing others and being disappointed with others. I recently received great advice, “Choose a job for the people you will work with, not for the title, the money, the position, or the location. If you work with the right people the rest all falls into place.”
What did working at a destination spa teach you?
The list is so long I am not sure where to begin. Working at a destination spa has taught me heart-centered leadership through experience while being mindful of others. It has taught me self love, humility, business acumen, and strategy, how to operate a hotel, spa, and wellness center, and the importance and value of giving your word. On a personal level it taught me how to say “I love you” to those I care about.
Tell us about your new career move and how it materialized. You put your magic touch on everything you do, can you give us a sneak peek into your vision for this new position?
Joining Hutchinson Consulting is a personal catalyst for me. I knew a big change was coming in the same way it did when I transitioned from nursing. Lori Hutchinson was a mentor to my career, as well as all of the human resource directors that I’ve worked with have been to me. I have tremendous respect for what human resource staff do as the unsung heroes, and obviously I love hotel management who are respected for their leadership. To a great extent, my success has been in being able to create strong teams, so recruiting at Hutchinson seems like a natural fit. I love people and I’m eager to help build strong teams for others and mentor new industry stars so they can shine. I’ve met my new team with Hutchinson and feel confident I’m working with the right people.
Will you be able to use the skills you’ve accumulated along the way?
At Hutchinson Consulting, it’s getting to know and understand the brand you are recruiting for and matching people who will fit the job description and brand. It’s assuring a solid match with the employer and the candidate. Employment has two parties that recruiters bring together, and a recruiter wants to make sure that everyone finds a win/win. In the busy lives of hospitality professionals from CEOs and general managers to human resource executives, oftentimes finding the right candidate takes time and research. Recruiters who you partner with to help source your team are an asset, and the ones who have vast connections can work side by side with your HR team. My connections in the converging markets of spa, wellness, and hotel give me a leg up on knowing who might be the perfect candidate for a brand. In that way I’m still building great teams and mentoring others, as I did in spa. Hutchinson has been trusted to do this for more than two decades.
Do you incorporate spa wisdom into your personal life? What are your favorite self-care rituals?
I’m mindful of others time. I try and unplug and have a balanced work/home life. I know that your skin is the largest organ in your body and your first line of defense from everything. Being around great skincare professionals and resource vendors has made me think about taking care of my skin. I walk everyday and I rarely watch television. I give and receive massage as a trained therapist, remembering touch is one fifth of the senses we were born with and often the best way to calm my mind and body. I approach each day as a gift.
What do you do in your downtime?
I love dogs and will spend time with any dog for personal happiness. Eckhart Tolle’s Guardians of Being is my favorite book. I’ve been blessed with a partner who I really like, and I value that relationship by creating time for it when off work. I love people, flipping houses, gardening, interior design, live sports, and have a huge passion for art. I’m now intoxicated by street art and hope it will be successful for the starving artists trying to have a voice. Sometimes true talent lies on a wall you pass by everyday but rarely ever see.
Where do you see the future of spa and wellness headed?
I foresee a continued blend of hospitality with spa and wellness along with medical, too, blending with those industries. I can’t help but to love the changes in the technology sector as it relates to spa and think those platforms will be huge game changers for us. I worry about the rising cost of delivering a good service while squeezing managers and employees for business sake. It brings me back to spa being the heart of everything in my work history, and we need to protect that. I feel the design of the spa will come out of the large-scale models and bring spa to the customer, near the front desk perhaps in express bars or in massage cabs on the hotel floor meeting guests where they are at. I see great opportunity for line-level staff—the millennials who control their own marketing, their own schedules, and choose when to work and for whom. Spa growth is now more global than domestic, and that will shift career opportunities. “Hyper-customization,” a term I’ve used to describe the massage and wellness practices in the near term due to the advancements in technology, will bring a new wave to our industry. And a new need for diverse, globally transient, executives and managers. It excites me to tie that to my new position.