BeautyView: Susie Ellis, President, SpaFinder Inc.

I have known Susie Ellis for a number of years, and am a huge fan. While I met her through our industry, and while most of our interactions are more professional than personal, Susie holds a very special place in my heart as it is thanks to her (and Mary Elizabeth Gifford) that I met my husband. Indeed, this BeautyView is particularly relevant as we approach the annual International Spa Association conference. It is at ISPA back in 2005, at a chic industry dinner hosted by Susie and Mary Elizabeth, that I was seated next to Edwin (the seating chart apparently still exists somewhere). The rest, as they say, is history. As I prepare for ISPA 2011 (come say hi and learn more about Alchimie at the Universal Companies relaxation area in Lagoon H), it seems timely to highlight Susie and all that she has done, not just for my love life, but for our industry.

AP: What city were you born in? SE: I was born in Bloomington, Illinois.  My parents were immigrants from Germany who came over after the war.  They settled into a German community in the middle of Illinois.

AP: What city do you live in? SE: Today Peter and I live in New York and spend a fair amount of time in Palm Springs California where we have a vacation home.

AP: What is your middle name? SE: Dorette

AP: What is your astrological sign? SE: Gemini – twins…

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty (and spa) industry? SE: My favorite thing about our industry is that it is an all-around positive…we lift people up, inspire people toward healthy lifestyles and in general deal with places and products that people love being part of. Our SpaFinder research has shown time and time again that people love the word spa – it brings a smile to their face…even if they may define it differently. Another plus for me is that being part of this industry has been good for my own health and a real help in the beauty department!

AP: Least favorite thing? SE: My least favorite thing about the industry is that there are some fringe beliefs that make their way into spas that in my opinion don’t serve us well. Also, there is a lack of transparency and understanding in terms of some beauty products that also ends up tainting the whole. For example, when I see tarot card reading or past life regression analysis done at spas, I cringe. While these may be fun pastimes that people can enjoy in other settings – like carnivals, etc. I think the fact that they sit side by side with things like exercise, healthy nutrition, stress reducing massage and meditation calls the rest of the menu of our services into question. I also find it disheartening to read some of the claims made for beauty products that are simply not believable. I do think things are getting better (www.spaevidence.com is one major step) and the internet encouraging transparency in general has helped. I wish these transitions would go faster.

AP: What is your most prized possession? SE: A card my husband wrote to me on a birthday many years ago. I have kept it and cherish it. I don’t think he even knows I have it or that it meant so much to me. What he said on it was that throughout his life what he is most proud of achieving is our marriage. Since he has had a lot of achievements, this touched me greatly.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? SE: I have an identical twin sister who you would think is me if you met her!

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? SE: I do wear a watch and because Peter is sort of a “watch connoisseur” I have several of them. While I love them all and I have several, I have to say that my black channel watch keeps the best time and is easiest for me to read.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? SE: Oh my, do I really need to pick?  It’s simply a tie and they work well together!

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? SE: Probably my twin sister (no offense to my husband) but Katrine and I don’t see each other very often as she lives in Texas and I live in New York.  Having dinner with her is always a joy and we have been known to spend hours and hours dining and talking.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? SE: Hmmm, you are assuming that I have a good work/life balance. That is actually something I am still working on as I have a tendency to “overwork” like other people might overeat or overdrink or overspend.  I work too many hours to the detriment of my health (and my marriage), however, I have been doing better in the past few years. What has worked for me is separating myself from other people’s job, saying “no” more often, and trusting my intuition and gut that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and everything else just simply has to take care of itself.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? SE: 1. Comfortable and layered clothes for plane flights – it’s hot, it’s cold…you never know. So I travel prepared for anything. Always a warm scarf, socks, and usually a sleeveless cotton shirt with a sweater or jacket. 2. I always travel with my velour eye-shades – the kind that are shaped so your eyelashes don’t get squished and all light is blocked out. I am a nut about trying to get enough sleep because of how important it is to the health of our bodies and so these eyeshades come in handy not only on long plane flights but in every hotel room (and yes, I wear them at home in my NY apartment too!). 3. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage as soon as possible upon arrival at your destination. While my work generally results in my trying out a spa wherever I go, I learned that doing so as soon as possible (ideally on arrival day) helped me get over jet lag and in general relax during the entire trip.

AP: What is your favorite book? SE: How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey. While this may seem like an odd choice, it is one of the smartest books I have ever read. Not only is it based on Christian principles, but those principles are explained in such a way that it is much easier to understand various world views and where the plumb line is for mine. Written in 1999, I still have it on my nightstand after all these years.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? SE: I am not much of a drinker and so a simple glass of wine does it for me. I am not a connoisseur and generally order a Chardonnay if I am drinking white and Merlot or Pinot Noir if I am drinking red.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? SE: Get enough sleep!

AP: What fragrance do you wear? SE: Always Escada – the old Escada that comes in a gold-topped bottle in a bright red box.  Peter loves this fragrance so much that whenever I have tried something else he begs me to go back to Escada.  When they discontinued the fragrance a few years ago, he began hunting down whatever bottles where left and so I think I have a supply for another 4 years or so.

AP: Botox or not? SE: But of course!

AP: Hair color: natural or not? SE: The answer to this is both. I have highlighted my hair for decades and while there is a lot more gray now than there used to be, I think there is still some natural color in there somewhere.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. SE: I know this may be hard to believe, but I don’t have an ipod. Peter is the music expert in our household and so whenever I am in the car I enjoy whatever it is that he has curated on his many, many disks. Going back to the question on work/life balance….since I tilt toward anything and everything work related, if I do listen to something it would be TED talks or a copy of a session I missed at a spa conference.

AP: Quote to live by? SE: “This too shall pass.” It reminds me not to hold too tight to the good things and not to sweat too much about the bad things.

AP: Who is your mentor? SE: Deborah Szkeley has been my mentor ever since I met her when I first started working at the Golden Door in Escondido, California in 1974. She has been an inspiration to me in many ways…both in business and personally. At times she has been like a mother. These days we are more like friends and I cherish the times I am with her. She will be 90 next year and seems the same to me as the day I met her almost 37 years ago.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today? SE: I think that following your intuition in order to find something to do that you love is good advice. As I write this I reflect on what I have been reading about Steve Job’s via the biography and many interviews by the author Walther Isaacson.  He credited listening to his intuition with why he was so innovative in his work. That rings true. And after finding that something you love, then I think the principle that Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his book, “Outliers” applies.  He repeatedly mentioned that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  While it may be popular these days to hop from job to job, I think amassing expertise in one area is very important. Since I have been in the spa industry for my entire career (although working in several different job capacities) I have probably amassed several blocks of 10,000 hours. In the end when you put in that much time, you do end up with an expertise that very few others have.